2. San Luis Obispo, Calif.: Pure California
By Matthew Jaffe, Sunset
Median home price: $655,323
For your consideration: San Luis Obispo is the most Californian place in all of California.
A historic mission town set among rolling hills halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, SLO buzzes with undergraduate energy, thanks to California Polytechnic State University. The Edna Valley wine country is a few minutes south, and the coast is 10 minutes west by car or, as many in this relentlessly fit community prefer, 30 minutes by bike.
And the climate? Well, let's see, how do you describe a place that's as ideal for people as it is for wine grapes? Where the annual average monthly highs range all the way from 62 to 74 degrees?
Oh, that's right: Perfect.
SLO is a town of 44,359 people who live outdoors, whether on the trail that winds through the oak forests and meadows on Bishop Peak or along the shaded downtown banks of its restored creek.
Some of its best neighborhoods — where the streets are lined by a mix of Queen Annes and Spanish bungalows — sit within a few blocks of the back patio at the local coffee-house classic, Linnaea's Cafe, or the eclectic offerings of the Palm Theatre, the only solar-powered picture show in the country.
And all year long, Thursday's evening farmers market sends the scent of barbecued tri-tip (and a soundtrack of live blues) across the tidy urban landscape.
Make a visit
San Luis Obispo is 12 miles inland from the coast on U.S. Highway 101, 190 miles north of Los Angeles and 230 miles south of San Francisco. Amtrak's Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner both stop here (800-872-7245). The local airport is served by American Eagle, Delta Connection, United Express and US Airways, with direct connections to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Staying the night? Consider Petit Soleil Bed et Breakfast (from $159; 805-549-0321); it's charming and near downtown. More info at: Visitslo.
Make a move
If you're thinking about living the SLO life, figure on a median home price of $655,323 (2007). As for jobs, Cal Poly is the city's biggest employer — but the county is the third-largest wine-grape producer in California. For local news, try the free weekly, New Times, or the city's daily newspaper, The Tribune.