Is This California Town the Happiest Place in America?
Nestled between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo has earned a lofty reputation as the happiest place in America. Here's why it lives up to the hype.
Forget Disneyland. If you're looking for the true happiest place on Earth, you need to visit San Luis Obispo (or SLO, as it’s called), a charming town located along the Central Coast halfway between the Los Angeles and San Francisco. While it’s often overlooked by visitors, SLO’s pristine coastline, year-round sunny weather, and relaxed pace of life make it a place that many dream of calling home (not to mention one of our Top 100 Best Places to Live) — and a destination that certainly deserves a spot on your travel bucket list.
Wondering how San Luis Obispo earned its reputation as the "happiest place in America"? Here are six reasons this joyful gem lives up to the hype:
1. The Great Outdoors
When it comes to location, you can’t get much better than SLO’s little slice of the earth. Nestled among rolling hills, vineyards, forests and mountains — just miles from scenic beaches and coastline — this city gets the best of California’s breathtaking landscapes. Living an active lifestyle here is easy, with endless outdoor activities, from hiking up Cerro San Luis mountain to enjoy sweeping views to relaxing on nearby Pismo Beach or kayaking the beautiful Morro Bay. The sunny and mild Mediterranean climate allows you to get outside all year long.
Photo courtesy Visit SLO
2. A SLO-er Pace of Life
SLO isn’t just the name of the town — it’s also an outlook on life that people here take seriously. With the tagline, “life’s too beautiful to rush,” this isn’t a place to hurry though; here, you take your time. The relaxed pace of life is one of biggest reasons people are drawn to the area (it’s often ranked one of the best communities for overall well-being). But while it’s certainly less stressful than LA or SF, it's not dull — from organic eats to world-class wine, SLO residents enjoy the pleasures of life.
Photo courtesy Visit SLO
3. An Entrepreneurial Spirit
SLO is home to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), consistently ranked one of the top public colleges in the country, with particular emphasis on business, engineering and technology. While many students head north or south after graduation, many others stay to launch start-ups, and the city has responded to help foster innovation through programs like the San Luis Obispo HotHouse, a co-working space aimed at entrepreneurs; and SLO Seed Ventures, a group of investors that provide resources to growing companies.
6. A Lively Downtown
Downtown SLO is a walker’s paradise, with block after block of boutique shops, trendy coffee shops, lively eateries, intimate concert halls, and many breweries. It acts as a community gathering place for college students and local residents to come together for weekly concerts in the summer, Art after Dark on the first Friday of the month, and the town’s famous Thursday night farmers market. One of the largest in the country, the market is more than just an abundance of locally sourced produce — it offers music and incredible food stands, including many featuring Santa Maria-style barbecue.
5. Amazing Food & World-Class Wine
Speaking of downtown, one of the city’s biggest draws is its fantastic food scene, with restaurants like The Vegetable Butcher, Novo and Luna Red using local ingredients from the Central Coast to create fresh, California cuisine in gorgeous settings. The area has also seen an influx of breweries, from Libertine Brewing Company to Central Coast Brewery. Last but not least, Edna Valley, one of California’s best wine regions, is only 15 minutes from downtown (they even have Uber Wine, making an afternoon or day trip easy!).
6. A Big Little Town
Ask any SLO resident why they love living there, and you’ll likely hear the phrase, “San Luis Obispo is a big little town.” Residents get easy access to the ocean, world-renowned attractions nearby like Hearst Castle, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach, all while living somewhere relatively affordable (comparatively to the rest of California), with little to no traffic and a population of only 45,000 (plus 20,000 Cal Poly students).
Here, the lively energy of a college town intersects with natural beauty to create the type of easy living that California is all about. The result? In SLO, happiness is a way of life.