I passed San Luis Obispo--SLO --countless times enroute to San Francisco, my hometown, never realizing this vibrant small city was the place to pause and explore a diverse landscape with much to offer the adventurous spirit.
Now before I dive into my clean air review--San Luis Obispo is pronounced Luis not Louie. Okay, here we go!
Basking under California's sun, San Luis Obispo (also SLO for way of life) is surrounded by wineries, bike paths, and the Seven-Sister volcanic peaks, which offer unparalleled hiking opportunities and the "rock" of nearby Morro Bay.
I especially loved kayaking near that rock on calm, beautiful waters.
Nearby is Avila Beach's Monarch butterfly sanctuary.
As for me, the entire San Luis Obispo area felt like a clean air sanctuary.
The air went down easily in this pristine central California coast area halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, Edna, Arroyo Grande and Avila Valleys, and Pacific Ocean welcome visitors with its negative ions & life affirming oxygen, giving off positive vibes.
Kayaking - I loved kayaking on Morro Bay only a 15 minute drive from my San Luis Obispo hotel, the Embassy Suites.
Morro Bay is home to more than 80 species of migrating birds. Heron, turkey vultures, and more. To read my kayak adventure with photos click here.
More than 25 miles of easily accessible trails within or near the city.
I immediately identified the steepest trailhead at Bishop's Peak--a 2 mile hike with what I was told offered spectacular views.
But a sign at the beginning of the path mentioned a Nov. 30, 2010 mountain lion sighting, so being that I was alone I chose not to finish the trail and worry but rather think about returning to hike with a friend.
A note about wildlife: Mountain lions roam throughout the west, and rarely come around people but occasionally, once in a very long while, there are sightings, which is one reason I hike with walking sticks.
Walking sticks protect your knees, are helpful in rough terrain, and just in case you were to see a mountain lion, it's advised to look big by lifting your sticks above your head. And never run away. You can also look large by lifting your jacket above your head.
A close encounter with wildlife is rare and I've never seen a mountain lion despite hiking hundreds if not thousands of times in California. Speaking of wildlife, on the trail I stopped to get this bluejay photo.
Bike trails are everywhere, and bike clubs are a good way to familiarize yourself. If you don't have a bike, consider renting one and check out the SLO Bike Club to get acquainted here.
I found the San Luis Obispo Art Museum near this creek lined with colorful restaurants, outdoor seating.
I enjoyed the museum's photo and watercolor exhibit. Admission was free.
Many art galleries feature local artists inspired by the surrounding natural beauty. An art walk takes place Friday nights, and a big farmer's market Thursday evenings 6-9 p.m. when downtown transforms into a festive street fair with flower and fruit booths, live music, and dancers.
The Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly showcases professional touring companies and local talent.
You can take a tour of downtown on the Old SLO Trolley for 25 cents.
I like learning about the history of a region, and SLO County Historical Museum located in the beautiful old Carnegie Library tells the story about the Chumash and Salinan peoples to present day.
The Dallidet Adobe Gardens is located downtown near the Mission and offers a tour. I noticed a sign for Botanical Gardens too, driving out to Morro Bay but didn't get a chance to see.
There were plenty of vegetarian/vegan restaurants like Big Sky Cafe, which I enjoyed for breakfast and dinner.
There's dancing at The Grad Thursdays, which I missed but may try on the drive back. And I tried the big dance floor at the Madonna Inn but without a good dance partner I learned next time, bring my own. :-)
San Luis Obispo Mission and Mission Plaza is the cornerstone and birthplace of the city.
The Plaza is a site for many celebrations and connects to the San Luis Creek Walk. It's an active Catholic church with an attached Mission Museum.
Adding unique outdoor beauty in Morro Bay is local artist Kristopher Doe, who was commissioned to paint a life-sized mural at the Morro Bay Natural History Museum. The mural serves as an educational exhibit of ocean-going mammals indigenous to the central coast.
Where to Stay
Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo - This green hotel has a mission to continually improve its energy efficiency, waste disposal, and increase use of organic produce, which is one reason I wanted to stay here. Other reasons included conveniences of home and reliability.
There were recycling bins in every room, in the well-equipped gym, by the pleasant-always ready to help reservations staff, and I was told, in the kitchen.
The Embassy Suites is participating in the lightSTAY program, a third-party monitoring system geared toward lowering the carbon-impact and waste of both staff and guests at a hotel.
I love that this hotel used environmentally safe cleaning supplies, great for the environment and those with allergies.
The staff at SLO Embassy Suites was helpful and pleasant like Kayla Johnson, front reservation manager who told me where to go, what to do, and strides her community and hotel had made regarding green initiatives.
I love staying in a place that offers all the conveniences of home and more--a small fridge and microwave, a gym and pool, free breakfast and happy hour drinks. While this hotel is minutes outside of town, it is near local hiking trails and shopping.
To learn more or book a stay click SLO Embassy Suites Hotel.
While I didn't stay in downtown San Luis Obispo, I'll tell you about B & B's that got great word of mouth: Petit Soliel, Apple Farm, and for the cost conscious Los Padres Inn.
And for my one night at the Avila Village Inn, a few exits from downtown San Luis Obispo, I enjoyed a beautiful room overlooking trees, which I found inspiring to write. It was also located near a well-equipped gym called the Avila Bay Athletic Club & Spa, where I took a spinning class. To learn more staying at the Avila Village Inn click here.
How To Get To San Luis Obispo
The 101 is a beautiful drive whether coming from Southern or Northern California. Then there's the very scenic Highway 1 when you are coming from the Bay Area and prefer slow windy scenic roads overlooking ocean.
AMTRAK has a train that stops in SLO. An airport, too.
I loved San Luis Obispo and will return soon. The San Luis Obispo area is rich in things to do, see, and wines to taste.
Check out more special activities...
Air Quality San Luis Obispo
According to the Air Quality Control District, SLO has very clean air. In fact, its slogan for Southern California used to be,
"Come up for clean air."
SLO has met air quality challenges with stricter emission controls, and conscious residents and business-owners minimizing their impact with innovative programs.
Go Car Free and or Carpool
San Luis Obispo encourages car-free transportation and implemented SLO Carfree.org which gives car-free visitors and residents discounts to participating restaurants and tours. Just sign up and show your Car Free voucher.
Ride Share is a resource for people living in or visiting SLO to find carpool partners and other carfree opportunities, including bus routes.
Wide bike paths and sidewalks are plentiful and many residents bike or walk to work.
SLO was the first town in America to outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants, which is to say that this town's conscious residents are progressive when it comes to the air they breathe.
Local businesses like Tolosa Winery and San Luis Obispo Embassy Suites, continue to make significant strides toward lowering their carbon impact.
But a few potential challenges and questions remain.
SLO Air Quality Environmental Challenges
Three air quality challenges struck me: agricultural pesticide and burning by business and individuals, pollens, and the potential challenge associated with the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant.
Burning & Pesticides
Personal and agricultural burning present air quality challenges in SLO and they are regulated by permits and burn days. To learn more about burning from the SLO Air Pollution Control District click here.
If you're particularly sensitive to smoke and considering a move to the SLO area, check out your neighbors and the direction winds tend to blow (usually east).
Also research how responsible nearby farms may be when appling pesticides. I'm not sure how easy this will be but neighbors generally know and organize if there's a problem. I've learned about problems when visiting certain area or concerned residents write me. (Like neighbors of Driscoll Farms in Northern California concerned about a carcinogenic pesticide.) I'm not aware of problems in SLO.
Agricultural areas have pollen issues. I was told that SLO is rated third in the U.S. for pollen challenges but don't quote me. I also heard Eugene was rated number one. That I experienced. Quote me. How this impacts one is individual. Only you will know impact of pollens by visiting at select times.
Nuclear Power Plant found to be near two earthquake faultlines
Update: The April 13, 2011 PUC hearing about Diablo Nuclear Power Plant postponed until further notice.
To me, this is the big elephant in the SLO air quality challenge room.
It isn't necessarily an air quality challenge today but the active Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Avila Beach has a new blemish that is rightly getting a lot of attention: In late 2008 a new earthquake faultline was found 1/2 mile from the Avila Beach shore.
This means that renewing and funding the Diablo nuclear power plant's license in order to continue operation is under question.
You have a say.
PG&E--the owner and operator of Diablo Nuclear Power Plant--has a license until about 2024. To renew they'll need public approval and about $85 million dollars, which is where you come in.
You can learn about nuclear issues, and write your opinion and send your letter snail mail or email to the Public Utilities Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Tell the regulators why you are for or against renewing the Diablo nuclear plant's license.
There will be a public hearing at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in San Francisco on April 13, 2011. Locally in SLO Rochelle Becker is the activist who will represent the public's interest. I imagine she'll caravan up to SF with witnesses to testify.
According to the last Diablo study--done prior to the new and closer faultline discovery--in the event of an earthquake up to 7.5, the Diablo nuclear reactor will shut down.
But what if an earthquake is bigger?
And what about the potential reliability of a new study given the close proximity of this "new" faultline?
Let's put Diablo in context.
Earthquakes are unpredicatable and occur in California regularly.
80% of the strongest earthquakes in the world occur within the Pacific Ring of Fire, of which the Pacific Ocean and California are significant parts. As is Japan and Chile.
Chile had a 9.5 earthquake in 1960.
Alaska had a 9.2 in 1964.
Update: Japan just had a 8.9 earthquake on March 10, 2011 and radiation in area is 1000x above normal with fears of a meltdown.
Japan had a 6.8 earthquake in 2007 shaking a nuclear power plant. Reportedly emissions did not go into the air when the reactor shut down but a "small" amount of emissions escaped into the water.
Read what the Sierra Club has to say about the situation.
Man is fallible and accidents can and do happen. Do a proper search and you'll learn about unreported nuclear accidents, one of which happened in Los Angeles in 1959 at Rockedyne when a meltdown hundred times worse than Three Mile Island occurred, causing an impossible number to report cancers and damage to the environment. That mess is still getting cleaned up. In 2006, there was a $30 million judgment for cancer victims in Simi Valley who suffered as a result of the nuclear meltdown. But how many more people lived downwind or drank tainted milk as a result of grass cows ate?
It's easy. While the subject is different, here's my testimony for stricter ozone standards in Los Angeles.
Okay, I'm not a nuclear fan, especially in earthquake country, but whatever you are, I am a fan of folks getting educated and involved.
Diablo is one of two active nuclear power plants located on the California coast, the other is San Onofre near Laguna Beach.
San Luis Obispo is progressive when it comes to air quality. Therefore it will be very interesting to see how locales deal with the question of the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant and whether PG&E will be granted $85 million toward a new license to operate, or close.
To read a list of world earthquakes by magnitude, click here.
And to conclude on a lighter note and learn more about SLO air quality, click here.
Truth be told, I breathed real easy in SLO. It's a beautiful country. Friendly people. Lots of activities. And I'd love to return to the area.
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