San Luis Obispo, once named the “Happiest City in America” by Oprah Winfrey, the small Central Coast town has truly become a national gem.
The History: Dating back to 1772, San Luis Obispo was founded by the Spanish Franciscan Junípero Serra as he traveled up the coast establishing the first 9 out of 21 historic California missions. San Luis Obispo also hosted also one of the area’s earliest inhabitants, the Chumash Indians. The Chumash people took advantage of the area’s abundant marine resources and water and inhabited alongside the Central Coast bays, including Los Osos and Morro Creek. During the Spanish Empire expansion, Junípero Serra received orders from Spain to convert the Native Americans in California to the Catholic faith. San Luis Obispo’s historic, Mission de Tolosa, was constructed with adobe walls, wood timber roof beams and tile roofs. The compound included the church, the priests’ quarters, the convento, storerooms, neophyte and visitors’ quarters, solders’ barracks, grist mill, tannery, water supply system and land for farming and livestock. This provided grounds for a growing community of priests, the Chumash people and Spanish soldiers, all working together to produce goods to live off of.
Together, SLO’s Spanish and Chumash upbringing make San Luis Obispo one of California’s oldest communities.
Jumping to the mid-1800s, the mission became an ordinary parish and served as the city’s nucleus. Once California was annexed to the US in the Mexican-American War, San Luis Obispo became the first town incorporated in the newly created San Luis Obispo County. Ranchos became a main focus of SLO County residents until 1863 brought about a devastating drought. The region refocused on new economic areas such as mining, dairy and agriculture. In conjunction with the creation of the Pacific Coast Railway, San Luis Obispo developed a bustling Chinatown around Palm Street and Chorro Street. Not much remains of SLO’s past Chinatown, but the city is doing more to commemorate that heritage and SLO’s Chinese history, as the Pacific Coast Railway was such a huge part of most of California’s development and could not of been done without the work of the Chinese laborers.
The College: By the 1900s, San Luis Obispo had developed into quite the small town and a popular stop on both Highway 1 and Route 101. SLO also opened its first university, California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo. Commonly referred to as “Cal Poly,” the university was founded in 1901, with 20 incoming students and being an all-mens school. Since 1901, Cal Poly has grown into one of the nation’s top public universities with 20,000 students and offering both bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in six different colleges. The college has also provided San Luis Obispo job growth (as the county’s #1 employer), tourism and national recognition.
The Present: Fast-forwarding to present day, San Luis Obispo boasts a population of about 45,000 residents and is one the most desirable Central Coast city to live in. People all over the state and country choose to move to San Luis Obispo for its mild weather, small town community, wine country setting, proximity between San Francisco and Los Angeles and great schools. Zillow.com estimates San Luis Obispo’s median home value is roughly $658,400 and that home values have gone up 4.9% in the past year alone!
The Wine: Now as a top wine producer, San Luis Obispo County’s wine and viticulture industry as grow exponentially over the past 20 years. SLO’s wine region features the Edna Valley AVA and Arroyo Grande AVA, that are highly respected for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir productions. This region is heavily influenced by the area’s coastal climate, proximity to the ocean and opportune growing soils. 45 minutes north of San Luis Obispo sits Paso Robles Wine Country. This area is quickly gaining national recognition and being closely compared to Napa Valley. The Paso Robles area is home to over 200 wineries, producing award-winning blends of Bordeaux, Rhône and Zinfandel varietals.
The Beaches: Wrapping up, one can’t leave out the city’s coastal influence. Although San Luis Obispo is situated about 15 minutes inland from the nearest beach, the beach community and lifestyle has had a great impact on the community.
To name a few, SLO County hosts the following beach towns: Avila Beach, Pismo Beach, Shell Beach, Grover Beach – Ocean Dunes, Los Osos – Montana de Oro State Beach, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria – Moonstone Beach, etc. Pismo Beach, Avila Beach and Morro Bay are probably the most recognizable beach towns in the county. Pismo Beach was once proclaimed the “Clam Capital of the World” in the 1950’s and played a role in California’s surfing history. Avila Beach is a small south-facing beach town that once served as a main shipping port and is now home to Pacific Gas & Electric‘s Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Avila Beach once made headlines for its 1990’s oil spill, but has been cleaned up and revitalized since then and is now one the most desirable beach towns to visit and live in.
Lastly, Morro Bay was originally one of the main villages of the Chumash, but now has transformed into a small fishing town and coastal community, most popular for its Morro Rock, a 576 foot high volcanic plug. Morro Rock is one in a series of similar plugs that stretch in a line inland called the Nine Sisters.
The Now: There is so much more to be said about San Luis Obispo and its surrounding areas, I could go on and on. As a SLO native who was born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly alumna and now young adult who has returned home from the big city, I truly understand why so many people hold such a special place in their hearts for San Luis Obispo.
Have questions about the San Luis Obispo or our housing market? Feel free to contact Tracy or me (Stephanie) at any time, as we are area specialists and I would love the opportunity to assist you! Cheers!