San Luis Obispo County is a county located along the Pacific Ocean in the Central Coast of the U.S. state of California, between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. As of the 2010 census its population was 269,637. The county seat is San Luis Obispo, with about 46,000 residents.
The county's distance from the large metro areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles has helped it to retain its rural character and reminders of old California abound. Commonly referred to as "the Central Coast," the area is more rural and agricultural than many other coastal regions in California. Father Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 and the Mission is today an active part of downtown San Luis Obispo (popularly referred to as SLO or SLO-town). The small size of the county's communities, scattered along the beaches, coastal hills, and mountains of the Santa Lucia range, provides a wide variety of coastal and inland hill ecologies to support many kinds of fishing, agriculture, and tourist activities.
The mainstays of the economy are California Polytechnic State University with its almost 20,000 students, tourism, and agriculture. San Luis Obispo County is the third largest producer of wine in California, surpassed only by Sonoma and Napa Counties. Wine grapes are the second largest agricultural crop in the county (after strawberries), and the wine production they support creates a direct economic impact and a growing wine country vacation industry.
The town of San Simeon is located at the foot of the hill where newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst built the famed Hearst Castle. Other coastal towns (listed from North to South) include Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay, and Los Osos (Baywood Park is considered to be Los Osos by the majority of locals). The city of Morro Bay and the village of Los Osos share the bay that has been made famous by Morro Rock. Surprisingly, the Village of Los Osos has a bigger population by roughly 4 thousand residents. These cities and villages are located northwest of San Luis Obispo city, and Avila Beach and the Five Cities to the south: Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano, Pismo Beach and Shell Beach. Nipomo, just south of the Five Cities, borders northern Santa Barbara County. Inland, the cities of Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero lie along the Salinas River, near the Paso Robles wine region. San Luis Obispo lies south of Atascadero and north of the Five Cities region. Just south of Cambria lies Harmony, one of the smallest towns in California with a population of 18.
The prehistory of San Luis Obispo County is strongly influenced by the Chumash people who had significant settlement here at least as early as the Millingstone Horizon thousands of years before the present age. Important settlements existed, for example, in many coastal areas such as Morro Bay and Los Osos.
San Luis Obispo County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood.
The Salinas River Valley, a region that figures strongly in several Steinbeck novels, stretches north from San Luis Obispo County. The remote California Valley near Soda Lake is the region most untouched by modernity. Travels through this area and the hills east of highway 101 during wildflower season are very beautiful and can be incorporated with wine tasting at local vineyards.
On December 7, 1987, Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 crashed in San Luis Obispo County after a passenger shot 5 people on board, including the pilots, then intentionally crashed the plane. All 43 on board, including the gunman, were killed.