San Luis Obispo

and Pismo Beach



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San Luis Obispo is a small city in southern California, on the scenic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It makes for a pleasant afternoon's stopping point, and has a few attractions worth seeing. But the bigger draw in the area is probably nearby Pismo Beach, complete with the dunes motor recreational area!

We stopped in SLO (as it's commonly referred to) for just a short while, having spent the previous night in San Simeon. It didn't take long to wander around the town, and then we headed to the outskirts to check out the very kitsch Madonna Inn, followed by an evening of dune-bashing down at Pismo Beach.


San Luis Obispo Mission

In the heart of central SLO is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. As proudly proclaimed it was founded in 1772, but has been remodelled substantially since then. The name San Luis Obispo means "Saint Louis the Bishop".



Near to the mission is the SLO Carnegie Library, another pretty classical building. It was built in 1905 as one of the series of Carnegie Libraries throughout the state, funded by a grant from Andrew Carnegie himself.

San Luis Obispo Library


Fremont cinema

In typical small town fashion, SLO has its own art-deco cinema too, the Fremont Cinema.



One of the stranger attractions in SLO (if indeed you are attracted by it!) is "chewing gum alley". No prizes for guessing where the name comes from, but it's one of few tourist attractions that you can actually augment yourself if you happen to have a wad of spearmint that's losing its flavour...

Chewing gum alley, SLO


Earthquake warning

A plain reminder that you are in an earthquake zone, and that here in California on top of the San Andreas fault, the "big one" could be strike any time. At least here you could seek shelter amongst the lingerie.



At the edge of town is the Madonna Inn, an exercise in extravagant kitsch like none I've ever seen before. Even from the outside, it's all very Alice in Wonderland.

Madonna Inn


Inside the Madonna Inn

Inside the Madonna Inn things get all the more colourfully excessive, and the restaurant looks about ready to host the Mad Hatter's tea party. After all that tea you can make use of the famous rock waterfall urinals in the mens room. I kid you notů



On to Pismo Beach and there was some parasailing going on before the Pacific fog closed in.

Pismo Beach parasailing


Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach itself, with a photo that belies its heavily trafficked nature. I've never seen so many RVs on a beach before, and technically we weren't supposed to drive our rental car on the sand either. Something we quickly regretted after burying its nose in a sand dune, and frantically digging for 20 minutes.



The big draw at Pismo Beach is the huge area of sand dunes set aside for motor sport recreation. Quad bikes, dune buggies and anything else capable of navigating the undulating sands are let loose on these many square miles. We only got stuck twice, but handy hints from our rental man ensured we knew what to do, and were on our way again within minutes. Unlike with the car later.

Dune buggy at Pismo Beach


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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2011