Montana de Oro Coastline, and How Growing Up in SLO County Ruined My Life

Having lived outside of California and San Luis Obispo county for the past 10 years, I have learned how to describe and explain where I grew up to people I meet. I used to start with “Atascadero” which worked when I spoke to people from California. Too many blank stares.  Now I start with “San Luis Obispo county” and then most people answer, “Where is that?” Then comes the drawn out explanation about being halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the coast, and then some people say, “Like Fresno?” and I exclaim, “NOTHING LIKE FRESNO!” Sometimes they ask how far away from Santa Barbara, or Fresno, or Bakersfield, or San Jose. Turns out it is between 2-3 hours away from all of those places. When I graduated high school, I didn’t just leave my small town, I left the state. I was so excited to move as far away as I could think of (to Utah) and begin life on my own. So why did growing up here ruin my life? Here’s why:

 1. Unparalleled natural scenery: Talk about untouched beauty. There simply aren’t enough people here in SLO county to ruin the environment. There’s the coastal mountain range, the open fields that are so green in the winter and so brown in the summer, and of course, the star of the show: the coastline. Whether it be Avila Beach, Montana de Oro or Cayucos, all of these places are gorgeous and take my breath away. Admittedly, I’m much more of a beach girl than a mountain girl. I love to look at mountains and be in the mountains, but spending time at the ocean makes me feel free!

I took this picture in the first part of January. It was at least 70 at 10:00 in the

2. Perfect weather is the norm: I moved from CA to Utah and spent seven winters there. I thought winters were bad there until I moved to Chicago and have spent the past three winters here. Man, it is cold! I appreciate that some people like to have defined seasons. I will give you the seasons of SLO county:

Spring: 70-80 degrees, cool at night 
Summer: 80-110 degrees, cools off at night
Fall: 70-80 degrees, sometimes leaves fall off trees although they don’t really need to, may freeze a night or two
Winter: 50-70 degrees, sometimes rainy, freezes at night. This is the weather for winter coats, long sleeve shirts and pants, and close-toed shoes. 

Last winter was the worst winter in decades in Chicago. Sixty degrees that spring meant flip flops, shorts, T-shirts and man, did it feel awesome! While the satisfaction of spring is much more intense when winter is so horrible, I would rather be able to go outside whenever I want for however long I want year-round. My husband finds this annoying because it severely limits the places we can settle when we get done traveling.

3. Healthy, Happy People: I think due partly to the weather and the availability of fresh, organic produce, there is much more of an emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle in this area. People are out exercising, walking their animals, and buying produce directly from farmers. My parents go to farmer’s markets two days a week and rarely ever buy produce from the grocery store. What a luxury to live in a place where that is possible. Now, that means that they can’t get strawberries year-round and blueberries don’t really grow around there so they don’t buy those, but there are beautiful leaf lettuces, kale, rainbow chard, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. just waiting for me to eat them every time I come to visit. I thought this was how it was everywhere until I moved to Utah and could not find fresh produce during much of the school year. There were farmer’s markets over the summer, but the quality of the produce was not great and the selection was severely limited by the fact we lived in a desert. Chicago is even worse. I go to a separate grocery store for produce because they seem to have the best quality, but still it is not the same as buying it from the farmers the same day it is picked.

4. Good Food: Before leaving California, I did not know tri-tip was a regional thing. Santa Maria style BBQ was normal for me. Well, after looking without success at several grocery stores for tri-tip, I started buying other cuts of meat and steak but tri-tip is still far superior. Specifically, Firestone’s tri-tip sandwich is something I must pick up in SLO every time I come to visit. Also, because restaurants have access to very fresh ingredients from local farms and from the ocean, seafood and salads are also amazing. Although IN-N-OUT eventually came to Utah, it is not in Illinois and I always make a point to pick up a burger, lemonade and french fries when I come into town 

 5. “Traffic” I just have to laugh when my parents complain about “traffic” in Atascadero. Chicago traffic is no joking matter. It is incomprehensible to me how many people live in the Chicagoland area, but I think they all get on the same roads as me and clog them up. It takes at least three times as long to get anywhere in the Chicago area compared to Atascadero. It is actually relaxing to drive there because there are very few cars and I just enjoy the views.

Morro Bay from Montana de Oro

6. Wild Kingdom: My parents live a little out of town. On our walks with the dogs each day, my son and I pass  more animals than people. He can experience feeding donkeys, sheep, horses, goats and cows within two miles of my parent’s home. Aside from the domestic animals, we always see wild turkeys, squirrels, vultures, and the occasional fox or hawk while we are out. My aunt lives nearby and raises chickens and goats. He gets the “farm” experience of raking the chicken coop, collecting eggs, and feeding them treats.  If we head to the coast, we can see otters, sea lions, tidepool creatures, and elephant seals.  Although zoos and museums are great, these authentic interactions with animals are priceless.

In conclusion, SLO county ruined my life by giving me unrealistic and absurd expectations for every other place we live. I want to raise my kids in this type of environment, but with the housing prices and cost of living of California, I’m having a hard time convincing my mountain-raised husband that it would be worth it. In the meantime, we will travel all over trying to find somewhere as cool as the California central coast. So far, the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre areas of Italy, as well as the island of Bali, are other places that embody these qualities that I want in a place to live. Maybe someday…

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