Though the USC area certainly has its redeeming qualities (Spudnuts, USC, the UV movie theatre, the raccoon I once saw outside of my apartment building), the inhabitants of Figueroa etc. do occasionally long for time away from DPS reports, bike thieves, poor late night diet decisions, and the occasional vaguely rabid squirrel. That is where short road trips come in handy.
When I first returned from a month in beautiful North Carolina for winter break, I found myself in bitter semi-culture shock upon the realization that Figueroa corridor has neither pretty trees nor good Southern BBQ. I did not bask in this depression for long, as I was informed that the happiest town in all of the USA was just a couple of (hundred) miles up north! (According to USA Today – obviously the expert on all things on USA – and now to me, an expert on exactly nothing except for puppy gifs).
My friend and I packed our bags (no we didn’t, we were going for a day), got in my trusty Civic (with a not so trusty driver who got her license last year after failing the test five times aka me ), and listened to a lot of Beyonce on our drive up to Arroyo Grande (which is actually not the happiest town on earth, but that’s where our tour guide lived, so deal with it).
After a lot of ohhh-and-ahhhing (both because of the scenic quality of the drive up north and the terrible-ness of my driving), we arrived in Arroyo Grande (which happens to be the hometown of everyone’s favorite High School Musical alumni – Zac Efron! I wonder how many fights he and Vanessa Hudgens had in Arroyo Grande). We were greeted by our tour guide, who was wearing something Nike and had a fairly nice beard. He had a much nicer house than most tour guides have (though this may be because he still lives with his parents) and gave us tokens of Arroyo Grande-appreciation (it is customary to give Virgin Mary nightlights there, I guess).
We then got in the tour guide’s car (he has had his license a little longer than I have and no one wanted to see me drive in the happiest town in the USA as it could cause long term trauma to its citizens) and finally made it to the promised land of San Luis Obispo (which I will now type as “SLO” because it will save me approximately thirty seconds as I type the rest of this).
Though I initially thought that USA Today may have been exaggerating in labeling SLO the “happiest place in the USA,” I stood corrected. Not only does SLO have like five boutique soap shops (where only happy people would shop), but it also has a candy shoppe (not shop) where Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory plays on a loop. After eating brunch, we walked near a small stream/river/whatever where we were greeted by a trio of extremely friendly homeless folk (they did not ask for any money and said “good morning” very cheerfully).
We visited SLO’s famous bubblegum wall, which caused a momentary philosophical crisis that went something like, “why is this disgusting wall a landmark?!” before we recovered and enjoyed the happiness of SLO some more. We stopped by the tour guide’s high school, where he obviously ran into an old (very attractive) friend and they spoke like the good people of SLO speak: with love and joy.
We were then driven by the bearded tour guide to SLO’s more scenic area – cliffs and the ocean! It was very pretty, perhaps the prettiest ocean cliffs I’ve seen in 2013. Two seaside towns later (one of which gave us the fabulous opportunity to watch a couple partake in sex on the beach), we were ready to experience SLO’s finest: a petting zoo!
In most places, petting farms are sad places where goats struggle with being touched constantly by small children. Not at the Avila Valley Barn in SLO!
There was a nice little barn market. Our tour guide asked us the million-dollar question: “have you ever had an olallieberry?” (Well, have you ever had an olallieberry? Probably not.) The non-SLO natives were quick to answer, “No, is that a real thing?” Before our tour guide could even lead us to the olallieberry section, a middle-aged SLO woman turned to us aghast: “YOU’VE NEVER HAD AN OLALLIEBERRY?!” she demanded, in a naturally very happy aghast tone. When we admitted that we had not, she led us to the olallieberry pie section and would not leave until we picked one up. Everyone in SLO wants you to experience the best the place has to offer.
It turns out, the olaillieberry fan was right: olaillieberry pie was a great culinary experience only to be contested by a 2am Spudnuts run. Back at the tour guide’s home, we ate olaillieberry pie, listened to embarrassing stories about the tour guide from his youth, and saw some incriminating childhood photos. It was one of the happiest days of 2013 in the happiest place in the USA and it only took three-ish hours to get back to South Central. I encourage everyone to go to SLO, if only to try olallieberry pie. So next time we have a long weekend or you just feel like getting out of Trojan land: go up north and stop before you get to San Francisco.