There has been a debate in Atascadero that has raged on for decades outside bars and in backyards centralized around one question, can you walk around the city with an open container of alcohol or is it an urban legend?

Atascadero Police Department Police Chief Jerel Haley helped set the record straight by explaining precisely what is and isn’t allowed when enjoying a cold adult beverage in public.

“The City of Atascadero has not passed an open container law,” Chief Haley explained. “So, it is legal in the City of Atascadero to walk around in public with an open container of alcohol.”

So it is true, Atascadero is the Las Vegas of California. You are well within your right to sit in the park with a glass of wine while watching some live music or even spike that evening coffee before you walk around the neighborhood with your children as they ride bikes and scooters.

Atascadero is one of the few cities in the state that allows for open containers. The way it came about is interesting as it is less about entrusting their citizens to be responsible and more like something that just never got around to as we started so small.

“As to how the City of Atascadero didn’t end up with a law, it is actually something that, rather than taking affirmative action, it was something that they never took action on at all,” Haley said. “The law in the state of California for business and professions code that governs says that any community can pass an ordinance to make it illegal to possess an open container law. The city would actually have to take the proactive measure to pass such a law, and in Atascadero, after incorporation, they never got around to doing it. It is one of those things that I am assuming was not added in at the time of incorporation, and it just has been standard practice since that time.”

However, even without an ordinance banning open containers, there are still times and places that Atascadero natives can find themselves in trouble with the law if they don’t know the proper rules and regulations.

While it is legal to enjoy a drink, those partaking must continue to be responsible if they wish to stay out of trouble. The Atascadero Police Department can’t write tickets for possessing the open container but are on the lookout for public drunkenness, which is defined as when, “…An individual is so intoxicated that they are unable to care for their own safety,” Haley clarified.

“So, someone who is staggering drunk out into the roadway and might get hit by a car, that is the type of thing that would cause somebody to be arrested for public intoxication potentially,” he continued. “That is very different than somebody who has had two beers and a little buzz but can take care of their own safety. We are talking about a standard that is somewhat incumbent upon the officers to make those determinations one way or another. So we look for actions or behaviors that are indicative of someone not being able to take care of their own safety.”

Before taking full advantage of the Las Vegas of the Central Coast, it is also essential to know where one can pop-a-top and where it might land you with a hefty citation, an arrest, or perhaps a stern talking.

First and foremost, when purchasing alcohol from a liquor store or supermarket, it is vital to get into the public domain before consuming it. Laws about retail alcohol sales are unique and specific. Certain retailers are not allowed to let customers drink on their property as a company policy. While on their private property, you are subject to their regulations.

The most common question raised regarding the lack of an ordinance surrounds the fun events and activities that happen in downtown Atascadero like the Craft Beer Festival or Hot August Nights.

Primarily, it comes down to if the venue is selling alcohol or not. To sell alcohol at an event such as the Craft Beer Festival, retailers need a special license from the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control department. These licenses allow events to sell alcohol within an enclosed, defined area and only inside the area. Once outside the marked boundaries, state law takes over and trumps the cities’ lack of ordinance. This means that even though there is no open container law in Atascadero, you cannot take your beer from the festival and head down El Camino Real.

However, events like Cruise Night, where alcohol is not being sold, citizens can bring a drink purchased somewhere else and enjoy it while sitting on the sidewalk as they watch candy painted hotrods and hydraulic lift packages bounce down the street.

Unfortunately, we will have to take advantage of that next year due to COVID-19 and most events being canceled.

It is crucial that everyone drinks responsibly, but now you can navigate the laws responsibly as well.

Getting through this together, Atascadero