Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 21, 2019

Restored: Southern Pacific Railway Station, San Luis Obispo

Although it’s 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, San Luis Obispo is considered part of California’s “central coast.” A city of 45,00 people, it was founded in 1772 as one of the original California missions, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

SLO Mission Brad Nixon 3571 (640x503)

The thriving town, 190 miles north of Los Angeles, was once a center of farming and cattle ranching. Today, it’s the home of prestigious California Polytechnic State University. It also hosts an extensive Saturday farmers’ market, and a is a base for exploring the semi-arid California coastal range. Now that you’re acquainted, you can refer to the city as Californians do: SLO, and you can ride the local public transportation service, the ironically-named SLO Transit.

The town is replete with interesting local architecture. In addition to the old mission, as I’ve written here before (click on links), there’s a former Carnegie library building, now a museum, and an office building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright A small gem of a place, easily missed, is by Julia Morgan, whose long, successful career as California’s first female architect is defined by her work on William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon — Hearst Castle — about 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo. Her 1933 Women’s Monday Club building still houses its founding organization.

Morgan Monday Brad Nixon 3534 (640x480)

As the Southern Pacific Railroad built its first rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1890s, the steepest and most demanding portion of the line passed through rugged country to the south before reaching San Luis Obispo. The original station buildings were replaced in 1942 by a modern structure which still serves passengers traveling along Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight trains.

SLO station Brad Nixon 3668 680

The somewhat austere Spanish Colonial Revival style is as good a representation as any of the Southern Pacific’s consistent attempts to fit its operations into the local vernacular. Here, seen from the track side.

SLO station Brad Nixon 3663 680

Inside, the original wooden benches and something of the original ambience of the waiting area are extant. Yes, there’s an Amtrak ticket window with an agent to book your ride.

SLO Station interior Brad Nixon 3665 680

The Competition Appears

When SP built the San Luis station, the great days of American rail travel were near their end. Interestingly, the harbinger of the decline of rail travel had already taken root right there in San Luis Obispo, 30 years earlier. Automobiles and highways would come to dominate the way we travel across America. The world’s first roadside motel, the Motel Inn, had been in business along U.S. Route 101 since 1925. Now a ruin, here’s how it looked more than a dozen years ago.

First Motel Brad Nixon 2615 680

No, one can no longer book a room at the Motel Inn (although SLO offers plenty of modern accommodations). One can, however, board the Pacific Surfliner at SLO, its northern terminus, southbound for Los Angeles or San Diego, or catch the Coast Starlight to Portland or Seattle. I was there to see a train pull in, disembarking students returning to classes at Cal Poly.

SLO station Brad Nixon 3672 680


The San Luis Obispo station is at 1011 Railroad Ave. There are connections to SLO Transit buses.

Is there a classic railroad station in your town, or one that Under Western Skies readers should see? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2019


  1. I like the original polished wooden waiting room benches Brad and pleased they’ve been retained. We have numerous heritage stations in the U.K. and I’ll try and include one or two of them in my blog sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’d like to see a “heritage” station when you have the opportunity.
      Although, as I always stress, I’m not a genuine railroad buff, I’m aware of the major role the railroads have had in the UK, including some of the very first implementations of steam powered transportation. I’m certain there must be some architectural gems in the system.
      Those wooden benches are signature pieces in period train station across a wide swath of the U.S. The photos in today’s post were shot in 2016. Just a few months ago, we saw nearly identical ones 700 miles away in the Tucson, Arizona station.
      And, they’re relatively comfortable to sit on!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. nice pictures of San Luis. I really like your picture of the Monday Club with the tree in front of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Shawn. It’s a pleasure to be complimented on composition by a painter-photographer.


  3. Nice!
    That interior shot is somewhat reminiscent of the Centralia rail station!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep. All the stations feature those standard-of-the-times wooden benches, and were designed along certain corporate standards. We were in the Tucson, Arizona station back in July … same sort of vibe. Good catch.


  4. Nice!
    That interior shot is somewhat reminiscent of the Centralia rail station!


    • In a way, it’s something like walking into a Denny’s or McDonald’s. You’re in anytown, USA, but you’re always in a Southern Pacific RR station.


  5. Interesting building, and the station is so clean and cozy. Thank you for the excursion, Brad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Victor. Merely returning the favor of the excursions you lead.


  6. […] via Restored: Southern Pacific Railway Station, San Luis Obispo — Under Western Skies […]


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