San Luis Obispo is a city in California, located roughly midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Monterey Bay and Santa Barbara on the Central Coast. The city, referred to locally as SLO or "San Luis," is the county seat of San Luis Obispo County and is adjacent to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). As of the 2000 census, the city population was 44,174.
The City of San Luis Obispo serves as the commercial, governmental, and cultural hub of San Luis Obispo County. One of California’s oldest communities, it began with the founding of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra, on the site of a Chumash village called Tilhini, as the fifth Spanish mission in California's chain of 21 missions. The mission was named after Saint Louis, a thirteenth century bishop of Toulouse, France. It is one of the best preserved examples of Spanish Mission architecture and among the oldest buildings in California.
San Luis Obispo once had a burgeoning Chinatown in the vicinity of Palm St. and Chorro St. Laborers were brought from China by Ah Louis in order to construct the Pacific Coast Railway, roads connecting San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and Paso Robles to Cambria, and also the 1884 to 1894 tunneling through Cuesta Ridge for the Southern Pacific Railroad. SLO's Chinatown revolved around Ah Louis Store and other Palm Street businesses owned and run by Chinese business people. Today, Mee Heng Low chop suey shop is all that remains of the culture, although a revitalized Chinatown development is being planned. A display of some of the unearthed relics from this period can be seen on the first floor of the Palm Street parking garage, which was built over the location where Chinatown once stood. The San Luis Obispo Historical Society (adjacent to the Mission) also contains rotating historical exhibits.
San Luis Obispo is located at 35°16'27" North, 120°39'47" West (35.274305, -120.663192).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 10.8 square miles (28.1 km²), of which, 10.7 square miles (27.6 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km²) of it is water. The total area is 1.66% water.
San Luis Obispo is on the West Coast of the United States and in the Central Coast of California. The Pacific Ocean is only about 12 miles (19 km) west of San Luis Obispo. The Santa Lucia Mountains lie just east of San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo is a seismically active area; there are a number of nearby faults including the San Andreas Fault. The Nine Sisters are a string of hills that partially run though San Luis Obispo. They are geologically noteworthy for being volcanic plugs. Six of the nine peaks are open to the public for recreation.
As of the census of 2000, there are 44,174 people, 18,639 households, and 7,697 families residing in the city. The population density is 4,144.5 people per square mile (1,600.0/km²). There are 19,306 housing units at an average density of 1,811.3/sq mi (699.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 84.11% White, 1.46% African American, 0.65% Native American, 5.28% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 4.82% from other races, and 3.55% from two or more races. 11.65% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 18,639 households out of which 17.7% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.3% are married couples living together, 7.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 58.7% are non-families. 32.7% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.5% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.27 and the average family size is 2.86.
In the city the population is spread out with 14.2% under the age of 18, 33.6% from 18 to 24, 23.7% from 25 to 44, 16.5% from 45 to 64, and 12.1% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 26 years. For every 100 females there are 105.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 106.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $31,926, and the median income for a family is $56,319. Males have a median income of $41,915 versus $27,407 for females. The per capita income for the city is $20,386. 26.6% of the population and 7.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 9.3% of those under the age of 18 and 4.6% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Downtown San Luis Obispo is centered around the carefully restored Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The downtown area also has many eclectic shops and boutiques. New downtown shopping centers have been added in recent years. The Court Street Center and Downtown Center house many stores that belong to nationwide chains.
A field station of the Marine Mammal Center is located in San Luis Obispo to support sea rescue and beach stranding rescue operations for this section of the California coast.
One of the primary draws of this area for both students, visitors and residents is the plethora of outside sports. Hiking, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, diving, sailing and kite boarding.
The city is home to San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport which offers private and commercial air service to several major cities. Amtrak provides daily rail transport service here as the terminus of the Pacific Surfliner line and a stop on the Coast Starlight line. Greyhound also maintains a bus terminal in San Luis Obispo.
Public transit includes the city-wide SLO Transit bus lines as well as the county-wide SLO Regional Transit system. Rideshare encourages the use of the local public transit, as well as carpooling and cycling.
Bicycling is increasing as a mode of transportation. The Bill Roalman (Morro Street) Bicycle Boulevard gives priority to bicycle traffic while a special bicycle traffic signal (one of only a handfull in the United States) allows bicyclists their own phase in traffic flow. The SLO County Bicycle Coalition offers a free bicycle valet service during the weekly Farmers' Market. In 2007, the city was designated as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Silver level by the League of American Bicyclists.
The city provides parking in three multistory parking structures downtown. Street parking downtown is metered. The city's innovative Racks with Plaques program has increased bike racks in the downtown area and has cut down on parking congestion.
The Madonna Inn is a famous local landmark. Established by Alex Madonna in 1958, the inn is famously eccentric. The Fremont Theater is a historic Art Deco theater from the 1940s that still plays first run movies on the huge screen. Murals adorn the walls of the main theater where neon swirls light the ceiling. Another destination is Bubblegum Alley. Since about 1960, people have been sticking their chewed gum on the walls of this alley. The doctor's office on the corner of Santa Rosa and Pacific streets is one of very few commercial buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. San Luis also has a Carnegie Library which is now home to San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum.
A sculpture of a child and bear at the Mission in downtown San Luis Obispo. A fish was added after the photograph was taken.A Mardi Gras parade used to be held in San Luis Obispo, but it has been canceled recently because of difficulties related to crowd control and alcohol consumption. Cal Poly's open house, Poly Royal, was held every April until a 1990 riot of drunken revelers, many visitors to town, caused damage throughout residential neighborhoods and the business district. The university canceled the event for several years before reintroducing a scaled-down Open House. While Poly Royal welcomed the community, the revamped version is designed for students and parents.
San Luis Obispo has been home of several other events, including a stop on the way of the Olympic Flame Relay, the Tour of California bicycle race, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, an annual Mozart festival, held every July, and a long-standing Christmas Parade. Another attraction is the development of Edna Valley into a well-known wine region. Just south of the city, people can spend an afternoon wine tasting several wineries in the area with a very short drive. The wine region extends north beyond Paso Robles (30 miles north) and south to Santa Ynez (70 miles south).
Since June of 2000, the first Thursday of every month is The Bike Happening (also known as Bike Nite) in San Luis Obispo. People gather after the Farmer's Market at the Mission Plaza with their bikes. The bikers then go around on multiple circuits on the main streets of downtown adhering to the traffic laws (for the most part). The ride is considered a fun/social ride meant to encourage people to get back on their bikes and to have fun. Each Bike Happening has a theme and a large portion of the crowd is in some costume adherent to the theme.
One of the cultural focal centers of San Luis Obispo is the Christopher Cohen Performing Arts Center built on the Cal Poly Campus, which was constructed utilizing the donations of local businesses and individuals. The Performing Arts Center consists of multiple venues, including the original Spanos Theatre. The largest venue, Harmon Hall, seats 1,300. Many high school and college programs are scheduled. Local artists perform plays, music and dance. The addition of the Performing Arts Center attracts many touring performances which are usually not found in communities of comparable size to San Luis Obispo. The Summer of 2007 was the opening concert of the Forbes Pipe Organ, which was built elevated into a side wall of Harmon Hall and required the donation of a further $3 million for purchase and installation.
In 1990, San Luis Obispo became notable as the first municipality in the world to ban smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants. This statute has been a catalyst worldwide in anti-smoking legislation.