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17 Fun Facts About San Luis Obispo
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17 Fun Facts About San Luis Obispo

This Central Coast gem has a lot to offer to tourists and locals alike. Here are some fun facts about San Luis Obispo to get you started.

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5 min read

March 19, 2022

Fun touristic destination, historically prominent locale, and a place where many firsts took place—San Luis Obispo is quite the interesting spot to uncover. Whether you’ve just heard of S.L.O. or looking to expand your knowledge on your favorite county, there is always something new to discover in this part of the state. Ready for the coolest and most bizarre info on SLO CAL? Here are the fun facts about San Luis Obispo you wish you knew sooner.

Fun Facts about San Luis Obispo you Need to Know

Located in the heart of the Golden State, San Luis Obispo is a Central Coast destination you'd want to visit at least once.

1. San Luis Obispo was found by a group of lost Spanish Padres on their way to Santa Cruz

Back in the exploration era, a group of Spanish missionaries heading to Santa Cruz ended up lost on the Central Coast. Having found the ideal location alongside present-day San Luis Creek, they decided to settle here.

2. Mission San Luis Obispo is one of the few that never had to relocate; it still stands on its original site.

Instead of moving, a fun fact about mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is that it modernized along with the city. For example, what once served as the padres’ soup kitchen is now the Youth Center.

3. The local mission’s roof was destroyed in 1776

The mission’s roof was burned by Native Americans who shot flaming arrows at the building as a form of protest against the oppressive mission system. Another fact about Mission San Luis Obispo is that its burning led to all future missions in California being constructed with inflammable clay roofs.

4. One of the Fathers of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was banished to Spain

Another San Luis Obispo de Tolosa interesting fact is that a Father by the name of Antonio Jose Martínez was arrested from the mission grounds on the basis of criticizing the Mexican government. He was later banished to Spain.

The bells of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa are over 200 years old and still ringing. Visit and see them for yourself.

5. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is the only mission whose bells have names

A San Luis Obispo mission history fact is that the three bells of the mission have official names and are the only ones in California to boast that. The bells are called Sorrowful, Joyful, and Gloria.

6. S.L.O. was once referred to as “Tiger Town” for its lawless nature

San Luis Obispo is home to safe neighborhoods and has low crime rates today, but apparently, that wasn’t always the case. Back in the days of bandits and cowboys, San Luis Obispo had a reputation for lawlessness. That’s why, in the 1800s, it was referred to as Barrio del Tigre, which translates to “Tiger Town” in English.

7. The only swinging bridge in California is in Arroyo Grande

The Swinging Bridge in the Village of Arroyo Grande suspended 40 feet over a creek is one of the only of its kind in the state of California. When it was first erected circa 1875, it didn’t even have any sides to hold on to!

8. Weird Al Yankovic got his start in music while he was attending Cal Poly

Internet sensation Weird Al Yankovic, who is now famous for humorous songs that make light of pop culture, is actually an alumnus of CAL POLY. Despite his career in music, he actually pursued a degree in architecture in college.

Well-known for agri-business, architecture, and engineering degrees, CAL POLY is an esteemed university that brings many students to San Luis Obispo.

9. A majority of S.L.O. Residents are College Students

San Luis Obispo is considered to be a California college town by many due to the large number of students it houses. Home to CAL POLY, this Central Coast beach town attracts a growing number of students from around the state and nation every year!

10. Another Nickname for S.L.O. was “Valley of the Bears” due to its enormous bear population

On the topic of nicknames, another fun fact about San Luis Obispo is that it was known for having a dense bear population and therefore nicknamed “Valley of the Bears”. More recently, a grizzly bear statue was added in Mission Plaza to celebrate the original discovery of the Valley of the Bears during the missionaries’ exploration. 

11. Today, most locals call it SLO CAL

A long time has passed since bears and lawless criminals had the reigns. Today, locals simply call the city SLO CAL and refer to themselves as SLOcals. In fact, if you call the San Luis Obispo by its full name or spell it out as S.L.O. it is usually a dead giveaway that you’re not from the area.

The verdant vistas and rolling hills of San Luis Obispo inspire residents and visitors to lead healthier lives.

12. San Luis Obispo became the first city to ban smoking in 1990

Pioneering San Luis Obispo was the first ever city in the U.S. to ban public smoking in 1990. The SLO ban-the-smokes ordinance started with a period of civic discussion and eventually passed as a motion, paving the way for other cities around the nation to follow suit.

13. Oprah declared San Luis Obispo as the “Happiest Town in the U.S.A.”

The Oprah Show declared S.L.O as America's Happiest City, citing urban planning decisions like making the town pedestrian-friendly with wide sidewalks and limiting fast food drive-throughs as reasons why. And hey, if Oprah says S.L.O. is the happiest city, then it must be a fact.

14. Paso Robles was Named after the Local Oak Trees

There are many fun facts about San Luis Obispo related to names, and Paso Robles is named after the local trees! The city's full name is “El Paso de Robles,” which is Spanish for “The Pass of the Oaks.” Frankly, considering how beautiful the local oaks are, having a town named after them is only fair.

15. The backstory behind Bubblegum Alley is unknown

If you’ve ever stepped foot in San Luis Obispo, then you’ve definitely visited the famous Bubblegum Alley. The hidden gem in the downtown area has sparked curiosity in many people. But, the truth of the matter is that while there are many theories, no one actually knows how the tradition of sticking gum on the alley’s goals started.

16. The concept of a motel was invented in S.L.O.

As auto-travel started to become more popular in the early 1900s, San Luis Obispo’s convenient location between Los Angeles and San Francisco prompted a rise in temporary accommodation for passers-through. These motor hotels served as a basis for the concept of a motel now present in almost every town all over the world.

17. The first solar-powered movie theater is in San Luis Obispo

The Palm Theater in San Luis Obispo became the first solar-powered movie theater in the nation in 2004 by installing 98 panels. Located in the city’s historic Chinatown District, this awesome locale is still a popular spot to catch a flick.

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