Top 10 man-made landmarks in SLO County

With the onset of chain stores in recent years, communities across America have become a bit, well, homogenous. Drive from county to county and things pretty much look the same.

While some communities may have lost a bit of character, there are still plenty of ways to tell you’re in San Luis Obispo County. Sure there are the beautiful beaches, gorgeous hills and other natural landmarks that make SLO County one of the most stunning places in the nation. But there are other types of landmarks that set us apart, too: those constructed by humans. Here are the top 10 man-made landmarks that can only be found right here.

Atascadero City Hall

atascadero rotunda
David Middlecamp

6500 Palma Ave. | Atascadero

This domed, brick centerpiece of Atascadero, also called the Rotunda Building, was originally built in 1918. Inspired by the 1904 World’s Fair, the building has served as a college dorm for three different private schools, had a basement shooting range for the Sheriff’s Office and once served as a post office, among other uses. The brick building was significantly damaged after the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake and was closed for 10 years for restoration. It is once again home to the City of Atascadero’s government offices.

Bubblegum Alley

Laura Dickinson

733. Higuera St. | San Luis Obispo

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce describes Bubblegum Alley as the city’s most popular unofficial landmark, attracting hundreds of thousands of people a year who leave their mark with chewed gum on the walls. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than 1.7 million pieces of gum now adorn the 70-foot-long alleyway off Higuera Street. In 2013, the alley was even nominated by a travel website to be the unofficial 8th Wonder of the World. Even so, many find this to be one disgusting landmark.

Chapel Hill

chapel hill

McMillan Canyon Road | Shandon

Chapel Hill, which as its name suggests, is a chapel that sits on a hill, was built by Judge William P. Clark, a Shandon cattle rancher and close friend and political adviser to President Ronald Reagan. The nondenominational 900-square-foot chapel sits on 160 acres that Clark donated to the community. Its interior includes stained glass and a 13th-century Moorish ceiling from the William Randolph Hearst collection. A bone relic from Father Junipero Serra is buried near a Hearst fireplace within the chapel. The chapel is a striking sight when driving along Highway 46 East.

Chapel Hill is a striking sight when driving along Highway 46 East. Here's a closer look at the local landmark.

Hearst Castle

hearst castle
Joe Johnston The Tribune

750 Hearst Castle Road | San Simeon

Travel anywhere in the world and people know what part of California you’re from when you say Hearst Castle. The castle on the hill is a huge tourist draw and a must-see for anyone who travels California’s scenic Highway 1. Architect Julia Morgan designed the estate for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and construction began in 1919. In its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, the castle was a magnet for Hollywood stars. The historic landmark is now part of the California State Parks system and is open to the public.

Madonna Inn

madonnainn (2)
Joe Johnston The Tribune

100 Madonna Road | San Luis Obispo

No question this pink-hued motel and restaurant is a SLO County landmark. Open since 1958, the inn draws tourists with its themed rooms, pink champagne cakes and rock-wall urinal in the restaurant’s men’s restroom. Each of the 110 guest rooms has a name and unique theme, from “pony room” to “old mill.” The Gold Rush Steakhouse has giant, bright pink and gold booths. Some may say it’s a bit garish, but that’s what makes it unique.

Motel Inn

motel inn
Joe Johnston

2223 Monterey St. | San Luis Obispo

The Motel Inn, located at the northern end of San Luis Obispo, is famous for being the first overnight stop to use the term “motel.” The inn opened in 1925 as part of a developer’s dream to establish a chain of mission-style lodges “dedicated primarily to the service of the motoring public,” according to newspaper accounts, until the Great Depression put an end to those plans. The inn at the city’s northern gateway was shuttered in the mid-1990s, and plans to rehabilitate it have been discussed for more than 15 years since developers Rob Rossi and John King bought the dilapidated property in 2000 for $3.6 million. Recently, the SLO Planning Commission approved plans for a 55-room hotel and RV park at the historical site.


pismo pier

Pismo Beach | Avila Beach | Cayucos | San Simeon | Port San Luis

There’s nothing like standing over the waters of the Pacific Ocean a few hundred feet from shore. SLO County is home to a half-dozen piers that jut out over the waves. While each beach town has its own character, the same can be said of the piers. From sunrise to sunset, locals and tourists alike can be seen enjoying the piers.

Explore the piers of San Luis Obispo County in this video journey from Pismo Beach to Cayucos.

San Miguel Mission bells

san miguel mission bells (2)

775 Mission St. | San Miguel

Drive Highway 101 north out of Paso Robles and the bell tower of Mission San Miguel stands as the last major landmark before leaving SLO County. Glance to your right just after passing the Mission Street off-ramp and you’ll see the large tower just before you pass the mission itself. The brick companario, which sits on the south end of the mission property, was built in the 1950s.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

slo mission
Joe Johnston The Tribune

751 Palm St. | San Luis Obispo

This landmark in downtown San Luis Obispo was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772. It was the fifth of 21 Franciscan missions in California. Today the mission is a centerpiece of SLO, and the plaza out front is home to concerts, events and other activities year-round.

Three stacks


1290 Embarcadero | Morro Bay

If you see three stacks and a rock, you know you’re in Morro Bay. The trio of 450-foot stacks have become as much of a Morro Bay landmark as the 580-foot Morro Rock, which sits in the ocean nearby. The future of these giant stacks is unclear, however. The Morro Bay Power Plant, widely identified by its three stacks towering above the nearby bay, was formally retired in February 2014. Dynegy, the Houston-based owner of the plant, has made no formal plans about its future intentions for the site.