Editorials

It's tacky and disgusting. That's exactly why trendy SLO needs Bubblegum Alley

Get a look at one of SLO’s weirdest tourist attractions: Bubblegum Alley

Disgusting or destination? Bubblegum alley has been giving SLO tourists something to chew on for decades. Here's a look around the alley covered in chewed gum, notes and art on Higuera Street.
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Disgusting or destination? Bubblegum alley has been giving SLO tourists something to chew on for decades. Here's a look around the alley covered in chewed gum, notes and art on Higuera Street.

First came $22 cocktails. Then $600-a-night suites. Now downtown San Luis Obispo is getting a couple of high-rise, luxury hotels, including one with a rooftop swimming pool and private cabanas that would be right at home in Beverly Hills.

It’s all so trendy, not to mention expensive.

At least we still have crusty old Bubblegum Alley — the perfect antidote to all that swank — reminding us of our not-so-glamorous roots.

Fortuitously, SLO’s most famous alley is right behind Hotel Serra and its rooftop pool — a gentle reminder that no matter how many posh hotels and restaurants rise up in the downtown, we’re not a Rodeo Drive or even an LA Live. And most of us don’t want to be.

San Luis Obispo magician and YouTube personality Rich Ferguson played a prank on visitors to Bubblegum Alley in downtown SLO. Watch as some scream, run away or get otherwise spooked.

Bubblegum Alley is the antithesis of chic. It’s like a favorite pair of slippers that have seen too many winters — gross and smelly and tattered, but such a part of us that we can’t give them up. Nor should we have to. (Note to city: How about bestowing some sort of protected status on Bubblegum Alley? Or a least marking it with a fancy commemorative plaque?)

Another point of pride: It’s the people’s wall. Anybody can contribute to this bizarre communal art project; all it costs is a stick of gum.

True, the alley is not for germaphobes. (We once received a letter to the editor asking whether it should be investigated as a health hazard.)

It’s not just the layers upon layers of dried-up, ABC (already been chewed) gum that are gross. It’s also the accoutrements — business cards, coins, ticket stubs, bottle caps, love notes, gum wrappers, straws, a dental instrument and a Polaroid photo, all stuck on with gum.

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The overall effect is creepy, like a clown or a headless doll. Most locals who are past the age of 17 scurry by it, averting their eyes — unless they happen to be hosting out-of-town visitors.

Because here’s the thing: Tourists love Bubblegum Alley. (Even Hotel Serra gets that; it’s included Bubblegum Alley in an online contest that sends entrants on a scavenger hunt.)

Take the Sells family from Cincinnati, Ohio. The alley was high on their “to do” list, along with hiking Bishop Peak, kayaking in Morro Bay and strolling on Avila’s dog beach.

“It’s exactly what I expected,” said Ralph, who visited the alley with his wife Peggy and three of their adult children.

“It’s something you would never see anywhere else,” said oldest daughter Lauren. (Actually, there’s another famous gum wall in Seattle, and one in London, but who’s counting?)

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Marsh Street was shut down Monday night as workers installed a rooftop pool on top of Hotel Serra, under construction in downtown SLO. Watch as crews lift the halves of a stainless steel pool all the way up.

The Sells family didn’t stay long — and they didn’t add any gum to the collection — but they did pose, mid-alley, for the obligatory photo, with the shell of Hotel Serra looming large in the background. Then they moved on to lunch at a nearby restaurant.

In case you’re wondering, $22 cocktails were not on their agenda, but they did have beer.

Cheers to that. And long live Bubblegum Alley.

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