San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza – The heart of the city

A wooden structure with white pillars.

The San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza had its recent beginning in 1971 with the closing of Monterey Street in front of the mission. In the earliest days, the dusty street was the plaza. Thanks to the foresight of the people and leaders of San Luis Obispo, what we enjoy today is a wonderful glimpse of the history and natural environment in the midst of the “Happiest City in the United States”.

The Mission San Luis Obispo Plaza really doesn’t intend to re-create the past; you would need oxen drawing carts, dusty streets and nasty smells for that. What it does is to allow access and enjoyment of the history of the mission and the city in a beautiful environment.

With the restoration and clean-up of San Luis Obispo Creek just a few yards in front of the mission, the “natural history” of the place is easily accessed and enjoyed.

There are many aspects to the mission plaza and they are all worth spending some time getting to know…

1864 drawing of San Luis Obispo by Edward Vischer
San Luis Obispo The lower (older) portion of the town, and the Old Mission Buildings, as seen from the Mission Orchard

This 1864 drawing by Edward Vischer looks across San Luis Obispo Creek toward the complex of mission buildings to the north. If you were to attempt to find this exact spot today, it would probably be on Chorro Street, somewhere between Higuera Street and Marsh Street.

In the 107 years between Vischer’s view and the opening of Mission Plaza, quite a bit of building went on and the view was rather different.

In 1968, the question whether to create Mission Plaza or widen Monterey Street in front of the mission, cover over San Luis Obispo Creek and make a parking lot was put to the voters of SLO (as the town is referred to by the locals). They voted 2-1 in favor of creating the plaza, much to our delight today!

The plaza, as we know it today, was opened in 1971.

San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza Quick Facts:

  • Location: In front of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa between Chorro and Broad Street
  • GPS Coordinates: 35.2805, -120.6637
  • Owner: City of San Luis Obispo
  • Hours: Dawn to dusk
  • Restrooms: yes, near the Broad Street end of the plaza
  • Parking: The City of San Luis Obispo has a parking guide available here (PDF and opens in a new window)
  • Downtown SLO Walking Tour: Visit SLO has a downtown walking tour complete with map and podcast for the 22 points of interest. Click here to view.
  • Events held on the Plaza:  Concerts in the Plaza, I Madonnari, Children’s Day in the Plaza, Taste of San Luis (partial list)
  • Nearby Attractions: History Center of San Luis Obispo County; San Luis Obispo Museum of Art; The Children’s Museum; Bubblegum Alley
  • Creekwalk: Extends about 1/3 mile from Chorro to Broad Street
  • Restaurants and Shopping: Numerous establishments within walking distance of Mission Plaza. Some restaurants along Higuera Street have patios overlooking the creek.

View of a portion of Mission Plaza from the church steps

If cultural history doesn’t much interest you, and you prefer natural history; take a few steps across the plaza down to San Luis Obispo Creek. Fortunately, the planners didn’t make the creek a mini version of the concreted Los Angeles River.

There was more clean-up and restoration to be done, as in olden days, they used the creek as a sewer. But those bad times are now long gone and the habitat for steelhead and other riparian creatures has been restored.

San Luis Obispo Creek walk

The San Luis Obispo Creek Walk

The Creek Walk is a fine place for a quiet walk in the midst of this not-so-bustling city. San Luis Obispo is a charming town, but if that is even too much for you this will provide a natural breather. You can see one of several sculptures that hang over the creek on the right of the photo.

Children love it as well, as interactions with ducks (have some bread along with you to feed them) and perhaps even seeing some steelhead migrating up the creek to spawn.

San Luis Obispo Creek Steelhead information

The restoration of this habitat along San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza has helped to allow the city and nature to live together peaceably.

Another view of the San Luis Obispo Creek walk from Mission Plaza
The small amphitheater at San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza
Monterey Street viewed from Mission Plaza

An easterly view down Monterey Street from Mission Plaza

Mission Plaza and the creekwalk
The Murray Adobe in Mission Plaza

Finally, to close out our tour of the San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza, we offer this photo of the Murray Adobe, a nineteenth century home of Walter Murray who founded the still existing newspaper – the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

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