Secret SLO School Tours

In the classroom, on the street, and in historic spaces, Secret SLO makes the past tangible, meaningful, and memorable for students and teachers. We offer three different tours for elementary school children and each can be customized to your curriculum as needed. We also offer a few add-ons to the downtown tours including ice cream histories and tastings, candy history and tasting, public spaces and museum visits.

We also offer completely customized tours for high school, college, and university students based on the specific needs of the class and curriculum. Information can include specific architecture types, indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, specific buildings and structures, trade and manufacturing, local prominent families, industry and more. You can request additional information by filling out our educational and school inquiry form here.

We work with many downtown vendors and venues to provide a relevant, meaningful and fun experience for your class.

While we typically like to cap these tours at 15-18 students, we can accommodate more with proper notice and participation from school staff, faculty or parents.

As each tour requires some planning, we do not book these tours online. Please contact James Papp or Bill McCarthy for additional information. You can also reach us by phone or fill out our educational and school inquiry form here.

We also offer a Parents Tour that we run after hours that is aimed at augmenting the information shared with the students. We find these are most successful if done within a week of the student’s tour.

Our primary guide for these tours, James Papp, PhD, is an author and educator with experience from elementary school to graduate school teaching. He is a historian and architectural historian and chairs San Luis Obispo’s preservation commission. He is available as a continuing resource after your tours are over.

School Tour Information

How to Read the Street

Learn the language of architecture and you’ll

  • gain access to a new environment
  • see how physics, history, and the arts connect
  • never be bored on the street

San Luis Obispo has an unusual concentration of materials, methods, architectural styles, and groundbreaking architects, from Julia Morgan to Frank Lloyd Wright to local Warren Leopold. Secret SLO reveals the vocabulary and grammar of architecture with concrete (adobe, wood, brick, and stone) examples, opening up a new way of seeing before your eyes.

“How to Read the Street” can extend from one tour to a series of tours that cover the Mission and Mexican eras, Victorian, Craftsman, and the Modern, from tech to aesthetics.

Our guide, James Papp, PhD, is an author and educator with experience from elementary school to graduate school teaching. He is a historian and architectural historian and chairs San Luis Obispo’s preservation commission. He is available as a continuing resource after your tours are over.

School Tour Information

History Where It Happened

From the colonization of California to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Secret SLO makes the theoretical real by telling human stories where they happened.

Pictures of people, shown outside and inside the buildings where they lived, worked, and made history, gives immediacy to the challenges they faced and the ways they created our present. Secret SLO relies on primary documentation and guides students not only through history but doing historiography. We help take them from observers to critical practitioners.

“History Where It Happened” can extend from one tour to a series of tours that cover social, political, and technological history, for ages ten and up. From food to sanitation, we can answer the questions you were afraid to ask and provide ways of finding out your own answers.

Our guide, James Papp, PhD, is an author and educator with experience from elementary school to graduate school teaching. He is a historian and architectural historian and chairs San Luis Obispo’s preservation commission. He is available as a continuing resource after your tours are over.

School Tour Information

Railroad Museum

Railroads were the United States’ key technology in the nineteenth century, able to move food, energy, and materials within our huge land mass. Once San Luis Obispo was no longer in the business of saving souls, it needed a way to get goods in and out, and that need was met by the Pacific Coast Railway (to the port at Avila in 1876) and Southern Pacific Railroad (to the Bay Area in 1894 and Los Angeles in 1900). Till 1957, when the Southern Pacific retired steam trains, the railroad was the city’s largest employer.

Our tour starts at SLO’s last nineteenth century railroad depot, now tucked away in a garden, where William McKinley hurriedly departed from the town’s first presidential visit after being lowered from a kitchen roof by the Secret Service. We’ll walk among the buildings made by and for the railroad men, including the hotel where Jack Kerouac lived while working as a brakeman in 1953, after writing On the Road but before its publication. We’ll recreate the lives of passengers like Julia Morgan, who showed up at 2 a.m. every other week to work on Hearst Castle, waiting for her taxi driver till dawn.

This is a modified tour aimed at elementary school and high school students but based on our regular “Rise of a Railroad Town” tour. It includes entrance to the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum and many of the features of the standard tour – in language the students in the class will find easy to comprehend.

Our guide, James Papp, PhD, is an author and educator with experience from elementary school to graduate school teaching. He is a historian and architectural historian and chairs San Luis Obispo’s preservation commission. He is available as a continuing resource after your tours are over.

School Tour Information