Demographics About San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo, also known as SLO, is a charming coastal city located along California’s scenic Central Coast region. With its Mediterranean climate, laidback vibe, and close proximity to beaches, wineries, hiking trails, and landmarks like the famed Madonna Inn, SLO has long been a popular destination for visitors and a desirable place to live for locals.

But what is the makeup of SLO’s population? Who are the people calling this Central Coast town home? In this local’s guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the demographics of San Luis Obispo.

Population Size and Density

As of the 2020 census, the population of San Luis Obispo is 47,459 residents. This makes it the 16th largest city in the Central Coast region. SLO’s population density is approximately 3,634 people per square mile.

The city has grown at a rate of 0.35% annually over the last 10 years. Growth has been moderate and steady, allowing SLO to maintain its small-town charm while expanding.

Age and Gender

San Luis Obispo has a young population compared to state and national averages. The median age is 22.6 years old. This is largely due to the presence of Cal Poly, a public university with nearly 21,000 enrolled students.

Gender Breakdown

  • Male: 50.1%
  • Female: 49.9%

The gender breakdown is almost exactly even in SLO.

Age Group Breakdown

  • Under 18 years old: 4.6%
  • 18-24 years old: 42.3% (heavily influenced by college students)
  • 25-34 years old: 15.8%
  • 35-54 years old: 20.6%
  • 55-64 years old: 8.5%
  • 65+ years old: 8.2%

Young adults between 18-34 make up over half of the population due to the large student body. The city has a relatively small percentage of minors and seniors compared to the overall population.

Racial Composition

San Luis Obispo is predominantly white, with Hispanic/Latino residents making up the largest minority group. Here is the racial breakdown:

  • White: 75.5%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 16.6%
  • Asian: 6.5%
  • Black: 1.3%
  • Native American: 0.4%
  • Pacific Islander: 0.1%
  • Other/Mixed: 3.8%

The city is less racially diverse than California as a whole. One notable difference is the small Black population, which is only 1.3% compared to 6.5% statewide.

Household Types

With a large student population, the most common household type in San Luis Obispo is shared non-family homes, making up 37.6% of households.

However, there are also many families within SLO city limits:

  • Married couples with children: 18.4%
  • Married couples without children: 18.2%
  • Single parent households: 4.6%

Additionally, 20% of households consist of singles living alone.

Income and Poverty

San Luis Obispo residents tend to be prosperous with higher earning levels.

  • Median household income: $59,441 (compared to $80,440 for California overall)
  • Per capita income: $32,356
  • Poverty rate: 20.3%

The median income is boosted by the presence of Cal Poly faculty and staff in addition to students. However, a significant portion of residents, predominantly students, live below the poverty line.


As you may expect from a college town, the education level of SLO’s population is high:

  • High school graduate or higher: 95.5%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 52.9%

The largest public university on the Central Coast, Cal Poly SLO has a major impact on education levels. More than half of adults possess a bachelor’s degree or higher.


With Cal Poly and tourism driving the local economy, here are the top employment sectors in San Luis Obispo:

  • Educational services, healthcare, and social assistance: 30%
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services: 21%
  • Retail trade: 12%
  • Professional, scientific, and management: 10%
  • Construction: 6%

As a small city, the job market primarily consists of the university, county and city governments, tourism, retail, and service sector positions. Many residents also commute to jobs located in other nearby cities.


Most housing in San Luis Obispo consists of rental units, catering to student living.

  • Owner-occupied housing units: 25%
  • Renter-occupied housing units: 75%
  • Single family detached homes: 31%
  • Apartments and other attached units: 62%
  • Mobile homes: 7%

With high demand from students wanting to live near campus, the rental market in SLO is very competitive with elevated prices.

The median home value is $649,500, which is considered unaffordable for most when paired with the median household income. Faculty and staff able to buy tend to live in nearby more affordable cities and commute.


The main mode of transportation for SLO residents is environmentally friendly:

  • Car, truck, or van: 61%
  • Walked: 14%
  • Bicycle: 12%
  • Public transportation: 2%
  • Other (motorcycle, taxi, etc): 11%

Many students and locals take advantage of the city’s bike-friendliness and compact downtown to walk or ride around town. There is also a local public bus system.

The average commute time to work is just 17.4 minutes, indicating most residents do not have to travel far for their jobs.

Growth Projections

San Luis Obispo is expected to continue growing at a slow, steady pace of 0.5-1% annually over the next 10+ years.

Major factors that will contribute to future population changes:

  • Enrollment trends at Cal Poly – More students leads to higher city population
  • New housing development – Building more units near the city allows for growth
  • Job market shifts – Increased employment brings more residents
  • Climate impacts – Drought and wildfires may deter newcomers

The 2030 projected population for SLO is 51,000-52,000 residents. Growth will likely be controlled to maintain small-town character.


In summary, San Luis Obispo is currently home to nearly 48,000 residents, with college students making up a sizable portion. The population is predominantly white with a significant Latino minority group, has high education levels, resides largely in rentals, and gets around via walking, biking, and driving.

While SLO is expected to steadily grow over the coming years, the pace should be moderate without drastic changes to the makeup and feel of this scenic Central Coast city. The demographics reflect a young, mobile, educated, and affluent resident base able to enjoy the SLO life.

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