Where Memories of Water Skiing Under July Skies Still Shine Bright

Long before it was known as “Atascadero Lake,” the small, shallow basin that would eventually transform into the lake naturally filled with winter rains and then receded during the summer heat. In reality, Atascadero “Lake” is more accurately described as a pond, a low-lying area sustained by rainfall and run-off. Spanning approximately 30.5 acres and capable of holding over 68 million gallons of water when full, Atascadero Lake has been a prominent feature of the city since its founding by E.G. Lewis on June 6, 1913. Lewis fondly referred to this small lake, filled by rain runoff, as the”Jewel of Atascadero.”

Before the town’s purchase in 1913, the lake, along with other areas of Atascadero, served as a military training facility for the United States Government for nearly a decade, with the original dam being constructed by the US Army. Lewis further developed the lake by enlarging it through excavation, yet even today, its deepest point measures only 13 feet when full. Over the years, maintenance work has been undertaken during dry periods. According to L.W. Allan’s book”Atascadero: The Vision of One — The Work of Many,” in 1946, San Luis Obispo County managed to bring heavy machinery onto the lake bottom, removing much of the rich topsoil that had accumulated over the years.

In the 1960s, the County seized another opportunity to work on the lake bottom. This time, instead of removing soil from the lake, they opted to relocate it to the south end, resulting in the creation of the island we now see. During the 1920s and 1930s, a smaller windmill and lighthouse adorned the lakeside before the construction of the original pavilion. This pavilion became a hub for dances, roller skating, exercise classes, and birthday celebrations until 1987, when it was deemed unsafe for use. A new pavilion took its place, completed in 1992 following construction that began in 1990.


Atascadero has many fun facts, but perhaps none as delightful as the one behind a large donor to the new pavilion. According to Allan’s text, Warner Bros. Studio donated $5,000 toward the construction costs while they were in town filming a movie with Steve Martin titled “My Blue Heaven.”

The Lake was once the vibrant backdrop for numerous Fourth of July celebrations, featuring speed boats, water skiing, swimming, and dazzling firework displays that drew crowds of thousands to gather by the water’s edge at sundown. However, changes gradually unfolded over the years. Speed boats were prohibited in the early 1960s, swimming was outlawed in the 1990s due to safety concerns, and firework shows were banned shortly after the city’s incorporation in 1979. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the City of Atascadero shifted its focus away from the Lake, causing it to lose its status as the city’s focal point. However, in recent years, it has experienced a revival.

In 2013, the Friends of the Atascadero Lake, a local nonprofit organization committed to enhancing and preserving the lake, was established. Their dedication to the beloved “Mudhole” struck a chord with the local community and the City alike. Eventually, in 2015, they collaborated with the City to acquire a piece of land and dig a well that continues to feedthe lake, ensuring its vitality for years to come.

You will still find residents who fondly recall their early experiences of learning to water ski on warm July and August evenings at the lake. If you are fortunate to meet one, listen to their stories, and witness their faces light up with warm memories. 

Though swimming is no longer permitted, Atascadero Lake remains a source of joy and fun for residents, continuing to hold a special place in the community’s heart.

References from the Atascadero Historical Society, City of Atascadero, Atascadero News Historic Records, and L.W. Allan’s book “Atascadero: The Vision of One — The Work of Many.” 


Copies of Atascadero News Magazine are directly delivered to 11,500 readers in zip codes 93422, 93432, and 93453 and1,500 dropped with support from advertisers and subscribers. Together, we are Making Communities Better Through Print.™

To subscribe or advertise, click here.