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Santa Rosa Skate Park
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering, Surveying by RRM Design Group


A professional skater navigates the 'snake-run' in front of an enthusiastic crowd on opening day of the San Luis Obispo skate park.
Photo: J. Ferber

Working with the city of San Luis Obispo and an ad hoc skate park committee, RRM Design Group led the design team to develop San Luis Obispo Skate Park, a 15,000 sq. ft. in-ground concrete park. Recognizing that the skate park was only one component of the overall recreational experience within Santa Rosa Park, RRM shaped the skate park into a multiuse facility for the entire community to enjoy. Some of the key design features include flexible plaza space that can accommodate vendors, events and bleacher seating; a raised platform that serves as a stage, with an informal amphitheater for awards ceremonies, music or movies in the park; and a perimeter walk with built-in seating.

Upon entering the skate park, visitors are immediately struck by four iconic tree sculptures. Originally conceived as a creative solution to provide shade in an unforgiving environment, the "Concrete Jungle" is the brainchild of two local San Luis Obispo artists that were selected through the city's Visual Arts in Public Places program, and who became active participants in the project design team. These concrete and steel trees 'grow' seamlessly out of the skate deck. Their multilayered canopies are formed by word clouds of skateboard vernacular; their trunks have become an unexpected skate feature. Raw, unfinished materials add further grittiness to the overall sense of place, and punchy pop-art inspired graphics throughout the park reinforce the concrete jungle's urban aesthetic and skateboarding culture.



Key to Park Features
1. Grassy Slope
2. Group Picnic Area
3. Playground
4. Restrooms
5. Flexible Grass Area
6. Maintenance Access Driveway
7. Main Parking Lot - Approx. 108 Spaces
8. Individual Picnic Tables
9. Stormwater Detention Basin
10. Hockey/Multi-Use Court
11. Community Plaza
12. Skate Park
13. Amphitheater
14. Horseshoe Pits
15. Neighborhood Access
16. Cellular Telecommunications Facility
17. Softball Fields
18. Softball Parking Lot - Approx. 24 Spaces
19. Entry Sign
20. 'Concrete Jungle' Sculpture

RRM designed San Luis Obispo Skate Park as a multiuse facility. The plaza can accommodate vendors and events. There is a community plaza, bleacher seating, a raised platform that serves as a stage, picnic tables, restrooms, an amphitheater of grassy terraces for awards ceremonies, music or movies in the park and a perimeter walk with built-in seating. RRM also designed the other park features: multiuse enclosed courts used for basketball and roller hockey, large grassy expanses, 2 softball fields, and a playground with adjacent picnic areas and multiple horseshoe pits.

The skate terrain is a combination of street and flow elements, including the signature feature, a breaking wave that serves as a vertical extension to the popular snake run, while acknowledging local surf culture.

One of the primary goals the design team achieved is the blurred edge between the active skating zone and the adjacent park site. There is no security fencing, and in some areas the skate deck transitions onto the sidewalk. A linear plaza provides a new programmable space that can be used for a variety of events and gatherings in addition to providing a spectator area. Located at the west end of the skate street course, the amphitheater functions as informal stadium seating for people watching and a place for skate tournament award presentations, as well as a venue for community concerts and movies in the park nights.

Skate parks by their nature contain large expanses of concrete paving. To provide a more comfortable environment for its users, the design includes planters with mature trees and the multiuse amphitheater with grass terraces. As a response to California's urgent need to conserve water, the amphitheater terraces are irrigated with a subterranean drip system that virtually eliminates evapotranspiration.


The playground features rock and rope climbers, tree houses, slides, regular and bucket swings, saddle spinners, stumps and talk tubes, all from Landscape Structures.
Photo: J. Ferber

Besides its functional and visual appeal, the San Luis Obispo Skate Park serves a broader purpose in the park. Located in what was the low point of the site, it has effectively solved long-standing drainage problems. The skate park, with its deep bowls and pools, is a receptor of stormwater runoff from the adjacent ball fields. That runoff is then diverted from the storm drain system into a grass detention basin that was created in an underused corner of the park, where it can percolate back into the earth. New perimeter pathways provide the missing link in pedestrian connectivity, and walkers can now enjoy a continuous loop trail that is fully accessible from all areas of the park. Along the way there are numerous benches and picnic tables that allow parents and grandparents to supervise and enjoy their children's activities. It truly is a multiuse, multigenerational facility.


One of the notable features of the skate park terrain is an iconic breaking wave feature that gives design context with nearby surf spots that are synonymous with California's central coast.
Photo: J. Ferber

The city's recreation department has been able to expand its program offerings with regular skate camps, and the park has become a highlight of the Monster Skate Series, a countywide skate competition. The benefits are provided free of charge to users, encouraging inclusive participation. The skate park is a focal point that brings people of varying economic and cultural demographics together.

The implementation of the San Luis Obispo Skate Park involved many years of dedication and perseverance by city leaders, staff, community members, the design team, and the skate community, who formally and informally advocated for it in a variety of forums. The hard work paid off; the park instantly received rave reviews from skaters across California and beyond, and as the Los Angeles Times observed, it is a "work of art."


The public outreach led to creating part of the park as a "street course" and part of the park as a "pools and bowls" course. The street course features hand-painted murals of road sign graphics in a punchy, pop-art style. The pictograms are reflective of local highways and features.

City of San Luis Obispo: Owner
Shelly Stanwyck, Parks and Recreation Director

RRM Design Group: Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering, Surveying
Lief McKay, ASLA, LEED AP - Principal/Project Manager
Amanda Klemaske: Senior Designer
Robert Camacho, PE: Civil Engineer
Steve Webster: Surveyor

Wormhoudt Inc.: Skate Park Design
Zach Wormhoudt, Principal
Craig Waltz, Landscape Architect

Thoma Electric: Roger Preheim, Electrical Engineer

CAI, Inc.: Cost Estimation
Mike Adams, CPE

Earth Systems: Geotechnical Engineering
Robert Down, PE

Artists: Jed Joyce & John Jones

Robert Vessely: Structural Engineering

ProWest Constructors: General Contractor

California Skateparks: Skate Park Construction

Specified Manufactures
Bollards: Landscape Structures
Tables and Benches: Victor Stanley
Tree Grates & Guards: Neenah Foundry


A prominent feature of the skate park is four massive concrete and steel "trees" which seem to sprout from the skate deck to tower 25 feet above it. Skateboarders, of course, use the "trunk" as another challenging feature. The design is by artists Jed Joyce and John Jones, who have skateboarding and construction backgrounds. The multilayered canopies of the trees are skate terminology word clouds cut out of aluminum (inset). You can sometimes see the outlines of letters on the pavement.


San Luis Obispo (pop. 45,119) is a California central coast city 94 miles north of Santa Barbara, 43 miles south of Hearst Castle and 30 miles south of the wineries of Paso Robles. Junipero Serra of course founded his Franciscan mission here in 1772, naming it after a 13th century sainted bishop, Louis de Toulouse.

San Louis Obispo is the county seat and a college town. It's home to Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University) and Cuesta Community College. According to the 2018 DesignIntelligence survey of deans, chairs and other leaders at schools with landscape architecture programs, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is the #1 most admired undergraduate landscape architecture program in the nation.

Since 1983, the city has held a large Farmers' Market downtown every Thursday evening.

Quirky facts: 1) Weird Al Yankovic, who earned a degree in architecture at Cal Poly, was a campus radio DJ, and recorded "My Bologna" in a campus bathroom stall for its sound effects. 2) People have been sticking their chewing gum on the walls of "Bubble Gum Alley" since 1960.

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2018.

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October 17, 2019, 9:10 am PDT

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