San Luis Obispo, California | Where to Live Next | Smithsonian
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Aerial view of San Luis Obispo-Chorro Valley from Cuesta Ridge (San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce)

San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo, California

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Population: 42,963 (2006 estimate)
Percentage of retirees: 14.4%
Cost of living index: Substantially above average
Public libraries: 1
Public transportation: Downtown trolleys operate on a loop every 20 minutes at a cost of $.25. Buses on SLO Transit city bus line and Central Coast Area Transit offer services to Santa Maria. Amtrak offers daily services to San Francisco, LA and San Diego.
Access to airports: San Luis Obispo Airport has daily scheduled flights to nearby cities. Access to the airport is available by taxicab and shuttle bus.
Tax breaks: In California, Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits are exempt. There is a 2.5% tax on early distributions and qualified pensions. All private, local, state and federal pensions are fully taxed.
Number of museums: 7
Number of cinemas: 4
Cultural Highlights: Focused on annual festivals and performing arts.
Access to Healthcare: Fair
Climate: Pleasant year-round
Annual precipitation: 24.36 inches
Nearby Attractions: Pacific beaches 10 minutes away, San Simeon and Hearst Castle and wine country within an hours" drive, and Santa Barbara about an hour and a half.
Useful link: City of San Luis Obispo
In the Know: "It's the downtown feel-streets, awnings, sidewalks-of 40 or 50 years ago, and people enjoy that. It's unspoiled. San Luis Obispo people have a pride. We're smart but not snobbish. We live in a rural setting, but we're worldly. San Luis has that social vibrancy. It's a very special place."
-Karen Kile, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Art Center

The fact that the town's 235-year-old mission, while no longer Spanish, continues to function in the heart of town says a lot about the character of San Luis Obispo. History and a contented small-town ambience permeate this community wedged into the Los Osos Valley. The presence of the California Institute of Polytechnics at the north edge of town adds an additional dynamism to the mix, with respected touring companies stopping in at its Performing Arts Center.

The historic downtown, threaded by San Luis Creek, is filled with galleries, shops, restaurants and venerable adobe structures from the Spanish colonial era, all of them concentrated in a walkable few blocks. These streets and the old mission plaza are the site of a number of outdoor events, including the Plein Air Painting Festival, a weekend-long gathering of artists; the month-long Mozart festival; book-and-author festivals; and the city's weekly Farmers Market. That takes place every Thursday night and spreads through eight blocks of downtown. Not only farmers but local performers and restaurateurs get into the spirit, serving up their particular specialties streetside. A further convenience in this small place is the presence of a downtown Amtrak station, with daily stops by north- and southbound trains.

The city has preserved a number of green spaces in town, and close by are several natural reserves that offer extensive trails for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching. This is also serious wine country, and vineyards line the green hills north and south of town.

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