When most people think of the Central Coast they think of beaches and small mountains for hiking, but rarely do people think of sand dunes. Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is one of the only places in California where people can enjoy off-highway vehicle recreation on the beach and coastal dunes.

View of the Oceano Dunes in the distance. Photo by Nina Martin.

View of the Oceano Dunes in the distance. Photo by Nina Martin.

The Oceano Dunes consists of 3,600 acres but only 1,500 acres are available for off-highway vehicle recreation, according to State Parks of San Luis Obispo Coast. The other 2,000 acres are closed off to the public in order to preserve them.

The park is one of the most unique places in California, Kerry Odenhal Park Aid says. There is no where else where you will find coastal dunes available for the public to ride on.

“There are tons of activities to do with so many acres,” Odenhal says. “You can bring out an ATV (all-terrain vehicle), dune buggy or dirt bike and ride it for miles over these huge dunes!”

This video shows the type of riding visitors typically do at the dunes.

California State Parks also gives other activities that are offered at the Oceano Dunes.

  • off-highway vehicle riding
  • hiking
  • birdwatching
  • horseback riding
  • water recreation (swimming, surfing, boating, paddling)
  • surf fishing
  • camping

One of the best parts about the park is that you can rent ATVs and get trained to learn how to ride them. This attracts a lot of visitors during the summer, Jenny Stenger-Smith sophomore at Cal Poly says.

“I grew up riding ATVs and when I came to San Luis Obispo I was afraid there wasn’t going to be a place to ride, until I found out about the Oceano Dunes. So I went to the ATV Safety Institute and took a class, now I ride all the time,” Stenger-Smith says.

Map of the entire Oceano Dunes State Park. Photo by Nina Martin

Map of the entire Oceano Dunes State Park. Photo by Nina Martin

For the visitors who don’t enjoy riding ATVs as much, there are many other things to do and even plants and animals to see. In particular, the birdwatching at the dunes is of special interest to some people.

The California Least Tern and Western Snowy Plover. Photo by Nina Martin.

The California Least Tern and Western Snowy Plover. Photo by Nina Martin.

The Park’s Management puts forth tremendous effort to protecting two endangered species of birds, according to Beautiful Wildlife Garden. The park protects the Western Snowy Plover and the California Least Tern by closing off a section of the park in summer during the birds’ nesting season.

It’s a rare thing that you would find a park that would close down so much of the land just to preserve two species of birds, Arielle Plavnick sophomore at Cal Poly says.

“My mom and I have always loved birdwatching, so when she comes up to visit we go to the dunes and look for the plover and the tern. It is so sad that they are endangered so this park is doing a really good thing for the environment,” Plavnick says.

From ATVing to surfing to birdwatching, you can never get bored at the Oceano Dunes. So make sure to cross this one off your SLO Graduation Bucket List because there is no place like it in California and fortunately, it’s only about five bucks and a 15 minute drive off the 101.

For more information visit Dune Guide. You’ll find directions, good tips and tons of photos!

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