Stewardship Travel Logo

Exploring The Incredible Sand Dunes Of Oceano, California

Exploring The Incredible Sand Dunes Of Oceano/Pismo Beach, California

This post originally appeared here by Geoffrey Morrison

Oceano Dunes

Normally when you think of sand dunes you think of the Sahara, right? Or maybe Sir Lawrence’s Arabia. But probably not… the central California coast. While certainly not as expansive as the world’s full-size deserts, the Pismo dunes are rare oddity and a fun mini adventure for any California road trip.

Here are some highlights.

The Pismo dunes, officially the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, are outside the town of Oceano, a few minutes from San Luis Obispo (itself the northern end of Amtrak’s Surfliner).

Depending on the tides, you can drive on the beach in most cars (for a small fee), getting you from the town down to the start of the dunes. You can also walk, which is lovely (of course), but a bit long if you park on Grand Ave. Easier if you drive down to Pier Ave, though of course you miss part of the gorgeous beach.

There’s a creek that divides the beach and the national park. This creek varies in depth during the day, and depending on recent weather. If you have a truck with good clearance, you might be able to drive across. When my friend and I were there a guy in a brand new Range Rover made the crossing. He seemed… alarmed.

My SVT Focus, having neither ground clearance nor knobby tires, stayed in the parking lot. My friend and I forded the creek, it was only up to our knees.

The dunes start right after the creek. Multiple trails wind from the beach in to the park proper.

It took us two tries to find one that didn’t dead end in shrubberies.

Then you’re in the sand.

Walk a little farther, and it’s easy to imagine you’re in the middle of some massive desert.

Sure, from the top of the dunes you can see Oceano, the ocean, and mountains in the distance, but step down a bit and it’s nothing but sand.

A fine, soft sand, delightful between your toes.

It’s fun to explore in the quiet on your own, but if you want something a bit more energetic, you’re in luck. Multiple companies rent ATVs and dune buggies for you to tear around the dunes. You can rent these in town and they’ll drive you to the dunes. Or, some companies set up a mini-office on the park side of the creek where you can rent the vehicle of your choice.

The Pismo (OK, Oceano) dunes are one of the coolest things I’ve seen in California, and I can’t believe it took me so long to see them.

They’re unlike anything I’ve seen in the state or anywhere in the country, really. Are they worth a trip to SLO on their own? No, probably not. But if you’re doing a road trip up or down the coast, they’re definitely worth a stop.