Are you considering moving to San Luis Obispo? Known as SLO or San Luis by locals, this beautiful but small city is in the heart of SLO Wine Country. Known for its vineyards and outdoor activities, San Luis Obispo is also famous for California Polytechnic State University and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, an 18th-century Spanish missionary. It’s even been called the “happiest city in the country.”
San Luis Obispo was founded by Spanish Franciscan Junipero Serra in 1772 as one of the first European-founded communities in the state. He was under orders by the Spanish Empire to bring Catholicism to native people in Alta California the same year Mission San Diego was founded. The mission became a regular parish in 1834 with most of its land split up into Mexican land grants. When California was later annexed to the U.S., SLO became the first town incorporated in the new county.
Its early history was plagued by lawlessness with frequent robberies and murders. Long a cattle community, the town shifted to agriculture and dairy. Today, it’s one of California’s most famous wine regions and a popular tourist destination.
SLO offers a great quality of life with a charming downtown, a small-town feel, and a more laid-back lifestyle. The city may be small, but it offers plenty of nightlife and it’s heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s what you’ll love about living in SLO, California.
Table of Contents
San Luis Obispo, CA Population & Demographics
SLO is the county seat of San Luis Obispo County or SLO CAL. The city is 230 miles south of San Francisco and 190 miles north of Los Angeles on the Central Coast of Southern California. The county is on the shore but the city of SLO is about 10 minutes from the beach.
The population of San Luis Obispo is 47,300 with a population density of 3,549 people per square mile living within just 13 square miles. SLO is part of the San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles metro area which has a population of 282,000. A new federal proposal may downgrade SLO-Paso to a micropolitan area, however.
The city has a very young population with a median age of just 26.7 compared to the national and California average of 36. This is due to Cal Poly, a major university with about 20,000 students. There are 51 adult men for every 49 adult women in the city.
SLO has a median household income of $56,071, lower than the California median of $75,250, with 30% of people living below the poverty line.
The racial and ethnic composition of SLO is 71% white, 18% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 2% black. Just under 9% of the population was born outside the U.S., far below the California average of 27%.
The city has had many famous residents including actor Zac Efron and Weird Al Yankovic who attended Cal Poly.
Top Neighborhoods in SLO
Where are the best places to live in SLO? Ahead of moving to San Luis Obispo, CA, you’ll want to explore the best areas to live with the amenities and lifestyle you’re looking for. Here are some top neighborhoods you’ll love.
Japantown – Affordable San Luis Obispo Neighborhood for Families
This historic district once had a thriving community of Japanese-Americans until they were forced to leave for internment camps during WWII. Originally a commercial center developed by the Tsutsumi Eto and Eto families, the culture of the community was erased. It was recently renamed Japantown and Eto Park was created to honor the Japanese families who once lived here.
Today, this small neighborhood is one of the most affordable places to live in SLO. You’ll find manufactured homes in the $100s to $300s and condos in the $400s.
San Luis Ranch – Beautiful Mixed-Use, Farm-to-Table SLO Neighborhood Surrounding Farmland & Trails
San Luis Ranch is unlike any other neighborhood. The community is carefully arranged around 50 acres of farmland and open space next to Laguna Lake with many housing options, shopping, and community gardens. Every home has a sustainable farm in the backyard plus and walking/biking trails that connect to shopping centers, a sports court, and a large central park. You’ll find a variety of single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and lofts!
View this post on Instagram
One of the best places to live in SLO for millennials, students, and young professionals is the Railroad District. Just minutes from Cal Poly and the nightlife and shopping in downtown SLO, the neighborhood has an exciting urban atmosphere, great walkability, and tons of restaurants. Many residents choose to bike or walk to get around with the Railroad Bike Path and Morrow St. Bike Boulevard that connect to other neighborhoods in the city.
Homes are a bit more affordable than average for the city with mostly mid-priced homes starting around $400,000. The neighborhood has a good mix of bungalows and lofts of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet.
San Luis Obispo Country Club Estates – Prestigious SLO Neighborhood
This stunning gated community in SLO is located right on the private golf course greens and minutes from downtown. Enjoy all the amenities of the country club at your fingertips including aquatics, golf, tennis, fitness, and programs for kids. The neighborhood is popular with families and retirees alike with Los Ranchos Elementary School within walking distance.
Homes were mostly built in the 80s and 90s and most are single-family, but you’ll also find townhomes and an older area with smaller homes and condos. The average home price is $1.2 million.
Cost of Living in San Luis Obispo – Is San Luis Obispo Expensive?
What is the average cost of living in San Luis Obispo? The cost of living index is 164 which makes it 64% more expensive than the national average. By comparison, California has a cost of living index of 150.
Healthcare, utilities, and transportation are more affordable than the national average while groceries are about 10% more expensive. Housing is the biggest factor affecting the SLO cost of living with a housing index of 317!
SLO, CA Typical Living Expenses
- Steak, 1 lb ribeye: $11.38
- Milk, ½ gallon: $2.17
- Eggs, 1 dozen: $2.74
- Bread, 1 loaf: $4.40
- Beer, Heineken’s six-pack: $9.43
- Movie ticket: $16
- Monthly SLO Transit pass: $40 ($20 for seniors and disabled adults, $25 for K-12 students)
- Average water bill: $60
- Average monthly utility bill: $235 (for an apartment)
Note that SLO has some of the highest electricity rates in the United States. PG&E continually hikes rates due to wildfires in California.
Don’t forget to consider taxes too!
- California income tax: 1% to 12.3% plus 1% on taxable income over $1 million
- SLO sales tax rate: 7.75%
- San Luis property taxes: 0.71% average tax rate on assessed value ($5,600 per year on a $790,000 home)
San Luis Obispo Crime
Is San Luis Obispo a safe place to live? While the San Luis Obispo crime rate is higher than the national average, it’s still a safe community as long as you’re aware of your surroundings.
Here is the SLO crime rate:
- 4,043 total crimes per 100,000 residents
- 4,546 property crimes per 100,000 residents
- 402 violent crimes per 100,000 residents
You have a 1 in 25 chance of being the victim of crime, but a 1 in 249 chance of being the victim of violent crime.
By comparison, the national crime rate is 2,580 crimes per 100,000 people with 2,362 property crimes and 382 violent crimes per 100k.
Violent crime in SLO is slightly above the national average, but SLO had no murders in 2019. The national murder rate is 5 homicides per 100k. The city’s property crime rate is 73% above the national average.
Most people living in San Luis Obispo say they feel safe. Police encourage ordinary precautions such as locking your car without valuables in sight, ensuring your exterior doors and windows are locked at home, and sticking to well-lit areas at night. For instance, most residential burglaries occur in unlocked homes according to the SLO police department.
The best way to understand your risk of crime and find the safest places to live in SLO is with a San Luis Obispo crime map. This map shows reportable offenses which you can filter by incident type and even neighborhood. You’ll see that most crime occurs in Downtown SLO and the Mill Street Historic District.
San Luis Obispo Climate
What’s the weather in San Luis Obispo like? SLO has a cool Mediterranean climate. Winters are cool but mild and summers are sunny and warm. However, SLO is cooler than many areas of California. You’ll experience 50 days with rain every year, usually during the winter, with 20” of annual rainfall. There are 287 average sunny days per year.
The average temperature in San Luis Obispo is 74 degrees in the summer with a winter low of 43 degrees in January. It only exceeds 90 degrees about six days per year with about three days each year dipping below freezing at night.
The best time to visit San Luis Obispo is July through September for the most pleasant temperatures.
Fun Things to Do in San Luis Obispo
You’ll never run out of exciting events, outdoor activities, and things to do while living in SLO, California. The city boasts 7,000 acres of designated open space with 52 miles of trails. Spend your days hiking, boating, swimming, and fishing or enjoy sports like volleyball, tennis, golfing, and horseback riding. Downtown SLO is walkable and always bustling with sidewalk cafes, amazing restaurants, and locally owned shops. You can also explore SLO Wine Country with 280 wineries and 40 grape varieties in the region.
Here are the top SLO parks and landmarks, activities, and destinations you’ll love.
- Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a Spanish mission founded in 1772, is the most iconic San Luis Obispo landmark with public tours and a museum.
- Bubblegum Alley is one of downtown SLO’s most popular tourist attractions. This 70’x15’ alley wall is covered with chewing gum and visited by hundreds of thousands every year.
- Madonna Inn is an iconic SLO resort hotel known for its themed guest rooms, hot pink exterior, and top-rated spa. Residents can enjoy spa services plus the bakery, café, cocktail lounge, and steak house.
- Tolosa Winery is one of the best things to do in SLO for couples. Enjoy world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the heart of SLO wine country.
View this post on Instagram
Museums & Entertainment
- San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is a small museum featuring the photography, sculpture, and paintings by local artists.
- San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum offers permanent and rotating interactive exhibits that inspire learning through play.
- San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum is located in a restored freighthouse with themed rides and local exhibits.
Parks & Outdoor Attractions
- Laguna Lake Dog Park is one of SLO’s best destinations for outdoor activities. Located on the lake, the park offers a playground, sand volleyball, boating, and fishing.
- Sinsheimer Park is one of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo with kids. This gorgeous park features a playground, tennis and volleyball courts, disc golf, a baseball stadium, and a pool!
- San Luis Obispo Country Club is a private, picturesque golf club with 160 acres of greens among the vineyards of SLO County. The country club offers excellent amenities for members including a fitness center, Kids Activity Center, world-class swimming and tennis, private lessons, and more.
View this post on Instagram
- Madonna Plaza Shopping Center is the premier destination for shopping in SLO with a central location and a variety of big box retailers, small shops, and restaurants.
- Marigold Center is an outdoor strip mall with shopping, restaurants, and a fitness center.
Great Places to Eat
Ready to explore the best San Luis Obispo restaurants? The city has many iconic eateries and it’s known for its farm-fresh cuisine. Here’s what you have to look forward to after moving to San Luis Obispo.
- Big Sky Cafe. Featuring a seasonally inspired menu and the fresh flavors of the Central Coast, Big Sky Café is a top-rated farm-to-table restaurant featured in Gourmet Magazine. Big Sky Cafe, 1121 Broad St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 (805) 545-5401
- Novo Restaurant and Lounge. Novo is one of Downtown SLO’s best restaurants with international and California fusion cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. The eatery features creekside patio dining with an upstairs lounge and a wine cellar. Novo, 726 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 (805) 543-3986
- Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica.This upscale Italian restaurant specializes in dishes from the Pugliese region with house-made pasta and sauces and charming patio dining. Giuseppe’s Cucina Rustica, 849 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 (805) 541-9922
View this post on Instagram
San Luis Obispo Real Estate – Housing Market Overview
Ahead of moving to San Luis Obispo, you’ll definitely want to know what to expect with the local housing market. The Central Coast housing market has become very hot with homes selling in just eight days on average. Many buyers are up against all cash offers and even being outbid by $100,000 over asking price!
SLO has experienced a recent construction boom attempting to address the housing shortage. Many people commute to work in SLO but can’t find or afford housing in the city.
Buying a home after moving to San Luis Obispo? The average home price is $790,000, but you’ll find a huge range of housing options ranging from condos in the $300s to $400s to luxury homes priced over $1.5 million.
If you’re planning to rent while living in SLO, CA, the average rent is $2,257. You’ll find many great apartments for rent ranging from more affordable, older buildings to new, luxury apartments near downtown SLO. You can enjoy a great quality of life and amenities for your rent money. One of the most in-demand buildings is Connect with studio to two-bedroom apartments ranging from $1,600 to $3,500. Residents enjoy a Coworking Hub with free use of a communal workspace with fiber optic internet plus private on-site offices for rent.
San Luis Schools
While living in San Luis Obispo, you’ll be served by the San Luis Coastal Unified School District with a high school, one middle school, and six elementary schools. San Luis Obispo High School, or SLO High, the top public high school in the county with a 99% graduation rate. There are also several secular and religious private schools in the city.
Considering higher education? SLO is home to California Polytechnic State University. Cal Poly is a nationally ranked university named the Best in the West for 29 years running and it’s the top public master’s university in California.
View this post on Instagram
Jobs & Average Salary in SLO
How much does it cost to live in San Luis Obispo? A good place to start is looking at the average salary in the city. According to Payscale, the average salary in San Luis Obispo is $70,000 with an average hourly wage of $20.47.
The SLO economy is diverse and focuses on tourism, leisure, wine, education, professional services, retail, education, healthcare, and government services.
Top employers with at least 1,000 employees include:
- California Polytechnic State University
- County of San Luis Obispo
- California Department of State Hospitals – Atascadero
- Pacific Gas & Electric
- California Men’s Colony correctional facility
- Cal Poly Corporation
- Tenet Healthcare
- Cuesta College
- San Luis Coastal Unified School District
- City of San Luis Obispo
Note that Pacific Gas and Electric, the city’s largest non-government employer, announced it will close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in 2025. This is expected to have a major impact on the local economy with a cost of 1,500+ jobs and 9% from the school district’s budget.
San Luis Obispo Transportation – How to Get Around San Luis Obispo
Getting around San Luis Obispo is easy thanks to a network of highways and a public transit system. Route 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway are the main north-south highways that connect SLO to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Central Coast area.
Public transportation is available through the SLO Transit bus system and the SLO Regional Transit system that serves the entire county. Amtrak’s San Joaquin, Coast Starlight, and Pacific Surfliner routes serve the city through the San Luis Obispo Train Station.
After moving to San Luis Obispo, you will be served by the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) with commercial service to select cities like LA, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Denver.
View this post on Instagram
SLO doesn’t have any major league or professional sports teams, but that doesn’t mean sports fans won’t find plenty to love. College sports are a big draw for the city. Cal Poly Athletics has 20 teams, most notably Cal Poly Mustangs football, baseball, and basketball.
Residents and visitors also enjoy tons of outdoor sports in the area ranging from hiking and horseback riding to sailing, surfing, kayaking, and windsurfing.
Living in San Luis Obispo Pros & Cons
- Pro: Beautiful scenery and outdoor recreation
- Pro: Great amenities with a walkable downtown and nightlife
- Pro: Excellent schools and higher education
- Con: Higher crime than average for California
- Con: High cost of living
Is relocating to San Luis Obispo in your future? Call Martian Movers today for a free estimate to get started. Our friendly San Luis Obispo movers look forward to giving you the 5-star experience you deserve!