Oceano, Land of Dunes

Oceano Sand Dunes, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

Oceano, Land of Dunes~

Travelling up the Pacific Coast from Goleta, CA, I came across the sand dunes of Oceano. Oceano is north of Santa Barbara along the coast route near Pismo Beach.  The Oceano dunes are the only sand dunes in California where vehicles are allowed to traverse the sand, including ATVs. I was not here for off-roading, but to experience camping right on the sand.

Waking up to the sound of the ocean’s fury was amazing! It was louder than I could have imagined! And I loved taking pictures of the coast in the pre-dawn light.  For just a little while, a wisp of pink caught everything, including the foam of the waves.

The dunes stretch on some 18 miles, undisturbed by any development. There are also habitat areas, restricted from public use, for the Western Snowy Plover birds  I learned that these birds lay their eggs in shallow sand and even innocent walking could uncover & disturb them.

Western Snowy Plovers, Oceano Dunes, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

I was glad to see the Park had long wooden trails or boardwalks leading from the Coastal Access Points across the Dunes in higher traffic areas for pedestrians to enjoy the Beach without endangering the dune plants and especially those in restoration areas.

I was impressed by the efforts of this Park’s Management toward protecting endangered species, especially in an area that allows off-highway vehicles. In fact, the Oceano Dunes provide one of the most productive breeding grounds on the coast for the Western Snowy Plover and the California Least Tern, both federally threatened birds.  Some 250 acres of park are closed during the  snowy plover’s nesting season (March – Sept).

Wooden Boardwalk, Oceano Beach, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

I found myself mesmerized by the undulating sand dunes, which at different times of day would make deep shadows, while in early morning would reveal the footsteps of seagulls.  This was another world, a world one could get lost in.  It took millions of years to make the dunes we see here today. Sands were carried down from rivers, deposited by ocean currents, and shaped by the winds over time.

Footprints of Seagulls in Oceano Dunes, Photo by Kathy Vilim

The plants here are tough, tenacious sea plants, part of a “dune” ecosystem. For the most part, the plants are low growing mounds that hug the dunes, though there are also vast sweeps of bushes.  I fell for the Dune Silver Lupine right away, once I discovered its delicate lilac colored flowers. It was a variety of Lupine I had never seen before.   The Dunes are not a place for tall trees or showy blooms, and the plant life you do find here is unassuming. Coming across flowering native plants at the beach amidst all the sand, is a wonderful find.

Silver Dune Lupine, Oceano Beach, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

I am thankful for all of the beauty I found at the Dunes.  I was further rewarded just a short way inland. I happened upon a Nature Center there with trails and guess what: a Native Plant Park! What a lucky find. I spent an afternoon there learning about the plants that belong to five different ecosystems of the Central Coast.  Hope to share those photographs in my next post.

Until then, I am sure you have much to be thankful for right outside your doorstep.  Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2012, Kathy Vilim. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    had a feeling this was your post. I miss hearing from you. Emails from Steve sound like you’re having a ball. This spot was a great find. I have been to Pismo, but didn’t know about the nature center. The hummmingbirds miss you and so do Bianca and I. Love your photos!

  2. Tambra Tempulgate says

    What a great story you’ve shared of the majestic dunes and all the variety of native life you discovered there. Wow, camping right on the beach, and waking surrounded by the sound of the waves and seagulls; it sounds magical! I’m so happy to here of all the preservation efforts going on in Oceana. Thanks for sharing your adventures, complete with your unique eye for photography. Always a pleasure ;)


  1. […] Less than a mile away, I found the perfect spot:  Pismo Beach State Park, Oceano Campground, home to a nature center with an Interpretive Native Plant Walk as mentioned in my last post. Here I was able to walk on garden paths that wound their way […]

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