San Luis Obispo is an easygoing town near California’s central coast. It’s got sunny, mild weather, lots to do, and a young, up-for-anything population. It’s a 20-minute drive to beautiful Pacific beaches, and three hours in either direction to L.A. or San Francisco.
Mustangs like to head to the sandy Pismo Dunes for ATVing and to Morro Bay, with its distinctive nearshore rock island, for its high chances of spotting a sea otter or a rare bird. The campus is also 13 miles to rugged, windswept Montana de Oro State Park.
A university program called Poly Escapes offers about 20 affordable trips each quarter, including summer. Most are led by students who’ve become experts in locally available activities like climbing, night caving, geocaching, snowshoeing, surfing, kayaking, bird-watching, and backpacking. Participants get 50 percent off rental gear prices, which are reasonable even without the discount (SUP boards, for example, cost $18 per day). And there’s an annual student gear swap, during which you can buy, sell, or trade used equipment.
The campus’ brand-new outdoor climbing park offers ropes on a 42-foot wall and free-climbing on a 13-foot bouldering rock. All levels are welcome, and students use it free. For those wanting to use their hands some other way, Cal Poly’s Craft Center offers surfboard-shaping classes, skateboard-making workshops, and an introduction to flameworking.
A department called Marine Operations offers scientific diving classes and PADI certification ($245), and maintains a university-run pier, a key launch point for ocean research and education.
Agriculture is another big academic focus here and as such, there are lots of majors and minors that’ll get you out into the field and the nearby farm—to name a few: fruit science, ornamental plant production, and landscape horticulture.
Alumni get access to adventure-travel package deals; though those programs can be expensive, they’d be no problem for successful Cal Poly graduates like Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson, ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, or Robert J. Mazzuca, the Boy Scouts’ chief scout executive.
CONTACT: (805) 756-1111, calpoly.edu
STUDENT BODY: 17,332 undergraduates, 1,028 graduates
TUITION: residents $7,921, nonresidents $19,081, room and board $10,444