ffectionately called simply “SLO” by its residents, for 80 centuries San Luis Obispo County, California was the heart of the Chumash Indian country. They must have lived a pleasant life — mild Mediterranean climate, abundant seafood, with natural hot springs to soak in. We must imagine they enjoyed experiencing the SLO life, too, much as its people do today.
About 270,000 people called San Luis Obispo County home as of 2010. Over a dozen delightful towns and cities, including the city of San Luis Obispo, plus Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Avila Beach, Cambria, Cayucos, Grover Beach, Los Osos – Baywood Park, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Miguel, San Simeon near Hearst Castle, Templeton and others create a single extended community.
San Luis Obispo County is also one of the most popular destinations in California for wildlife viewing, especially in winter. Spot gray whales during their annual migration along the coast, watch elephant seals as they gather and mate along the northern coastline of Piedras Blancas, visit Pismo State Beach, the wintering grounds for thousands of migrating Monarch Butterflies, or view the Brant Goose that winters in the Morro Bay estuary after flying non-stop from Alaska. Further inland, huge flocks of sandhill cranes join resident wildlife species in the winter at Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Birding – The Morro Bay area is known as one of the top 10 bird watching areas in the country. During the Audubon Society’s December 2007 bird count in San Luis Obispo County, 202 species of birds were counted. Catch a glimpse of eagles soaring above Santa Margarita or Lopez Lake, and while you’re at it, view peregrine falcons around Morro Rock or brown pelicans flying in formation over Morro Bay. Celebrate the birds during the 10th Annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, January 13-16, 2006. This “Globally Important Bird Area.” is showcased with weekend events featuring birding hikes, tours, field trips on the ocean and bay, plus workshops, guest speakers and exhibits. www.morrobaybirdfestival.org
Gray Whales – From mid-December through early April, the San Luis Obispo County coast is an ideal spot to view gray whales from land or aboard a whale watching cruise. Regularly scheduled whale watching cruises depart Morro Bay and Port San Luis during the winter season. There are also several popular vantage points on land to view these magnificent marine mammals during their annual migration. Try an overlook at Montana de Oro State Park, along the bluffs near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse or a vista point in Pismo Beach.
Elephant Seals – Along Highway 1, approximately one mile north of the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, is Piedras Blancas, a favorite gathering spot for Northern Elephant Seals. Winter is the peak viewing season as the elephant seals gather to give birth and mate. The elephant seal viewing vista point has a number of excellent educational and interpretive signs. Also, look for Friends of the Elephant Seal docents in their blue jackets, who are eager to answer your questions.
Monarch Butterflies – One of the largest monarch butterfly winter gathering spots of the West Coast is Pismo State Beach. From November through February, a grove of eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach are the home of some 50,000 Monarch butterflies. The butterflies can be found on the ground, in the air fluttering and soaring or hanging from the trees in massive clusters.
The Monarch Butterfly Grove is located half a mile south of Pismo Beach just off Hwy 1. Free parking is available inside the North Beach Campground, just north of the Trees. For more information or directions, you can also call the Pismo Beach Visitor Information Center at (805) 773-4382 or visit http://www.monarchbutterfly.org/
Although winter offers prime time wildlife viewing, San Luis Obispo County is home to a variety of critters year-round. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters can be found swimming and floating in coastal waters, and sea gulls and shore birds can be found on the beach or flying above. You might even catch a glimpse of a zebra or two, when visiting Hearst Castle!
Located midway between San Francisco and LA on the California Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County is an easy to reach destination by car, train, or air. Just 2 or 3 hours by car from most of California’s 35 million people, San Luis Obispo is California’s Natural Escape. The local San Luis Obispo airport offers excellent connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Visiting by rail is so popular that Amtrack recently added a third daily train to the county.
To plan your wildlife viewing adventure to San Luis Obispo County, California’s Natural Escape, call 1-800-634-1414 or visit www.SanLuisObispoCounty.com. Don’t forget to bring your camera and binoculars!
"On the Road" is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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