Three Unforgettable Outdoor Adventures at the Sand Dunes

The largest remaining dune system south of San Francisco, The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, offers endless opportunities for authentic, Santa Maria-style adventure. Encompassing an 18-mile stretch of coastline, we’ve scoured the sandy setting to bring you three not-to-be-missed experiences from a day at the dunes.

1. Go Wildlife Watching at The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve County Park

Tucked away inside of the sprawling Guadalupe Dunes is the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, a nature preserve that’s home to 550-foot tall dunes (the tallest on the entire west coast) and an extraordinarily unique ecosystem. With opportunities for everything from hiking to fishing to bird-watching, we happen to think the Preserve is the absolute best area along the entire coast to reconnect with nature and unplug from the everyday. One of the most protected areas of the dunes, the Preserve is home to a wide variety of bird species and wildlife, so be sure to bring along a pair of binos—keep your eyes peeled for everything from snowy egrets to the western snowy plover while spending your day at the dunes.

• Cost: Free
• Hours: Daily, 7 a.m.-dusk (with restrictions from March 1-October 1 for plover nesting season)
• Insider’s Tip: Hiking enthusiasts can walk along the ocean to Mussel Point (a 2.5 mile hike from the parking lot) for some seriously serene views. Or, pack a blanket and a cooler (we recommend chock-full of Santa Maria-style barbecue) and treat yourself to an al-fresco oceanfront meal.

2. Soak in the Views at Oso Flaco Lake

With walks suitable for any age and expansive views of the surrounding landscape, Oso Flaco Lake is a must-visit locale for anyone looking to find some serious serenity on their Santa Maria visit. While spending your day at the dunes, Oso Flaco Lake may be the calming break you need from the rigid dunes. This surprisingly woodsy area is home to Spanish moss and marshy grasess, and feels more like a far-away forest than sandy dunes. The natural canopy supports an incredibly wide array of wildlife, including the sweetest songbirds you’ve ever heard. (Parking here will also give you easy access to the Preserve.)

• Cost: $5 parking per vehicle
• Hours: Daily, Sunrise-Sunset
• Insider’s Tip: Head out onto the mile-long boardwalk over the lake for a viewing platform that offers an incredible look at the entire San Luis Bay.

3. Kick up Some Dust at Oceano

For those who think of riding when they think of sand dunes, Oceano is for you. Bringing in over 2 million visitors each year, the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only area within the Guadalupe Dunes where vehicles are allowed on the beach. With five-and-a-half miles of open beachfront, be sure to bring your quads and dirt bikes and get ready for a day of downright-dusty fun.

• Cost: $5 parking per vehicle
• Hours: Daily, 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

After your day at the dunes, settle in at one of our Santa Maria Valley hotels and find out what deals they can offer you in the area. Once you’ve enjoyed the Santa Maria Valley’s sand dunes and outdoor adventures, swirl and sip at our wineries, carve time out for some craft brews or bless your tastebuds with our world-famous Santa Maria Style BBQ

From wine tastings and family-friendly events to live music, you can eat, drink and do more for less #SantaMariaStyle. Take the scenic route and come enjoy everything Santa Maria Valley has to offer during your day at the dunes.

In Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore it all with our 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, seven unique AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less.