Steve Johnson discovered San Luis Obispo County in college when he was playing rugby against Cal Poly, but it took some time before he and his wife, Liz, made their way up north.
After growing up in Pasadena and working in Los Angeles as an attorney, he and his family decided to make the move. The couple took a drive up See Canyon in Avila Valley and realized that was where they were supposed to live and raise their children.
That was about 25 years ago.
“We bought a 40-acre ranch that had just gone on the market,” Johnson said.“The canyon runs east/west and is filled with sycamore trees, fruit trees and sun.”
Six years ago, Johnson moved his law firm from San Luis Obispo to downtown Avila Beach. After work, he and Liz, a teacher at Mesa Middle School in Nipomo, sometimes go sailing.
“Between my office in Avila and the ranch, my life is where it’s supposed to be, home is about eight miles, and the drive is beautiful.”
He’s been an active member of the community: He is an Avila Beach Community Foundation board member; served on the Avila Valley Advisory Council, Avila Business Association and the Avila Beach Civic Association; and is a founding member of the See Canyon Watershed Group.
“I had an old-timer tell me that they used to have so many steelhead trout here that they could grab them with a pitchfork and toss them into a wheelbarrow,” he said. “We don’t expect that to happen ever again, but we would like to see a few steelheads come back into the local waterways.”
The fruit ranch is clearly a passion.
Johnson said he grows 13 varieties of apples, tangerines, pears and quince for commercial use, plus a 100-tree personal orchard. Their daughter Collette, 27, who has Down syndrome, sells eggs from her 50 free-range hens.
“Our son has a small farm in Oregon, and our other daughter is in high-tech,” he said. “This was a great area for them to grow up.”
Johnson said he feels blessed that the family made the move to a community with a healthy lifestyle.
“People here are adventurous and care about the ecology of the area,” he said. “Some people have to wait to live their dream. In Avila, I’m already living it.”