The last word anyone would use to describe the gorgeous scenery and quaint life of San Luis Obispo County is unusual. However, if we venture out and look hard enough, unusual places do indeed exist.
For our first adventure, we take a journey out to Mission San Antonio de Padua. The mission itself is nothing peculiar, but the drive there makes it unique.
Easily the most off-the-beaten-track of the 21 missions, Mission San Antonio de Padua sits on the middle of the Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, about halfway between U.S. Highway 101 and California Highway 1.
In order to reach your destination, you must endure something of an Indiana Jones adventure as unexpected obstacles such as winding country roads, military units, road blocks and delays due to road closures tend to pop out of nowhere.
Drivers are expected to show a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance in order to enter the fort and see the mission.
Once parked, you will step out of your vehicle and set your eyes on William Hannon’s statue of Blessed Serra.
According to personnel, the unusual tradition is to rub the statue’s toe for good luck. Once you have done so, there are extensive grounds to cover around the mission. Just be careful. Precautions are posted on the door just in case you have an encounter with a rattlesnake!
Those who seek a different type of adventure with a little twist may find it at Pirate’s Cove in Avila Beach.
Only the bravest and those willing to bare it all should attempt this quest.
Pirate’s Cove was once a secret spot where cargo was diverted from Harford Pier in Port San Luis. Smugglers brought large quantities of liquor ashore from cargo ships.
Just as they did then, locals today pay no mind to the activity formed around Pirate’s Cove as it has developed into a “naturist beach,” or in modern terms, a “nude beach.”
Despite no rules existing as to how much clothing to bring, the single most important rule asks of all guests: do not stare.
If the rather free spirit of the beach doesn’t fit your taste, don’t worry. A lavish hiking path runs from a rocky hill that will lead you to a sandy cove.
You can also enjoy the sights from tall cliffs that overlook Pismo Beach and the Guadalupe Dunes. Feel free to bring along fishing gear or simply enjoy watching the seals resting on the rocks.
The next site will entice those with a desire to shop and gain a little history lesson at the same time – there’s nothing like a mix of fashion and education to make the most unusual blend of sightseeing.
The Ah Louis Store is a two-story brick rectangular building that can be found on the corner of Palm and Chorro streets. The entrance is painted white, has two windows and a door on both the first and second floors.
To make the scene appear even less like a place made for entering, the windows have iron shutters and the windows and door on the first floor are larger than those on the second floor.
The outer shell is enough to make any history buff quiver with anticipation to enter. However, what makes this location extraordinary is the fact that it was originally surrounded by the Chinese-American community.
As the first Chinese-American store in San Luis Obispo County, the Ah Louis Store was founded in 1874 by On Wong, who was known as “Ah Louis.” He was a labor contractor who also sold dry goods, tea, sugar, rice and Chinese goods.
Today, the store is rarely open. But if you’re lucky enough to enter, you can browse the clutter of Asian merchandise. The property is currently listed as a California State Historical Landmark.
For the true nature-lover at heart and perhaps even hopeless romantics, Shell Creek Road in San Luis Obispo is the ultimate getaway.
Among the vast fields, you will see gorgeous wildflowers, such as baby blue eyes, tidy tips and goldfields. This breathtaking scenery will have you yearning to get out your hiking shoes and take a stroll through the wildflowers.
If outdoor activities and nature are not your calling, Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo can offer an old flare assorted with modern times.
This venue on Monterey Street has earned its historic honor. Built in 1940, the vintage-style architecture takes us back in time.
Don’t let the exterior fool you. When you enter, a more modern-day touch has transformed the interior. However, the painted inside of the large main theater helps retain its vintage touch.
“It’s a fun experience where you get to feel as if you are back in the olden days,” Ryan Torres, 20, said. “I like how you get to see modern movies in a historic atmosphere.”
According to locals, in the mid-’70s the Fremont began to show more independent, artistic films on a one-night basis to attract the college crowd. Those who experienced the theater’s essence back then are glad to see that the theater has not been changed architecturally.
Even today, the theater is still used as a location for the International Film Festival. Fox, National General, Mann and the Edwards Cinemas have operated it at different times.
Haven’t found the location that properly quenches your sense for adventure? Perhaps you need more of a spook than anything else. Mission San Miguel will send shivers down your spine with just one glimpse.
According to the Mission San Miguel Historic Web site, John Reed bought this mission from the Mexican government and turned it into an Inn for travelers in the mid-nineteenth century.
One night in 1848, a band of English pirates broke into the Inn looking for rumored gold. When they were unable to locate the gold, they went mad and brutally murdered everyone present.
The bodies were so badly cut up that all the bloody remains were buried in one mass grave behind the church. The 13 ghosts of John Reed, his family and guests are said to still be wandering restlessly around the mission grounds.
You can witness firsthand the eerie sensation of walking along the mission’s graveyard, which still remains intact today.
Finally, in order to lighten the mood after that last location, there is a place for those who appreciate a good laugh and don’t mind sticky situations.
Located in downtown San Luis Obispo, “Bubblegum Alley” might be a tight space that is hard to find, but don’t underestimate just how many people have left a token behind in the alley.
With both walls covered from top to bottom with gum, you will want to watch your step and keep hands close at all times. Gum started appearing on the walls of this alleyway in 1960.
“I went to ‘Bubblegum Alley’ when I first moved here last year,” 22-year-old Laura Marquez said. “My first reaction was that it was kind of gross, and I didn’t want to walk through it. Once I started looking at the gum in detail, I noticed that people actually made things out of their gum.”
Locals complained about the less-than-appetizing site, but the gum kept on coming. If you want to contribute to “Bubblegum Alley,” a few shops near the alley have gumball machines. Just chew and stick.