Clean-air Adventure Series kickoff: San Luis Obispo, California

Too much of a good thing? hogwash! there is no such thing. The “good thing,” in this instance, is San Luis Obispo, a quiet community nestled among oak-studded hills on California’s central coast.


SLO or SLO town, as it is also referred to at times, is as unassuming as it is picturesque. I’ve said this before and would not say this if it wasn’t true. It is indeed a great place to visit if not live, in that SLO offers up some pretty amazing views.

Approximately midway between San Francisco and L.A., the town is situated on two Golden State highways in fact: 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH for short) and 101 (more familiarly known as either El Camino Real (the Kings or Royal Highway) or Ventura Highway – the latter of which was made famous and popular in song).

Dexter Lawn, Cal Poly, SLO

The many local town attractions never get old; some actually are old. There is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (one of 21 located along State Route 101), the “Gum Wall,” California Polytechnic State University, America’s very first motor hotel or motel, and some of the most breathtaking scenery that eyes could ever be feasted on anywhere. There is even “Railroad Square” adjacent to the Amtrak station where one can get a glimpse of the town’s railroad past.

What cannot be found, however, is, major industry or traffic jams, nor will one find a single business-connected drive-through. That’s right, not a one.

From the high lands …

Located not far distant, there resides miles and miles of undisturbed shoreline. But equal in stature, in my opinion, are those endearing “foothills,” in some cases with their semi-jagged peaks.

In my heart, the foothills have a special place. Anytime I had the inclination, I could just hoof it to the tops of a number of these either to be afforded a different perspective or just to reflect or, maybe some of both. One of the ones I definitely enjoyed climbing is Bishop’s Peak – yes, this really is its name. As a brief aside, “Obispo,” by the way, is the Spanish word for “Bishop,” so, it’s fitting.

In climbing to the tops of such, the danger level one tends to perceive as low. Quite unlike the experience of scaling the more familiar and famous slopes of Mount Everest, the Matterhorn, etc. replete with sharp drop-offs along with the constant threat of snow avalanches or landslides and the like loom larger than life itself, SLO’s “morro’s” (Bishop’s Peak being one of nine) on the other hand and in their own way serve up dangers all their own, that is, if you consider poison oak a danger. So, in my ascent up the mountain face, for my efforts, it wasn’t the next day that I had this uncontrollable urge to scratch. Yep, it was poison oak all right. If ever there was a souvenir to bring back from one’s travels, this definitely wasn’t it! A persistent bugger and then some one just doesn’t want, trust me.

That aside and thinking back, what treats these outings were, for upon making it to the tops, for me and I would presume for others doing likewise, it’s the icing on the cake what with the views and all – there really is no other way to put it.

… To the low lands …

Cal Poly in 1973 was, no doubt, for me, the place to be. All I had to do was complete the required coursework (not the easiest of exercises in my case) and I would be home free.

Performing Arts Center

Easier said than done, of course, with time engaged in studying engineering statistics (problem solving sometimes involving triple integration), strength of materials, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, modern logic (philosophy elective), computer science, psychology, economics, Fortran, passive network analysis, calculus 3, metallurgy, you name it, plus senior project. It was at the time all unfamiliar territory.

It is understandable then that there would be the need for distraction, things to do to take my mind off of school matters. Evening jogs around the school’s perimeter provided welcome relief. Or, eight or so laps around the running track or weekend runs on the trails of Poly Canyon – a more secluded and scenic part of campus – often did the trick. Or when time permitted and weather cooperated, the time devoted to biking up and down the coast, was the icing on the cake – a true joy and highlight – all of it in air that was always – and I do mean always – fresh and clean.

Residence Hall

These things, in their totality, were part and parcel of the well-rounded experience the college way-of-life provided me.

… At the beach …

It was during summer weekends, in fact, when, believe it or not, there was “nothing” going on. And, it was during that lull that my then college roommate and I headed toward the nearby shore. Any time spent sun-tanning, Frisbee-throwing, body surfing or just running along the shoreline, are, in my mind (where else?), with me for life.

That said, to not have taken advantage of and partaken in what the beaches the central California coast had to offer, I truly would have missed out, something everyone or most everyone living a SLO lifestyle will tell you.

… And, on biking, too!

So, a group of us road pedalers from town got this brainstorm-of-an-idea to plan a Saturday century – a 100-mile bike ride. All that was needed was to firm up the time, date, route and place.

With all systems go, on the day of the ride, we packed up our gear, loaded our bikes in a van and drove 30 or so miles south to the town of Santa Maria. We parked the van in the parking lot of a restaurant, part of a nationwide chain. We figured this would be okay, because it was only one vehicle plus the fact that we would be patronizing the restaurant even if the lot of us ordered but coffees only. Riding the distance we were and having full stomachs is tantamount to trying to combine oil and water – the two just don’t mix.

With much good fortune, the ride went like clockwork coming off without a hitch. And, the scenery was spectacular, especially the fields and fields of blooming flowers we passed around the Santa Barbara County town of Lompoc. What’s more, the weather couldn’t have been more cooperative.

The more adventuresome type that I was, then, I figured why stop with a century? So, since I didn’t have a car and yet wanted to see area sites, then to really get to know the region well, it was bike my way around. And, I wasn’t about to let a few “foothills” stop, in this regard, my forward progress. That’s for sure!

A far SLOwer pace

Very easy going is how I would describe life in San Luis Obispo. A laid back community if ever there was one. Anyone from the big city there for a visit, will definitely notice the decidedly slower life pace, a pace to outsiders that may take some getting used to. As it relates, the acronym SLO is so apropos. And, the air there ain’t half bad either!

San Luis Obispo, California. Visiting the central coast town in California every chance I get, is how much of a love I have for SLO.

Chamber of Commerce building, downtown


This month – April – having a focus on the Earth, air, environment, I can’t think of a better opportunity than the month known for showers to share some of my clean-air adventures. Maybe reading this will inspire the adventuresome person in you.

Look for more installments during Air Quality Awareness Week beginning Sunday, Apr. 30th. Next up is an account of a hiking/camping trip I took in the Tahoe backcountry.

Image credits: top and 2nd, Gregg Erickson3rd, Marco Guzman, Jr.; and 4th, courtesy of Lynne Biddinger, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.

– Alan Kandel