San Luis Obispo
Ideal base for Hearst Castle
On Hwy-l, 189 miles South of San Jose/174 miles South of Santa Cruz. An ideal base for visiting Hearst Castle and a great place to be on a Thursday evening when the Farmer’s Market brings the town’s entire population to impromptu food stands along Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo grew up around Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded by Junipera Serra in 1772.
The fifth of the 21 California missions, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the first to acquire thick adobe walls and a red-tiled roof, necessary alterations if it were to withstand attempts by Native Americans – often forcibly co-opted as mission labour – to burn it down. Falling into disrepair after secularization, extensive restoration has brought the mission back to something approaching its Spanish-era appearance. Inside, though, only the mildly atmospheric chapel and a museum with a copious stock of Native American arrowheads and handicrafts make the token admission fee worth paying.
On the other hand, Mission Plaza, on which the mission stands, is a lively spot: set beside the small river creek which runs through the town, it’s a popular place for outdoor dining. Nearby at 969 Monterey St., the County Historical Museum (http://historycenterslo.org) puts the community’s past on show with the furnishings and knick-knacks of pioneer-period families; another historical marker is the redbrick Ah Louis General Store, 800 Palm St., the only reminder of a sizeable Chinese community which lived in San Luis Obispo during the late 1800s, mostly men employed in constructing the state’s first railways.
San Luis Obispo can also boast the world’s first motel, opened here in 1925 and currently a private residence, and (possibly) the world’s most kitsch hotel: the shocking-pink Madonna Inn, complete with more than a hundred tastelessly-themed rooms, beside Hwy-101 – (http://www.madonnainn.com)