From world-famous barbecue to mouth-watering strawberries, there are tons of reasons to visit Santa Maria Valley—but the best one of all might just be our convenient central-coast location that allows you to experience so much more for less. (Talk about the perfect home base!) Whether you’re coming to our Valley for surf, sand, smiles, or a bit of all three, today we’ve rounded up a list of the 15 best beaches in Santa Barbara County or San Luis Obispo County within a 30-minute drive of Santa Maria Valley. Strap the surfboard to the car and start packing that beach bag—when you stay in our Valley, you’ll have endless places to dig your toes in the sand.
1. Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve
The northernmost beach along the Santa Barbara County coastline with large, sandy dunes. With animal habitats and recreation areas, this one is perfect for family fun or four-wheeled adventure.
2. Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area
Part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area, with great bird- and wildlife-watching opportunities. Perfect for an invigorating early-morning stroll or run.
3. Pismo State Beach – Grover Beach
The middle portion of Pismo State Beach with super-packed sand that most passenger cars can drive on (four-wheel drive is always recommended). Dogs are allowed on a leash—so bring along your four-legged friend.
4. Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
A five-mile-long sandy white beach. This is the only California State Park that allows non-street-legal vehicles to drive on the beach, so it’s perfect for ATVs, quads, and all types of four-wheeled adventure.
5. Avila Beach City Beach
A beautiful (and large) sandy beach that runs the entire waterfront length of Avila, California. This is a perfect place for a morning run or sunrise fishing session, or an afternoon volleyball session.
6. Olde Port Beach
Less populated than Avila Beach, this is the perfect option for those who want a calm, quiet option. Dogs are allowed on or off leash as long as they’re voice-controlled.
7. Fisherman’s Beach (”Dog Beach”)
Locals have dubbed this one “Dog Beach” because dogs are allowed off-leash here. It’s also a great place for paddle-boarding on calm-water days. Be sure to walk to the end of the pier for a panoramic the view of Port San Luis Harbor and surrounding hills.
8. Pismo State Beach – North Beach
This is the beach that’s located in front of the North Beach Campground at Pismo State Beach. You can take a stroll along the beach or on a boardwalk through the dunes and to the entrance of Grover Beach (number 3 on this roundup).
9. Pismo Beach Pier Beach
Looking for a perfect panoramic view of this beach? With a pier that juts out into the Pacific, Pismo Beach Pier Beach serves up just that. It’s known for clam-digging, fishing, and surfing.
10. Pismo Beach – Wilmar Stairs Access
The Wilmar Stairs are a set of wooden stairs that provide access to the north end of Pismo City Beach, which tends to be much quieter and less populated than other portions of Pismo City Beach.
11. Elmer Ross Beach
Tucked away beneath a steep bluff in the Shell Beach neighborhood of Pismo Beach, this one’s been dubbed “Shelter Cove” by locals. You can find stairs and ramps down to the beach on the ocean side of the Inn at the Cove Hotel.
12. Eldwayen Ocean Park (Park with beach access)
A long and narrow park along the bluff in the Shell Beach neighborhood of Pismo Beach. You’ll find a small grass area with benches and picnic tables and, near that, a stairway that offers beach access.
13. Silver Shoals Park (Park with beach access):
A quaint grass park with picturesque views and beach access in the Shell Beach neighborhood of Pismo Beach this is a perfect spot for tidepooling or afternoon picnics.
14. Surf Beach
A public beach located on Vandenberg Air Force Base—and a popular spot for surfing and bodyboarding.
About an hour north of Santa Barbara, this hidden-gem beach is the perfect spot for those seeking seclusion. Jamala Campground offers 107 sites for tents and RVs—and Jamala Beach Grill serves up a tasty (and iconic) Jamala burger you won’t want to miss.
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.