Turns out I was wrong.
The happiest place in California (and all the USA) is San Luis Obispo, a small town of 45,000 located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Least that’s what researcher and writer Dan Buettner believes. In his new book, Thrive, in which he examines where the happiest places on earth are and why these places produce exceptionally happy people, he named San Luis Obispo America’s happiest place.
Well, according to Buettner, San Luis Obispo’s happiness has, for the most part, come about through decades of good local government policies that have created a thriving healthy and active community.
A town green before being green was popular, San Luis Obispo (or SLO as the locals like to call it) favors the pedestrian and cyclist, with plenty of green space, wide sidewalks, a meandering river, and a town square.
Come to think of it, San Luis Obispo was starting to sound a lot like Disneyland.
That in mind, I just had to go discover San Luis Obispo for myself.
To be honest, by the time I arrived in America’s ‘happiest place’ after an exhausting seven hour drive from Palm Desert, I wasn’t feeling all that happy.
But checking into the Apple Farm Inn soon fixed that. I’m not sure whether it was the Inn’s delightfully cozy country décor or the fact that there was fresh home baked chocolate chip cookies and hot apple cider in the lobby, but within minutes, I was feeling much, much happier.
The next day, I took off on foot to explore downtown San Luis Obispo. Within ten minutes, I’d not only found the town square but thanks to brief conversation with a local I meet on the street, discovered where the best coffee (Black Horse Café) and best breakfast (Big Sky Café) could be found.
But first, I needed to leave my mark on SLO. And I knew just the place – the infamous ‘bubble gum alley’, a 70 foot long alley lined with chewed chewing gum placed in the most decorative and innovative ways. Originally a college prank, it is now SLO’s most talked about landmark.
From there it’s only a short walk across the San Luis Obispo Creek to creek to Mission Plaza. This pedestrian only two block area bordered by the creek on one side and the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (founded 1772) on the other, is the physical, cultural, and spiritual heart of SLO.
The rest of the morning was spent alternating between window shopping and sitting in cafés watching people go by. Maybe it was my imagination, but they all seemed to be smiling.