Atascadero & Santa Margarita

Atascadero & Santa Margarita stand between Templeton to the north, and the top of Cuesta Grade to the south, along Hwy 101 leading to San Luis Obispo for roughly 10 miles. Hwy 41 runs through Atascadero from the coast at Morro Bay, northeast to Fresno and Yosemite. Just below Atascadero is Santa Margarita, a small community along the railroad tracks just north of the Cuesta Grade hillside.


The following information is provided for you to make decisions about places to visit and entertainment while you are there. It is for informational purposes only and we may have missed some available businesses and things to do.


Atascadero, originally called Atascadero Colony, started in the early part of the 1900s as a planned community, to be a utopia. It started as a tent city, but before that it was occupied by the Salinan tribe of Native Americans. The town’s name means bog in Spanish, and place of much water in the Chumash language. You cannot imagine either of these names, considering the dry nature of the area and usually temperate climate.

Atascadero houses a state mental hospital (I have never been housed there), Atascadero Lake Park with pedal boats, fishing, and bandstand, the Charles Paddock Zoo, Faces of Freedom veteran memorial, Sunken Gardens, movie multiplex, Stadium Park for biking and hiking, a golf course, and a rotunda city hall with a dome top that is unique enough that it has been used in several movies including My Blue Heaven. Of course, you can find out more about the town at the Atascadero Historical Museum located in City Hall.

The Printery and City Hall are two of the oldest buildings in town. The Carlton Hotel was one of the next buildings to be built. All 3 of these buildings should be visited to get a feel of the early days of town and the architecture. The different areas of town are unique enough to give you the feeling you are in different rural areas, surrounded by ranches. Annual events include wine events, car shows and cruise nights, and zoo events. For places to sleep, there is even a Marriott or a Holiday Inn Express, or a few inexpensive choices including Motel 6.

The main street through town, El Camino Real, runs for several miles north to south. Starting at the Home Depot shopping center to the north, it runs past Kmart, downtown, several restaurants, some tasting rooms and breweries, art galleries, and leads all the way to Santa Margarita in the south. The founder, EG Lewis, wanted his colony to have access to the coast, and had the road built that would later become Hwy 41 West. It intersects with what could be called the Colony or downtown area.

With a population approaching 30,000, just under 80% are Caucasian, and less than 1/4 are under 18. Even though the median income is around 65,000, over 1/3 live in rentals. The city spans about 27 square miles and has a very low unemployment rate, as it is mostly a bedroom community. Health care, retail, and construction are the largest employers. The highest crime levels are thefts and burglaries.

Santa Margarita is a quaint little village of about 1,300 people with old buildings running along a short main street (about 3 blocks), part of which is Hwy 58, which eventually leads through the Central Valley to the Mojave Desert. Past Santa Margarita to the east you will find Pozo and the Salinas Reservoir, also known as Santa Margarita Lake where you can fish, rent boats, camp, and hike with wildlife.

Follow Hwy 58 to the Carrizo Plain to see photovoltaic solar projects producing gigawatts of electricity. There are areas for off-road driving past the Pozo Saloon. This is the La Panza OHV in the Los Padres Forest. There are zipline tours, kayaking up to Santa Margarita Lake, an antique shop, a working ranch where you can camp by a pond or stay in guest houses or roam the trails on horse back, bicycle or on foot, or up the road you can visit an old mercury mine.

Many people driving up the Mission road don’t even know there was a sub mission here called Santa Margarita de Cortona. You can make arrangements to visit what is left of the sub mission flooring and original location. Santa Margarita has had a varied past. At one point, the railroad end was moved from Templeton to Santa Margarita, where everything had to come off the train and loaded on wagons to get south. At that time, you could find a hotel, restaurants, taverns, blacksmiths, and ice cream parlors. The railroad made it down the hill and the town got quiet.

Margarita Town picked up again in the 1920s. The El Camino Real running from here through Atascadero was one of the primary roads for seeing California. The town got a motor inn, hotel, 6 gas stations, garages, pool halls, restaurants, fraternal organizations, taverns and even a baseball team. Then when Hwy 101 was cut through bypassing the town, things got sleepy again, creating a quiet and quaint community.

Now you can find about 5 places to grab a bite, a small market liquor store, nursery, and small park. It is a worthwhile stop, and can be along your path following from the interchange of Hwy 101 and running up the back side along the railroad tracks to Atascadero.


Visit all of our community pages: Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero & Santa Margarita, Cambria & San Simeon, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Los Osos & Baywood Park, San Luis Obispo & Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, Oceano, Nipomo, Santa Maria Valley


Disclaimer: We have done our best to bring you current information on these communities. There may be inaccuracies or outdated information we have not accounted for. This data has been obtained from various sources we believe to be reliable but may not be faulty. We have no responsibility nor liability stemming from your use or reliance on this information.

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