San Luis Obispo-Atascadero, CA

The Middle Kingdom

Photos Courtesy of: David Garth
Spicy, rich, silky, San Luis Obispo's elegant Pinot Noirs taste as complex and luscious as their central California valley home looks and feels. World-class vineyards that roll across the hilly landscape sponsor regular taste festivals, and continuously sunny skies mean residents spend plenty of time appreciating both the spirits and the acreage of grape vines. Locals enjoy the fact that they can savor the latest fruit of the vine before the rest of the world finds out about it.

Tucked away in this haven are plenty of back roads: some pass through forests; others lead to the shores of the Pacific Coast, just 15 miles away; and a few go directly to the nearby Sierra Madre range. San Luis Obispo is consistently rated as having the best climate in the nation. The Pacific Ocean breezes keep the city surprisingly cool and fresh in the summer. When inland cities are baking in 90-degree heat, San Luis’ thermometer hits just 77.

Winter days are equally miraculous, and residents often enjoy 60-degree days.

Meander through historic downtown San Luis Obispo, past the gleaming white adobe of the Mission San Luis, a plethora of blooming wildflower bed, and tree-lined street. Home to Cal Poly University, this mid-sized city has no shortage of exuberant citizens who make the most of life in this beautiful clime. The university is an excellent cultural resource that fosters a much more cosmopolitan city than one might guess. It hosts an annual film festival and a full schedule of performing arts in a multi-million dollar facility. In addition, people over the age of 50 enjoy bargain classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Cultural and educational opportunities abound downtown as well. The dramatic post-modern architecture of the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center makes an acoustic heaven for theater and San Luis Obispo Symphony performances. Despite the significantly higher than average cost of living, equally high education and income levels make this spot ideal for people looking for an unpretentious yet elegant new home.

San Luis Obispo-Atascadero, CA At-A-Glance

Population: 45,100

Avg. July high: 75

Avg. January low: 40

Avg. Annual Precipitation: 16

Closest Big City: 200 miles to Los Angeles

Health Care: 3 hospitals with 276 beds

Cost of Living: 40% above the national average

Housing Costs: 484,000


Located midway between San Francisco's winter fog and Los Angeles’ summer heat, San Luis Obispo seems to blend the best of both areas. Not too far north, not too far south, not too warm, and not too cold, San Luis Obispo is the Goldilocks of the California coast.

Thanks to ocean breezes, the hottest days of the summer in San Luis Obispo rarely rise above 80 degrees. The air seems crisp and fresh even in August. The morning hours are refreshing and perfect for that eight o’clock tee-time or just sipping a steaming cup of coffee while watching the sun come up.

Winter temperatures almost never hit freezing in San Luis Obispo. Even winter lows rarely dip below the 40-degree range.

Most of the precipitation the area receives will fall during the winter months.

However, aside from making the environs a little greener, the rain has little effect on San Luis Obispo's daily routine.

Springtime is pleasant and mild in San Luis Obispo and brings sunny days back to stay. San Luis Obispo residents hang up their raincoats until next winter, and return to the beaches, golf courses, and city streets they love so much.

Art & Culture

Pacific Ocean breezes keep the city surprisingly cool in the summer, and winters are also mild. World-class vineyards cover the hillsides, giving even new enterprises a certain old-world charm.

Art lovers will adore the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, which has dramatic postmodern architecture and superb acoustics for theatrical and musical events. San Luis Obispo residents flock here to see plays, ballet programs, and the San Luis Obispo Symphony.

Cal Poly students get into the act as well, and university music programs are regularly on the facility event schedule.

For more than three decades music lovers have enjoyed the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, which makes it's permanent home at the Cohan Center. More than just Mozart, the festival includes baroque music, lectures, auctions, and films in addition to performances of works by the great composers.

The cultural events continue all year long. The 10-day San Luis Obispo International Film Festival brings more than 60 films and special events to town annually and showcases celebrity guests, special screenings, and awards ceremonies.

The seemingly endless film screenings are complemented by the lectures and panel discussions that take place among the scholars and experts in attendance.

Film buffs will also want to visit nearby Hearst Castle, the palatial home of eccentric publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst. Hearst built the estate nearby and decorated it with rare and costly artifacts from around the globe.

City Recreation

Photos Courtesy of: David Garth
The weather in San Luis Obispo is almost perpetually ideal for outdoor activity.

The days are always warm enough to venture out in, yet cool enough to exercise without overheating. Therefore, hiking, jogging, and bike riding are all popular sports. The agricultural area surrounding the city is full of gentle hills and flat fields- perfect for almost anything from blades to bikes to bridle paths. An added bonus for locals is the Pacific Coast less than 15 miles from town.

Take a short drive from San Luis Obispo to Pismo Beach and its 23 miles of unspoiled shoreline. Spend the day playing volleyball, surfing, or just catching some rays. Pismo Beach is also famous for what is underneath it: specifically, the clams. Known as the " Clam Capital of the World," Pismo Beach attracts clammers from far and wide.

San Luis Obispo County has been rated one of the top golf destinations in California and in the nation by Golf Digest magazine. One of the more famed resorts, Cypress Ridge, was ranked as one of the best places to play in the country because of its excellent hotels, restaurants, and spas, and because of the stunning vineyards and ocean views that surround it. There are more than 20 world-class wineries located in the Edna and Arroyo Grande valleys. At nearby Avila Beach there are mineral springs where locals can spend their weekend getaway lounging by the pool or taking a hot mineral bath.

Sycamore Mineral Springs is also home to The Gardens of Avila Restaurant, where innovative cuisine is a perfect complement to the area's soothing springs, massage therapy, and quaint hotel rooms.

The adventurous will love the nearby coast for its special brand of sea kayaking.

Just rent a kayak and spend an exciting, healthy afternoon paddling among the seals, sea lions, dolphins, and otters that frolic offshore. Or take a more challenging guided tour and explore caves, rock formations, kelp forests, and isolated beaches.

The nearby Sierra Madre range and Los Padres National Forest provide more options. San Luis Obispo residents can fish and camp all year in these beautiful reserves. If a short getaway is in order, locals can take advantage of the many state parks that dot the area. The winding roads and vine-covered hills around San Luis Obispo present a unique landscape to explore and enjoy.


The weather in San Luis Obispo is almost always perfect for playing golf or exploring the local beaches.

The city of San Luis Obispo is home to California Polytechnic State University, a nationally ranked, four-year public university.

Cal Poly enrolls around 16,000 students and emphasizes a " learn by doing" educational experience. The school is well known for its agriculture and technology programs, and it produces some of the most sought-after recruits in the communications, engineering, and high-tech fields.

Cal Poly also hosts the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a program funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation that offers a plethora of inexpensive classes to semiretired or retired people 50 or older.

Cuesta College, also located in San Luis Obispo, offers associate-level degrees and continuing education programs for local citizens. Whether residents want to obtain a two-year degree in electronics or enroll in a photography workshop, their options are open in San Luis Obispo.

There are a variety of public school options available in and around San Luis Obispo. Public elementary, junior high, and high schools are well funded. Perpupil expenditures are in the top 20% of the state, and subsequently student-teacher ratios are also low. The Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School is a fine example of what local schools can do. It is home to a 1,900- square-foot hands-on science museum and a small farm center. Each classroom is linked to the Internet. Plus, there is a large computer " MathTechno" Internet lab.

Housing & Cost of Living

San Luis’ job growth rate is three times the national average.

The cost of living in San Luis Obispo is significantly higher than the national average. This is largely due to the city's combination of outstanding climate and prime agricultural terrain. Here, the average three-bedroom home sells for $657,000. Neighborhoods in San Luis Obispo are peaceful and quiet, and a variety of house styles are available in the city. There are older homes throughout San Luis Obispo that often sell for more affordable prices. Outside San Luis Obispo real estate prices are lower. Rental properties can be found here as well, and the college students who flock to town at the beginning of every term occupy many. The average two-bedroom apartment rents for about $725 per month.

Other high priced services, such as health care and transportation, add to the overall high cost of living. On the other hand, child care costs are just slightly above the national average.

Parents will pay an annual average of about $8,000 for an infant at an accredited center and $6,000 for older kids. A half dozen government- subsidized Head Start programs and more than a dozen low-cost YMCAs make child care even more affordable.

Crime & Safety

The crime rate in San Luis Obispo-Atascadero-Paso Robles metro area is well below the national average, and in the city itself, crime rates have fallen significantly in recent years. This is partially due to the aggressive media oriented campaign initiated by the San Luis Obispo Police Department, but also results from a nation-wide decline in crime. The department 's four-point, multi-media strategy is directed primarily toward the nearly two-thirds of the population under 30 years old. Through TV and radio spots as well as print coverage in newspapers, the Internet, and posters, the department conveys messages of crime prevention by informing the public about subjects such as date rape drugs, the need to lock doors, protection afforded victims, and a variety of other things. The department also facilitates Neighborhood Watch programs and additional community-building events.

Earning a Living

The Franciscan mission that started this California town in 1772 still holds regular services...

San Luis Obispo serves as the commercial, governmental, and cultural hub of the San Luis Obispo County, yet residents enjoy all the benefits of small town life. Pollution and traffic are unknown, and commutes to work are as non-existent as big-city stress. In recent years the city's unemployment rate has fallen below the national average, and the job growth rate has steady increased. Cal Poly University has made the town into a cosmopolitan center. University jobs employ many residents, and the surrounding wineries are growing in size and reputation.

Visitors come from across the nation to visit the exquisite countryside and taste the fine wines. Subsequently, the tourism industry is booming.

Start-up computer companies are also making inroads in software development and Web page consultation, and the service industry is booming because of both students and 50+ semi-retirees and retirees. Entrepreneurs are increasingly finding San Luis Obispo to be the perfect place to begin a small business. The Downtown Association promotes the health and welfare of the downtown; the Economic Vitality Corporation, an alliance of local businesses, focuses on stimulating the economy through offering loans; and the Institute for Professional Development and the Private Industry Council both offer training and support services for small businesses.

Health Care

San Luis Obispo's residents enjoy daily air quality standards that are at or below the stringent California standards for acceptable ozone levels, and it was the first city in the state to implement a nonsmoking statute in all public buildings, restaurants, and bars. And when people have to go to the hospital anyway, San Luis Obispo's three main hospitals serve residents with nearly 300 beds. The Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center is the largest, providing comprehensive treatment, along with emergency services, coronary care, and inpatient surgery. The French Hospital Medical Center is another major facility, offering nuclear medicine and an open-heart surgery facility. San Luis General Hospital offers the full gamut of care. Senior citizens have access to a half-dozen accredited independent living centers, and one center that offers congregate care for a bit more money.