San Luis Obispo is a beautiful place to spend a weekend, right near the central coast. It has hiking, wineries, shopping, breweries and a charming downtown shopping area where Bubblegum Alley is located. This small alley is almost always full of people, and its gum wall is like an ever-changing, living organism with new pieces of gum being added hundreds of times a day. While the sheer amount of gum is pretty gross, this wall has a fun history and is a great place to take pictures with the kids.
Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo is a 15-foot high and 70-foot long alley lined with chewed gum left by passers-by. The locally created, “most-talked-about landmark” covers a stretch of 20 meters between 733 and 734 Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo. Some historians believe that the tradition of the Alley started after WWII as a San Luis Obispo High School graduating class event. Others think it to have started in the late 1950s as a rivalry between San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly students. As soon as the Poly students suspected that the high school was trying to out-do them on the gum walls, the college students stepped up their game and immediately became more creative, thus launching Bubblegum Alley.
In any case, by the 1970s Bubblegum Alley was well underway. When shop owners complained that it was “unsanitary and disgusting,” the alley underwent a full cleaning. The gum graffiti survived two full cleanings in the ’70s, but when, in 1996, the BIA attempted to have another complete cleaning, it was not passed, so the gum wall is here to stay for the immediate future.
The Gum Wall
The gum wall is a sight to behold, with gum stretching from the base to at least 10 feet up the wall for pretty much the entire alley. People write notes with their gum, create art, draw pictures and leave bubbles. The gum wall is even a wall reflecting current pop culture as you can often see notes on political/world events written in the discarded gum.
Don’t worry; if you forgot to bring your own piece of gum, then you can get some from the machine that is right outside of the alley. I cannot imagine how much this machine makes selling gum, but I have to believe it’s one of the most profitable gumball machines in the state. Above the gumball machine is a little paper that states the same history I shared above.
The gum wall itself is a fun place to take people new to the area or even just pursue while you are chewing your own piece to add to the collection.
If you like checking out weird attractions, then this area should not be missed. You can get directions below. Oh, and if you are new to the area you should check out Madonna Inn and even stay a night, it is really worth it.