Growing up here, I considered San Luis Obispo county a wasteland
of ranchers and ex-hippies whose only redeeming cultural institution was the Thursday-night farmers' market, which is, incidentally, one of the nation's largest, where,
no matter how fresh and impressive the fruits and veggies, the true highlight is the barbeque.
Specifically, Mo's Barbeque - pulled pork with coleslaw.
But I digress.
When I was in high school, the only street artist doing interesting stuff was Jeff Claasen, and to get to his modest gallery you had to sneak up a flight of stairs above some stagnant law offices.
The music scene was pretty much limited to whatever punk or, god forbid, reggae was playing at SLO Brew; when nothing was going on, we'd go to Linnaea's Cafe to bitch about it, or climb onto the roof of Boo-Boo's for some perspective.
We had to go to San Francisco or Los Angeles to see things like
Chad Attie (at Kana Manglapus Projects in Santa Monica) - WOW!
Colors on the street just for kicks!
A hip bar with retro appeal.
Taxis; indeed, nightlife.
However, in the past five years during which I haven't been a SLO county resident - living instead in Sweden, Denmark and Santa Cruz - things changed drastically. It might be gentrification, but it's an influx of young people with more ideas than money that are changing the sociocultural scene of the Central Coast.
Last year, Jeff moved to a high-profile shop on Marsh Street, where you can get any color spray paint you never knew you wanted, and more. A Berlin-inspired cafe, Kreuzberg CA, has taken over the space of the best old deli on Monterey and filled the deep walls with books that make for bona-fide entertainment when they're not hosting shows. A couple of galleries, Steynberg and Compact
("four walls and a floor" - and a balcony, and a band), are gaining traction, and, when you're too inspired to keep from making stuff yourself, the amazing San Luis Art Supply on Morro Street can hook you up with any pens, pencils, papers or paints you need.
No wonder Oprah named it the happiest place in the nation. Take that, Disneyland!