A Day at the Dunes

May 11, 2018

An Insider’s Guide to Three Unforgettable Outdoor Adventures

The largest remaining dune system south of San Francisco, The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes offer 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.

• 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. 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.

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