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The Los Osos Elfin Forest, also known as the El Moro Elfin Forest, is found at the eastern end of the Morro Bay estuary in the little community of Los Osos.
Los Osos (the bears) was the name the Spanish gave to this area as it was originally inhabited by bears which were hunted to supply meat to the California missions before they became self-supporting.
The Elfin Forest is so called because of the stunted live oaks which populate the area. Normally in good environments these oaks will grow to 50 feet, but given the harsh conditions (sandy soil, salt and wind) the oaks here are only 20 feet tall in sheltered locations and 4 feet tall on ridge lines.
There are nice boardwalk trails through this miniature forest which makes it accessible to all. For those in wheelchairs, it is recommended that you park at the end of 16th Street where there is handicapped parking and an extension of the boardwalk right to the parking area. The access trails from the other streets are sand.
There are numerous viewing platforms enabling you to take in the abundance of flora and fauna which may be found here.
Be sure to bring your camera and binoculars.
Address: West of South Bay Boulevard and North of Santa Ysabel Ave., Los Osos
GPS Coordinates: 35.3319, -120.8255 (16th Street, handicapped parking)
Hours: 6am - 10pm
Organizations: San Luis Obispo County Parks, California State Parks and Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP)
Parking: Parking areas at the northern ends of 11th through 17th Streets off Santa Ysabel Ave. Accessible handicapped parking at the end of 16th Street.
Dogs: Allowed if on leash; "mutt mitts" are available at each entrance for clean-up.
What there is to see: More than 200 species of plants; 110 bird species; 22 mammal species and 13 species of reptile and amphibian; and a great variety of insects.
Unlike other areas of Central California, the wildflowers here at the Elfin Forest don't appear in lavish displays that can be seen from afar. However, as you may notice from the next few photos, the wildflower displays are here, just somewhat hidden among the oaks and the chemise.
There are more than 150 species of plants here, supported by the underlying sand dunes and the foggy, coastal influenced weather.
In this small area there are five native plant communities. These communities are arranged in "layers" based on elevation starting at the edge of backwaters or Morro Bay estuary: coastal brackish marsh; riparian woodland; pygmy oak woodlands; chaparral and coastal dune scrub.
The manzanita (Spanish for "little apple") was an important plant for the natives who once inhabited this area. It provided food and drink; it is helpful against poison oak and the leaves were used as a toothbrush.