San Luis Obispo Culture

San Luis Obispo Culture


Culturally, San Luis Obispo is a mix of historic, kitschy, classy, and artistic. The city has a grand performing arts center, a lovely, historic mission and two walls covered with gum. A gateway to the majestic Hearst Castle, the city has what could be called the “anti-Hearst Castle,” the pink and gaudy, odd but uniquely charming Madonna Inn. The city has one of the few commercial buildings designed by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, at the corner of Santa Rosa and Pacific Streets. Two prominent theaters in town are the magnificent art deco Fremont with its nostalgic marquee and the tiny art house, Palm Theater, the only solar powered movie theater in the U.S.

This is a city full or artists. It has been reported that San Luis Obispo has more artists and designers than 90% of other American cities. In California, one other community comes to mind that surpasses San Luis and that is the artistic enclave of Mendocino on the North Coast above San Francisco. From the individual art student, sketching in Mission Plaza to the little galleries and the exhibits at the Art Museum downtown by the creek, Il Madonnari’s chalk square masterpieces in front of the Mission, to 300 artists participating in the annual Open Studios Tour, working in paint, clay, stone, and paper, San Luis Obispo has the arts in its blood stream. It’s not just the visual arts. The Little Theater in the City Playhouse, a volunteer based community theater, has presented 400 musicals and dramas in its sixty year run to consistently sold out audiences.

Top name entertainment comes to the Christopher Cohan Theater at Cal Poly, which has seen the likes of Lou Reed, Bill Cosby, Ted Neeley in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the Moscow Circus and the Russian Ballet. Festival Mozaic is the city’s classical music festival that celebrates five centuries of great music. Literature is honored when writers and readers gather at the Central Coast Book and Author Festival held at the Mission Plaza to benefit county libraries.

The city used to have a Mardi Gras celebration and parade, the largest west of the Mississippi, for many years until alcohol consumption got out of hand and a strong police presence was necessary to control unruly crowds.

The city even has its own International Film Festival, where for ten days independent film makers come to present their work, classic movies are screened, red carpet events welcome famous actors and directors, and the public is treated to question and answer sessions with distinguished film makers.

This is a laid-back community that embraces all sides of expression. There is something here that will appeal to everyone. San Luis Obispo is a city comfortable in its embrace of diversity not unlike it’s bigger sister, San Francisco to the north. If variety is the spice of life, then San Luis Obispo is full of flavor.





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