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Photo of Mission San Luis de Tolosa City of San Luis Obispo
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A Brief History

Who we are and how we got started.   The City of San Luis Obispo serves as the commercial, governmental and cultural hub of California’s Central Coast. One of California’s oldest communities, it began with the founding of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra as the fifth mission in the California chain of 21 missions. The mission was named after Saint Louis, a 13th Century Bishop of Toulouse, France.  (San Luis Obispo is Spanish for "St. Louis, the Bishop".)  It was first incorporated in 1856 as a General Law City, and became a Charter City in 1876.

Where we’re located.   With a population of 44,000, the City is located eight miles from the Pacific Ocean and is midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles at the junction of Highway 101 and scenic Highway 1. San Luis Obispo is the County Seat, and a number of federal and state regional offices and facilities are located here, including Cal Poly State University, Cuesta Community College, Regional Water Quality Board and Caltrans District offices. The City’s ideal weather and natural beauty provide numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation at nearby City and State parks, lakes, beaches and wilderness areas.

Great place to live and visit.   While San Luis Obispo grew relatively slowly during most of the 19th century, the coming of Southern Pacific Railroad in 1894 opened up the area to the rest of California. The City’s distance from major metropolitan areas to the north (San Francisco Bay Area) and south (Los Angeles) have allowed our area to retain its historic and scenic qualities. These qualities contribute to the superb quality of life our residents enjoy, and attract visitors from many other areas. Click here for things to see and do in San Luis Obispo.

Downtown.  Another key feature contributing to the City’s great quality of life is our delightful downtown. The heart of downtown is Mission Plaza. With its wonderful creek side setting and beautifully restored mission (that continues to serve as a parish church to this day), Mission Plaza is the community’s cultural and social center. This historic plaza is complemented by a bustling downtown offering great shopping, outdoor and indoor dining, night life, and its famous Thursday Night Farmers’ Market, where you can buy locally grown fresh produce and enjoy an outdoor BBQ. This unique blend of history, culture, commerce and entertainment make San Luis Obispo’s downtown one of the most attractive, interesting and economically vibrant downtowns in America.

Government.  Our City operates under the Council-Mayor-City Manager form of government. Council members are elected at-large and serve overlapping, four-year terms. The Mayor is also elected at-large for a two year term, and serves as an equal member of the Council. The Council appoints the City Manager and City Attorney. All other department heads are appointed by the City Manager.

San Luis Obispo is a full-service city that provides police, fire, water, sewer, streets, transit, parking, planning, building, engineering and parks & recreation services to the community. Click here for more about the City’s government and services.


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