Feb. 13: Sunset Drive-In Theater, San Luis Obispo CA

It’s Day 44 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The cities in this part of California almost merge together, yet Highway 101 is still a pretty speedy way to get between them. It took less than 45 minutes to zoom from Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo, home of the Sunset Drive-In Theater.

This place is a classic. It opened in 1951, and it still shows a lot of old-school touches. The concession stand it a small wood-paneled source of soda, popcorn, and the usual suspects. The marquee has well-maintained neon tubes that probably look as good as its first days. And that single huge screen has the drive-in’s name on it, as was so typical during the golden age.

Way back in 1998, I scheduled a Memorial Day weekend trip to visit several drive-in theaters in western Colorado. Someone asked if I’d get tired of seeing the same movie night after night, but I assured him that they always pick different movies from each other. I was wrong of course; that weekend every theater had the re-release of Titanic. I was reminded of that anecdote as I saw the The Lego Batman Movie again on the Sunset marquee. Three nights in a row isn’t so bad.

Miles Today / Total:  35 / 5126 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Lego Batman Movie / 33

Nearby Restaurant: Just a mile away from the Sunset is Madonna Inn’s Copper Cafe. They tell me it’s an icon, a tradition in San Luis Obispo. It’s a quirky coffee shop, the kind of place that has “Let’s eat and be forever happy” carved into a wooden arch. The Copper Cafe is open early and late, and its best feature is its selection of pies and cakes. I had a slice of pink champagne cake because where else am I going to get that chance?

Where I Virtually Stayed: You can’t get closer than across the highway, and that’s where the Embassy Suites sits. I could even see the back of the Sunset screen from my room window (since I asked for a high room facing east). I always love the evening reception of snacks and drinks, followed in the morning by a cooked-to-order breakfast.

Only in San Luis Obispo: There is a tourist attraction in downtown SLO that’s a little hard to describe or explain. It’s a narrow, 70-foot-long alley that’s known for its accumulation of used chewing gum on its walls, hence the name Bubblegum Alley. According to Wikipedia, some historians believe it started after WWII as a San Luis Obispo High School graduating class event. Others believe it started in the late 1950s, as rivalry between SLOHS and California Polytechnic State University students. By the 1970s, Bubblegum Alley was well established. Since then the gum graffiti has survived several temporary cleanings by the Downtown Business Improvement Association.

Next Stop: Madera Drive In Theatre, Madera CA.

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