Experience - San Luis Obispo has been voted the ‘Happiest Place in the U.S.' We discover why!
In the crowded Best Western dining area, tourists are turning the spit for fresh, self-made pancakes, choosing fruit juice and toasting bagels. The television screen overhead is filled with graphics of blizzards, hellish commutes, stranded passengers — simple holiday trips turning into epic journeys. There is report of more rain up and down California coast where we're driving. As we bite into our hard-boiled eggs, the catastrophe looks distant and unreal. The sunrays streaming through the large windows cannot be brighter — there's no hint of rain or wind.
That's answer No. 1 to our quest in finding out why San Luis Obispo (SLO — population: 44,000), between Los Angeles and San Francisco has been voted the ‘Happiest Place in the U.S.'. “It's around 82 degree F through the year, and nights are cool,” says Jan, the smiling receptionist. “Lived here all my life, won't dream of leaving.”
Pretty as a picture
Good weather goes with the ‘pretty as a picture' surroundings. SLO is on Route 101, one of the country's most scenic inter-State highways. A central California coast town, it has wineries, ranches and plenty of agribusinesses. SUVs may be the vehicles of choice here, but the League of American Cyclists has given the town silver rating! Even as we drive into SLO's tall-tree-lined, valley-in-the-middle-of-hills outskirts, we can't help but think it's so calm and peaceful here.
A detour takes you to some of the most interesting beaches on the coast, available for wading and walking dogs throughout the year.
Curious to find out why people were bending over the sand, we stop at the Moonstone Beach to see an amazing variety of pebbles, some semi-precious!
For me, the most fascinating part is the town's walkability — you can spend hours on the two main shopping streets, browsing, buying and eating.
You window shop at Papyrus, Eco Bambino and the curio-filled Thai store, or snack at the new Natural Bar or at the 17-year-old Moroccon joint, surprisingly offering vegetarian fare.
You pick up newspapers from automatic kiosks on the roadside and dump themin special bins on every street.
Walk on till you come to the broad gates of the historic Mission to learn of SLO's colonial history. Luis Santos, resident of 50 years and a volunteer at the Mission says: “Happiest place? I'm not surprised.” People here have time to stop and chat, he says, and adds it's also a safe place with a low crime rate.
SLO's timelessness too has its fans. “Morro Bay is pretty much the same it once was, full of warmth and charm,” says a mother-daughter-granddaughter trio. SLO's happiness is not because of wealth — the city's median household income is $ 31,926, below California's $ 56,134. People obviously are a contented lot, spending time in outdoor recreation, attending college, biking in ‘No Motor Vehicles' zones, or just strolling by to feed ducks in parks. It takes just a two-hour walk round to catch up with everything that happens.
Not many know about SLO, and that could be a reason, suggests a resident. It has not been ruined by crowds and congestion.
In his new National Geographic book “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way”, author Dan Buettner has explored reasons why places such as San Luis Obispo are ‘happy'. People make time to exercise, volunteer and socialise. It's a laid-back lifestyle — the SLO way to happiness.