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San Luis Obispo County: Enjoy Life in the Slow Lane
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San Luis Obispo County: Enjoy Life in the Slow Lane

Here's your guide to San Luis Obispo County, a gorgeous Central Coast region home to miles of pristine beaches and dynamic towns.

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5 min read

March 12, 2022

Slow down—way down—in San Luis Obispo County, home to miles of pristine coastline and quaint towns that encourage visitors to step out of the fast lane. Whether it’s taking in the region’s agricultural scenery on a farm tour, sipping award-winning wines in lush environs, or going on a scenic drive along Highway 1 and stopping at oceanside destinations along the way, visitors can’t help but unwind as soon as they arrive. Want to know everything there is about S.L.O. County? From history and real estate to recreation and top sights, here’s a rundown on what San Luis Obispo County is all about.

One of the earliest villages lies south of San Luis Obispo and reflects the landscape of the early Holocene when estuaries came farther inland.

The History of San Luis Obispo County

The earliest inhabitants of the San Luis Obispo County area were the Chumash people. But the faith of the county changed during the Spanish period in the 18th century. As with most areas, S.L.O. County at the time was primarily used as a farming center around the mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, which was the fifth in the California chain of 21 missions, founded in 1772 by Junípero Serra. 

On September 7, 1769, an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá entered the San Luis Obispo area from coastal areas around today's Pismo Beach.

In 1846, San Luis Obispo County came under U.S. control, and not too long after, the Gold Rush period arrived. During this time, much of the land was still held by Mexicans who had established an economy largely based on the hide trade industry. This only lasted until 1863 when a drought left most of the local ranchos devastated. Many ranchos sold their lands, and a large number of residents quickly turned to other profit venues, leading to a major change in the economic climate of the town. From then onward, S.L.O. County residents focused less on cattle ranching and more on dairies, agriculture, and mined goods.

Today, San Luis Obispo County's population makes up about 300,000 people, while thousands of others come to visit and vacation in its awesome cities. S.L.O. County draws all types of visitors with its picture-perfect weather, miles of hiking and biking trails, immaculate beaches, eclectic shops, dynamic nightlife, and lauded restaurants specializing in farm-to-table eats. The coastal gem is also home to the esteemed Cal Poly state university, the Instagram-worthy Bubblegum Alley, and the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

LandWatch data lists more than $649 million of rural properties and land for sale in San Luis Obispo County.

San Luis Obispo County Real Estate

San Luis Obispo County has been getting the most attention it has in a while during the past couple of years Consequently, the San Luis Obispo County real estate has also been heating up. The City of S.L.O. itself has long been almost equally inhabited by college students and is one of the best cities for retirees in the US. However, other cities have also been gaining popularity in the post-pandemic world of real estate for a variety of reasons.

Compared to more metropolitan cities, San Luis Obispo County’s real estate offers more spacious homes for similar prices, and therefore, a probable spot for an at-home workspace. So, those moving away from super busy and expensive cities in the U.S. in favor of a lifestyle change are preferring small communities where they can get a lot more space for their buck, especially if they’re working remotely. 

Another factor attracting new residents to San Luis Obispo County is the cost of living. Since we’re talking about California, this number is still quite high. However, compared to similarly privileged areas of the state, this area falls in a more economically sound category. Living in S.L.O. County comes with a range of other perks as well, like great weather, awesome quality of life, plenty of recreational activities, and a welcoming community to go along with.

The combination of growing opportunities, gained popularity, and awesome perks have also disqualified S.L.O. County from being an affordable real estate market to invest in. The typical median value of homes in San Luis Obispo is currently $905,169 on Zillow, going up 16.2 percent over the last year. Plan a weekend getaway there soon, and you might find yourself falling for the historic landmarks, charming downtowns, and natural wonders of San Luis Obispo County yourself.

Things to Do In San Luis Obispo County

Play, hike, and soak up the scenery on the beaches of San Luis Obispo County, where you'll be living life in the "SLO" lane.

1. Check out the Best Beaches in San Luis Obispo County

Beach bums are bound to love Avila, Pismo, and Shell Beaches in San Luis Obispo County. All these spots are perfect to enjoy a variety of activities like kayaking, spotting seabirds, surfing the day away, or simply lounging on the soft sand. Cayucos and Morro Bay are other adored beach towns, boasting antique shops, dining hot spots, and a plethora of water-related activities such as sailing, fishing, and stand-up paddleboarding.  

2. Enjoy Rugged Outdoor Activities at Santa Margarita

Outdoor enthusiasts will fall in love with the range of rugged adventures offered in Santa Margarita. The Western-inspired town offers horseback riding, hiking trails, and high-flying zip lines—plus fishing and boating on Santa Margarita Lake. 

In nearby Cambria, nature lovers can meander along the pathways winding through towering Monterey pine trees, cycle through hilly terrain while admiring gorgeous coastal views, or search for treasures on the famous Moonstone Beach. This is what San Luis Obispo County’s adventuring is all about.

Hearst Castle, known formally as La Cuesta Encantada, is a historic estate in San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County.

3. Visit the Popular Touristic Town of San Simeon

A short drive from Cambria, San Simeon has become another popular spot along Highway 1, thanks to newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, who chose to build his expansive, opulent estate—Hearst Castle—there in the mid-1900s. The town also attracts visitors who want to explore art galleries, shop at local boutiques, go fishing, and camp for a weekend along the coast.

4. Spend a Night at One of SLO County’s campgrounds

San Luis Obispo County offers scenic, well-appointed facilities whether you are an RV camper or an individual seeking solitude in the Central Coast wildland environment. For a lakeside getaway, reserve one of the 350 campsites at Lopez Lake Recreation Area. El Chorro Regional Park offers a San Luis Obispo County campground that is perfectly situated for exploring the Central Coast, while Santa Margarita Lake is ideal for primitive camping in a scenic setting.

Regardless of where visitors go in S.L.O. County, they’re guaranteed to find a mix of activities that provide both fun and relaxation.

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