Atascadero is a town of about 30,000 inhabitants nestled between more well-regarded siblings San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. It was founded in the early 1900s as a utopian colony by an entrepreneur who was indicted several times for mail fraud and who perhaps didn’t realize that his beloved community’s name, loosely translated from the original Spanish, meant “bog.”
It’s a paragon of a certain kind of suburban living space. Most of its residents work elsewhere and return only to sleep and host the occasional weekend barbecue. Most of the quaint original colony structures have been demolished to make way for strip malls of undistinguished appearance. It is pedestrian-unfriendly at the best of times and not entirely safe at night.
Atascadero Lake Park is a tiny crown jewel, with one of the smallest AZA accredited zoos in the country, acres of grass, and the lake itself. In typical Atascadero fashion algae blooms occasionally kill off the swans and geese who grace its waters and the city resists the expense of dredging until lakeside residents threaten open revolt over the stench. But often, as on this summer morning, it’s a lovely place to take a stroll.