SLO Sights

Can't Miss Sights In and Around San Luis Obispo

Charles Paddock Zoo

I was thinking back to my childhood and out of curiosity looked up where I could find a zoo near San Luis Obispo.  Surprisingly, I discovered one in Atascadero–just 20 minutes away!  The Charles Paddock Zoo is home to over 100 animals, ranging from tortoises to flamingos to tigers.  I decided to check it out and Daniel Hill, one of the zoo’s volunteer educators, showed me around the zoo and told me a few fun facts:

  • The zoo came to existence because its founder, Charles Paddock, turned his love for nursing hurt/sick animals to health and setting them free into housing the healthy animals after he rescued them.
  • Before taking its founder’s name, the zoo was known as Atascadero Children’s Zoo.
  • Right now, a renovation is taking place to make more naturalistic habitats for the animals.

When I visited, the first cage I approached was home to a Malayan Tiger.  Hill said that the Malayan was a rare breed, with only 500 estimated to be left in the wild!  Because the tiger, Darren, is a popular animal at the zoo, Hill explained that he must trick him into coming out into the open:

“Darren is always hungry, so I hide snacks all around his cage.  That way he is always moving around for viewers to see!”–zoo docent Daniel Hill
The Malayan Tiger can be found on the Malay Peninsula and the southern tip of Thailand.

Charles Paddock Zoo allows visitors who come frequently to become members.  Members of the zoo get in free for a whole year and get special perks such as discounts on birthday parties or other events and discounts on gift shop items.  Helen Thompson, who was visiting the zoo when I was, told me she had been a member for the last three years.

“I love to take my grandkids here.  It’s a great opportunity for them to learn and for us to spend time together.”–Helen Thompson, Atascadero resident
Helen Thompson helped her grandson, Anthony, read the information about the Malayan Tiger.

The screeching squawks and caws led me to the bird cage next, where I found blue and gold macaws and parrots.  Nearby was the flamingo cage.

What’s this?

While at the zoo, I came across some animals I had never seen before.  Among them…

  1. The Black-handed spider monkey- used their tails just like their hands when climbing around their cage!
  2. The Gila monster-has black, yellow, orange, and pink scales!
  3. The Fossa- looks like a mix between a hyena and a mountain lion!

Jennifer McVey, another visitor of the zoo said she came to Charles Paddock for a pick-me-up after a rough day.

Jenny McVey tried to share her granola bar with the monkeys. They did not accept.

“I was just exhausted after work and I had seen a pamphlet earlier in the day for the zoo so I decided to swing by on the way home and be a kid again.”–Jenny McVey

Some cages I enjoyed most were those of the Aldabra tortoises and the meerkats.  The tortoises were enormous and so still that I thought they were large rocks until they peeked their heads out, and the meerkats stood up straight and alert, quickly twisting their tiny heads at any bit of sound.

With cheap prices and large array of animals, Charles Paddock Zoo is the perfect place to spend a day.  It is located within Atascadero Lake Park, which is full of tables for a picnic after a visit at the zoo.

San Luis Obispo County

Whether it be the beaches, the weather, the scenery, or the hiking, San Luis Obispo County visitors and residents always find something to rave about.  A few locals and vacationers shared their opinion of SLO County with me.

Downtown SLO

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Cal Poly Orchards

In San Luis Obispo, you will never struggle to find delicious, healthy produce.  Along with the fresh fruits and vegetables available to purchase at the weekly farmer’s market, Cal Poly grows produce on campus for students and the community to pick for themselves at the Cal Poly Orchards.

Located on the south side of Highland Drive when exiting from Highway 1, the Cal Poly Orchards are a popular place for students and other San Luis Obispo residents to spend a day in the sun gathering fruit.

The season for picking stretches from April to October, and the orchards are open from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Wednesdays and 10 am to 1 pm on Saturdays.  The only exception is when it rains, picking is cancelled.

Currently, during the month of February, mandarin oranges and persimmons are in season.  Rachel White, a freshman agriculture major at Cal Poly, said she knows that during this season there are many other fruits and nuts available for purchase.

“Persimmons are always a popular pick, but people should remember that when they are in season Lisbon lemons, kiwis, walnuts, and Hachiya persimmons are also for sale.  They are delicious and should not be overlooked!”–Rachel White

Mandarin oranges are native to southeast Asia and the Philippines. Persimmons grow on a species of ebony.

Julia Purvis, a freshman psychology major at Cal Poly has been to the Cal Poly Orchards several times.  This time, she was with her grandmother, Charlotte Purvis.  Julia and her grandmother are originally from Arizona, where they claimed to make the best guacamole.  The came to the orchards to pick avocados to make some of their special guac.

“Julia here has been helping me make my special recipe of guacamole since she was big enough to mash the avocados.  I’m hoping the avocados we pick here will be as delicious as the ones back home.”–Charlotte Purvis

Julia and her grandmother (located in the far back right of the photo) planned to cook dinner for Julia’s grandpa, William, after they picked their avocados.

Julia said that of the produce she has picked at the orchards, the mandarin oranges have so far been her favorite.

“I came a few months ago and was able to pick apples, which were good, but not as good as what I’ve bought at the apple stand at our farmer’s market.”–Julia Purvis

One more benefit: Going to the orchard is a cheap way to enjoy some fresh air on a sunny day.  Produce is sold for just a dollar a pound.

Julia was hesitant to try a persimmon at first, and picked mostly oranges. Her grandmother finally convinced her to try one, and she loved it!

State Parks and Beaches Near San Luis Obispo, California

View State Parks and Beaches near San Luis Obispo, California in a larger map

State Parks and Beaches near San Luis Obispo, California

Hearst Castle

Located just 43 miles north of San Luis Obispo is Hearst Castle. This castle was designed by William Randolph Hearst and San Francisco architect Julia Morgan and completed in 1947. Tours began in 1952 and the castle continues to be shown to this day.

Hearst Castle has 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens and pools.

Dan Eller, a professor at Cal Poly, was able to take Cal Poly’s Public Relations Student Society of America on a tour of Hearst Castle, because he does PR for the castle.  He told students in our club all about the different tour options, showed us around the castle, and even took us behind the scenes to see where important objects that needed repair or needed to be kept safe were stored.

This pot was chipped and currently is being kept in the basement for safekeeping.

Before you schedule your visit, make sure you know what tour you would like to take.  There are five tour options:

Tour 1:

What do you see: A broad overview of the castle

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

Professor Eller told us that the Roman pool, shown in all five tours, has 1" mosaic tiles decorating the room from ceiling to floor.

Tour 2:

What do you see: The upper floors of the main house (“Casa Grande”)

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

On tour 2, you will be sure to see the Neptune Pool, an outdoor pool that holds 345,000 gallons of water!

Tour 3:

What do you see: The north wing of the main house (“Casa Grande”) and the guest houses.

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

Tour 3 spends much time in the "Casa del Monte" which was on of the castle's guest houses. This is one of the 10 bedrooms in the guesthouse.

Tour 4:

What do you see: The botanical gardens

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

While tour 4 focuses mainly on the gardens and patios, tourists also get to see Hearst's wine cellar.

Tour 5:

What do you see: Aspects of tours 1, 2, and 4 at night  (“The Evening Tour”)

Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes

All of Hearst's guests would meet for dinner each night of their stay in this dining hall. Hearst would sit in the middle and seat those he deemed most important closest to him.

For those who have never seen the castle, Tour 1 is a good choice.  The dining room is shown, along with both pools and many rooms in the main house.  A fourth year Cal Poly journalism student, Rachel Egan, said that her favorite room was the dining hall.

“I love the dining hall.  I love the huge table and the condiments (ketchup and mustard). It is kind of whimsical that Hearst thought the condiment bottles and table decorations gave the meals eaten there a “camping” feeling.”–Rachel Egan

Kevin Weber, a second year Cuesta College student who visited the castle with his parents, agreed that the dining hall was the best room.  He said, “I would love to eat in the dining hall.  I know Hearst would choose me to sit next to him.  Yeah, I’m that important.”

An Interview at Hula Hut: My First Stab at Sound Gathering

Story Highlights:

  • Food options at Hula Hut
  • Interview with an employee–Sharon St. Peter
  • Gathering Natural and Ambient Sounds

Since I’ve moved to San Luis Obispo, I have spent many weekends at Avila Beach.  My favorite spot for lunch, I have decided, is an oceanfront site called Hula Hut.  While Hula Hut’s main seller is their Doc Burnstein’s ice cream, they also sell coffee, sandwiches, salads, waffles, homemade fudge, and more.  Recently, I went to Hula Hut to interview an employee with an audio recorder; it was my first attempt to record a sound profile.


Hula Hut is located at 380 Front St. in Avila Beach. The store number is (805) 627-0488

Audio is very important to multimedia, and while collecting my audio, I tried to keep the following things in mind:

  • Ambient sound
  • Natural Sound
  • “Show don’t tell”

Ambient Sound:

What to do– Make sure to collect 20 seconds to a minute of ambient sound.  Play it back to find out exactly what kind of background noise you are dealing with.  If ambient noise is too loud, it can drown out your speaker.

My experience- I recorded ambient noise right outside of Hula Hut.  There are tables outside and I planned to hold my interview there.  I assumed the ambient noise would be waves, but it turned out cars were constantly driving past loudly, so I held the interview inside.  The ambient noise in the store was coming from the radio and customers.

Natural Sound:

What to do- Natural sound should be a sound that is descriptive of where you are at, but is not constant.  For example, if you were interviewing someone about music, a guitar being tuned would be a natural sound.

My experience- I recorded the sound of the register opening and a receipt printing.  While this happens often during the day, it is not a constant sound.

Show don’t tell:

What to do- Make people feel like they are there, rather that just hearing about it.  Create an image in the minds of your listeners.

My experience– I interviewed Sharon St. Peter, an employee at Hula Hut.  She did a good job of describing the basics of Hula Hut, such as the hours, the food, and the customers they serve.  However, she could not think of any funny anecdotes from working there, which may have made the story more interesting.  She did however share that many locals come to Hula Hut each day.

“It’s kinda fun to know three out of four people that walk through the door.” –Sharon St. Peter


Sharon St. Peter said that motor oil was the best selling Doc Burstein's ice cream flavor.


I also interviewed Shawn Little and James Robbins, both 24-year-olds from Pismo beach, who were eating together in Hula Hut.  Shawn had ordered the Turkey Gourmet sandwich and John had ordered the Clam chowder.  Both said they enjoyed the meals and were returning customers.

Sharon, Shawn, and James discuss the Hula Hut.

Cliffs and Caves of Pismo

Story Highlights

  • Pismo Caves Location: a mile north of the Pismo pier
  • Dinosaur Caves Park: located on the cliffs about the caves
  • Hotels to stay at: Best Western Lodges

Many people who go to Pismo beach spend their day near the pier or in the downtown area.  Most are not aware that less than a mile down the beach (heading north) are a group of caves.  I discovered it while on a run.  Although it was a nice day and the pier area was extremely packed, the caves were not crowded at all.  Adults sat sporadically through the shaded caves while they watched their children play in the sun.  During my second trip to the caves I met a couple, Ron and Carrie Price, who had just discovered the caves the evening before.

“The caves are perfect for me.  This way I can sit in the shade while the boys [her husband and two sons] go in the water and I won’t get sunburnt.”    –Carrie Price

Ron and Carrie Price are staying at the Sandcastle Inn, about a mile from the caves. They discovered the caves on a sunset walk.

Visitors can go far inside the caves as long as they watch their heads.  In some areas people have to duck to about four feet.  Once inside, the view looking out is what many people enjoy.  Ron Price claimed that he could stand there for days looking at the water.

“Now, I’m from Nebraska so maybe the fact that I think its beautiful isn’t saying much, but I’ve got to say, people from around here don’t know how lucky they are.” –Ron Price

Inside the cave, there are flat rocks that you can sit on to enjoy this view.

Directly above these caves are a group of bluffs that house many resorts.  To be closest to the caves, get a room at the Best Western Shelter Cove or Shore Cliff Lodge.

Many families who stay at these hotels and the other hotels that line the bluffs take advantage of the Dinosaur Caves Park.  The park is found directly south of the Best Western Hotel and can be easily accessed from the beach by taking the beach access staircase from the Shelter Cove lodge and walking about a quarter mile.  The Dinosaur Caves Park can be spotted easily by its two large blue-green dinosaur eggs, which children often play in.

“Sissy always hides in the middle egg, so we find her first.”– Matt Taylor, referring to playing hide-and-go-seek in the eggs.


These dinosaur eggs are often a place for young people to sit in or play in. "The kids used one of the eggs as a hide-and-go-seek hiding place just this morning," said Thomas Taylor.

Thomas Taylor pushes his children Matt, Sarah, and Lindsay on the tire swing at Dinosaur Caves Park.

The view from the bluffs is similar to that of the caves and can be admired from a circle of benches overlooking the ocean.  The benches are surrounded by unique plants and colorful flowers.

This seating area is directly above the cave the Price family stood in for a picture. It is yet another way to view the ocean.

Various plants such as these surround the Dinosaur Caves Park.


Afternoon Hike

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Pirate’s Cove Nude Beach

Various Cal Poly students shared their opinion on the nude beach at Pirate’s Cove.