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San Luis Obispo, California, exudes happiness, health, and harmony, which is why it was once named The Happiest City in America.
The city goes by the nickname SLO (pronounced: Slow) and that’s a great word to reflect the pace of life here.
Spanish influences fill this small California town halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
While not a coastal town, it’s just 15 minutes from the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
This is a city where you can do it all.
Nightlife is as important as al fresco dining.
Wildlife adventures await or you can stroll a busy downtown.
SLO is open to whatever you need to get a relaxing vacation in and soak in the “happy” vibes of this hamlet in the Central California region.
To the east, you have the mountains and the popular Nine Sisters peaks, which offer varying levels of hiking difficulty and a great way to see SLO from a scenic vista.
This is also the home of Cal Poly University, so you’ve got a college crowd on top of all the other options in San Luis Obispo, California.
Warnings & Dangers in San Luis Obispo
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here. This is a town filled with college students and young professionals that somehow figured out how to manage the exorbitant cost of living in this idyllic town.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
There's low risk with any option you choose. The downtown area is easily walkable, but there's also a Trolley throughout the year if your feet are tired. The city is very bike-friendly and has more than 60 ridable miles. SLO Transit is the bus system here and you can download an app to track your bus live. Traditional taxis and rideshares are also available.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There were no reports of pickpockets in 2020. This is a safe area to visit and there's a low risk you'll be a pickpocket victim.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
The weather here is ideal almost every day, but there's always an undercurrent of earthquake worry as SLO sits near the San Andreas Fault Line. There's a low-risk day in and out, but overall it's a medium risk because you need to be aware of earthquake safety steps. Wildfires can also happen in this area. While the Nine Sisters peaks are technically volcanoes, they've long gone dormant, so there's no worry about that.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There were just 28 robberies in SLO in 2020, and only a fraction was tourist-related. That's a low risk. You still should use caution when walking through new areas at night and always stay where the streetlights are on. Don't wander down alleys, even in a happy city like SLO.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here as there are no hard targets nearby.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
The main scams in this area target residents and food delivery drivers. Tourists have a low risk, but don't let that make you too comfortable. If something seems too good to be true, it is.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here provided you keep your wits about you if you are enjoying the nightlife in SLO. While it's never a good idea to walk alone at night, there are plenty of ride options here to get you home safely. With 39 rapes reported in 2020, it's important to never go home with someone you just met and don't drink from a glass if you didn't see the drink poured.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The water here meets or exceeds required standards and there have been no health violations on record for the past few years. There's a low risk.
Safest Places to Visit in San Luis Obispo
You’ve got to visit downtown SLO.
This eclectic mix of art, museum, shopping, and dining brings excitement day and night.
Don’t miss Bubblegum Alley, where people have been leaving their gum behind for decades, sometimes with sweet messages.
There are nearly two dozen public art displays downtown, as well as three museums.
For one of the best farms in the area, head to Avila Valley Barn with fruits, flowers, and veggies always ripe for the picking.
Hayrides and pony rides are also available and locals tell me you have to try the roasted corn here.
In just 15 minutes, you can be at beautiful Avila Beach.
Golfing, sailing, hiking, wave watching, and beachcombing are popular activities in this coastal destination.
For an extra bit of fitness, take a 30-minute hike to Point San Luis Lighthouse.
Places to Avoid in San Luis Obispo
There aren’t any highly dangerous neighborhoods in SLO.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, you should avoid staying around Cal Poly, the big university in SLO.
There have been some reports of sketch characters in Mitchell Park, but that’s from social feeds, so take it for what it’s worth.
If you are a woman, avoid walking alone at night, especially near a nightlife hot spot.
Make sure you aren’t being followed and always have a buddy if you can.
There has been a trend of rapes in and around Cal Poly.
Campus and city police work together to reduce the chances, but it’s something the whole community is vigilant about and tourists need to be as well.
If you are trying to visit all the peaks of Nine Sisters, it’s important to know you cannot climb on Morrow Rock.
Only groups with special designations can climb up there.
Not only is it dangerous to try, but it’s also illegal.
Safety Tips for Traveling to San Luis Obispo
- If you want food, you can get it to go, but you’ll have to go inside the restaurant or look for curbside delivery. You’ll notice there aren’t any drive-thru restaurants in SLO. That’s because a long time ago (like in the 80s), drive-thrus were banned by the city.
- SLO was the first city in the world to ban smoking indoors, starting a global trend. This isn’t the place to try to get away with sneaking a quick smoke. Only light up outdoors where allowed.
- Avoid large gatherings where you don’t have any control of the noise level or crowd size. It’s a college town and there are going to be parties, but if you get invited you should know about the Unruly Gathering ordinance. This is when 20 or more people are gathered and are disturbing the peace in a neighborhood. Police are vigilant against keeping this quaint community as respectable as possible.
- If you host a party of your own, the noise ordinance goes into effect at 10:00 p.m., and noise isn’t allowed to go beyond 50 feet from your location.
- There are four ways to pay for parking through your mobile app and the city website has an interactive map to search for a place to park. Drivers are asked to use the parking garage instead of searching for street parking. The first hour in a garage is free, and the maximum charge is $6. Street parking should be used only for quick stops.
- There’s a new pedestrian safety device in SLO that looks like a two-eyed black brick at the top of an intersection. When it flashes yellow, it means a pedestrian is waiting to cross and when it turns red you must stop.
- If you are paying in cash to ride the trolley or bus, you must bring exact change. No change will be made.
- Don’t just hike any trail. Evaluate your physical fitness level and hiking experience, as each trail is rated easy, medium, or hard. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen when you go and avoid going alone if you can for safety. If you must go alone, let someone know where you are hiking and when you plan to return.
- If you are in SLO during a big event or busy time, the police might enact an Enhanced Safety Zone. This means all fines can be doubled for items like open containers, disturbing the peace, or unruly gatherings. This goes for major holidays like Halloween or Mardi Gras.
- Add this one to the list of “oddly strict laws”. You cannot feed the ducks you see in local parks or public. It’s against the law. Seriously.
So... How Safe Is San Luis Obispo Really?
The city and police have tightened their grip on everything from out of control to parties to enforcement of parking to, as we just mentioned, ducks.
This is a city with two homicides since 2013, yet an unsettling number of reported rapes.
Social commentary flows along the lines of landlord complaints (nearly 60% of people here rent their homes) and police trying to stop the “fun” of a college town.
It’s also an expensive place to live, so there are complaints in that area as well.
A tourist isn’t going to be impacted by those events for the most part, but if you’re here for a holiday or big event you just need to know the strict rules that aim to keep this community one of the “happiest” in the country.
There’s a 1 in 227 chance of being a victim of a violent crime.
That’s slightly higher than the California average.
The majority of thefts are from vehicles, so lock up your car and keep belongings out of plain sight.
How Does San Luis Obispo Compare?
|San Luis Obispo
|Santiago de Chile (Chile)
|Hong Kong (China)
All of the Visa information is handled at the airport or port of entry and nothing else is needed to visit SLO or the surrounding area.
You'll use the U.S. Dollar here. Bring a little bit of change with you for public transportation if you plan on using it. Other than that, most of the purchases can be made with a major credit card.
Winters are pretty mild here, with highs in the 60s and lows into the 40s, so you can bring long sleeves and a jacket. Spring and summer get into the high-70s and '80s with lows into the 50s year-round. This isn't a sunny, warm beach vacation, but people here say the weather is almost perfect since it's a nice balance of not too cold and not too hot.
San Luis Obispo has a regional airport on the south side of the city. The Los Angeles International Airport is about three hours south and the San Francisco International Airport is three and a half hours north.
You should get travel insurance for your trip to SLO. With just a regional airport nearby and a long drive from a major airport, there are too many things that could go wrong with your trip to San Luis Obispo, California.
San Luis Obispo Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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