Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “San Luis Obispo”

Freeway-Free in California – San Luis Obispo side streets

Moms&Kids fountainSan Luis Obispo is more than Higueroa Street and the Cal Poly Campus. Here are some of the highlights we discovered as we explored the side streets.

  • The San Luis mission – we visited  just as it opened. A mother with three toddlers in tow was inspecting the kid-friendly fountain in the plaza which shows a mother bear with two cubs and a little girl playing together. The mission is one of the more humble in the California String of Missions, but with lovingly painted interior decoration including fool-the-eye columns, and a dormant mission garden which must be lovely when the arbors and trellises are in bloom.Fremont theatre - day
  •  The flamboyant old Fremont theatre, an art-deco mashup that looks like it was assembled from carousel leftovers.  At night, the vintage neon lights up the whole street.Fremont  Theatre - night
  • Phoenix Books – this labyrinth  of used books is organized eccentrically – e.g. the historical novels of Bernard Cornwell can be found in the Mystery section, snuggled  next to the crime novels written by Patricia Cornwelll. Why? “Because they are married, don’t you think they should be together?” explains the owner. Bernard’s wife is named Judy, but that  is beside the point – The oddities of categorization only encourage browsing for the perfect book to be reading by the fire in our cosy B&B.
  • The upscale pedestrian mall which is tucked unobtrusively in between Monterey and Higueroa Streets.  The architecture is designed to blend in unobtrusively with  the mission and all those 1890’s buildings, but it includes a movie multiplex,  Chico’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and of course a Peet’s coffee on one corner and a Starbuck’s on the other, if you’ve had enough of organic and artisan for awhile.
  • Tiny Bubble Gum Alley off Higueroa between Garden Street and Broad Street. Someone stuck a piece of chewed bubble gum on the wall of this narrow walkway – then others copied this action about one million times – and there it is.Crossing the tracks in SLO
  •  .Tthe  elaborate trusses of the pedestrian overcrossing at the Railway Station which allows you to hike from downtown to one of the friendly rounded hills over looking the town and the campus without having to dodge cars or trains.
  • Down at the foot of Higueroa Street at the other end from the mall, you will see a family waving at you from the balcony of a homely 50’s motel… but wait!  that’s a mural!the Two-D Motel

Feeling hungry?  We liked:

  • the Big Sky Café – wonderful local produce, seafood, dairy, in a large, informal, bustling, and friendly  space – we ate here twice and didn’t run out of items we wished we still had room to try.
  • Ciopinot :   Definitely not the college hangout – mostly graying couples like us, or groups of thirty-somethings celebrating.  Excellent sea food, including “No Work Cioppino”  (that means pre-shelled clams and crabs – no bibs required!)
  • Novo :  if weather permits, opt for dining outside next to meandering San Luis Obispo creek, under trees hung with lanterns,  and walls decked with bougainvillea in bloom.
  • House of Bread (on Marsh Street at the foot of downtown) – the perfect place to buy bread to go with that artisanal cheese you bought at the Farmer’s Market.

NOTE:  I will be setting off on another adventure next week, so there will be a hiatus.  Read some past posts and stand by for further freeway-free travel!

Freeway-Free in California – San Luis Obispo’s Energy Source

On the move at Cal PolyWith its beautiful setting, historic mission, comfortable climate, and quaint downtown, what keeps San Luis Obispo from becoming just another haven for retirees?  The gods, in the form of the California State University regents, have gifted SLO with the Californial Polytechnical State University,  the queen campus of the State University system, affectionately known as Cal Poly.  An easy bike ride away from downtown, the campus radiates enough life force to keep the aterioscelerosis from building up behind those 100-year-old storefronts.

After walking Higueroa Street on both sides, plus several side excursions, we were beginning to be footsore, so we sought out Wally’s Bike Works at the far end of Higueroa street, and rented a couple of bikes ($30 for 24 hours, including helmets, a lock, and a bike route map. )Town cruisers from Wally's

The next morning we pedal through the craftsman shingle or stucco bungalows of SLO up  to the campus.   For those accustomed to the  pseudo-mission sandstone and tile roofs of Stanford, UC Berkeley, and San Jose  State, or the pseudo-Gothic granite of the Ivy League and Duke, Cal Poly is a  shock – all modern techno-architecture accented with corrugated siding and solar panels, suitable for the generation that buys  its efficient minimalist furniture from IKEA rather than from thrift stores.   We parked our bikes and began to explore.

We cross wiry  suspension bridges between the buildings, dodging construction sites, and  gradually move toward the campus center along with a stream of students  – it is nearly lunchtime. The dining commons features every student’s basic fare:  pizza, hamburgers, Chinese take-out, sandwiches, plus a salad bar for visiting parents.  The bookstore sells a wide variety of Mustang-logo’d apparel, and also sells postcards (for non-visiting parents?) There is a band playing in the plaza.  A housing fair is happening on the lawn.  A student spots us consulting our campus map and asks if she can help us find something.  It’s that kind of place.

Nutella crepe anyone?Even on a chilly February evening, the student energy helps light up the renowned Thursday night farmers market on Higueroa Street.  We pass bales of kale and columns of cauliflower, but stop  at the Cal Poly Dairy Science Department stall to sample and buy some student-crafted cheese for our train trip home.  We taste some local micro-brew, watch as another student chef crafts giant Nutella crepes for a drooling kiddie clientale, and ogle the ribs on what may be the state’s largest barbecue grill – a circle of smoldering charcoal carpeted with ribs and chicken parts, at least ten feet across (the grill, not the chicken.) Town and Gown – what a wonderful blend, when SLO-cooked!Grilling galore

Freeway-Free in CA – Exploring San Luis Obispo – Day 1-2

Candy and Comics - SLO San Luis Obispo is was too small to be able to afford “downtown redevelopment” back in the 60’s. That’s  when “forward –thinking” municipalities in California like Sunnyvale and Santa Clara ruthlessly razed their walkable, charming downtown streets and replaced them with jiffy-box shopping malls. Happy San Luis Obispo!  Not only is the downtown preserved in the 1920’s like a time warp, but the influence of nearby Cal Poly ensure that the quaint store fronts will be populated with quirky, one-of-a-kind businesses designed to appeal to the college crowd, and to their wealthy retiree parents who increasingly settle here. There is an upscale shopping mall, but it is cleverly designed to blend in with the stucco-clad, tile-roofed architecture of the older parts of the street, and includes a meandering path which invites lingering.

When we set off from our B&B to explore nearby Higueroa Street, the main drag of SLO, wea walked past the funky Candy and Comix shop pictured above.  Downton,  here are some of the shops whose open doors invited us in:

SLO Missian Mall

An old warehouse converted to a gallery/boutique center

Classic car restoration palace

Classic car restoration palace

Don’t you want to come and explore more?

A classic cigar store complete with wooden Indian

A classic cigar store complete with wooden Indian

Tapas bar with lantern glowing through waterfall wall

Tapas bar with lantern glowing through waterfall wall

An organic gift shop

An organic gift shop

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