The Oceano Dunes Complex
When we think of “sand dunes” the first thought for most of us is the Sahara desert or the Namibian desert of Western Africa, not Central California.
Variously called the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, the Oceano Dunes or the Pismo Dunes (depending on which city is doing the naming), this complex of dunes stretches approximately 18 miles from Point Sal in northern Santa Barbara County northward all the way to Pismo Beach.
The dunes host a rich variety of plant and animal life, have some fascinating habitats, are rich in history, and provide an abundant array of attractions and activities.You wouldn’t think that anything could grow in all that sand, but plants have a way of making a living most anywhere. There is enough moisture and nutrients blown in from the ocean to allow numerous plants to gain a foothold in the dunes. And the plants then work to shape and direct the dunes.
The Chumash natives had lived in this area for thousands of years, living off the bounty of the ocean and the land.
There were the famous “Pismo clams” in abundance here on the shoreline (buried of course) and they still can be found, but not in the same numbers.
The Oceano Dunes as a movie set
Cecil B. DeMille filmed his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments at the southern end of the complex (near Guadalupe) as a worthy stand-in for Egypt. At the end of production he ordered all the sets (there were many of them) dismantled and buried in the sand to prevent their reuse.
There are ongoing attempts to locate these sets and some portions have been found.
The beginning of the Great Depression in 1929 found many people searching for havens from the financial ruin all around them and some were drawn to the dunes near Oceano.
There had been a few people here earlier, as early as 1920, and among them was the grandson of President Chester Alan Arthur. This group became known as the “Dunites” and they were a diverse lot of artists, mystics, solitary types and those “with a past”. The Oceano Dunes became a sort of community for those years as well as through World War II.
Wildlife in the Dunes
Each year some portions of the dunes are fenced off to give the California least terns and snowy plovers quiet and undisturbed nesting time. This period is from March through September.
These birds had been very threatened, but are now making a dramatic comeback with the attention they have received.
Oso Flaco Lake in the Oceano Dunes
There are some fascinating and little-known treasures hidden among the dunes.
One of these is Oso Flaco Lake. This small lake is found at the southern end of the Oceano Dunes SVRA and provides a lovely walk through a wooded area, over the lake itself and then through the dunes to the ocean.
In contrast to the photo above where the sand is free of plants, the dunes around Oso Flaco Lake are anchored and stabilized by native plants.
The lake is located at the southern end of San Luis Obispo County, off Highway 1 just a few miles north of the town of Guadalupe and 10 miles south of Oceano.
There is a parking area approximately 3 miles west of Highway 1. This is the trailhead and wheelchair accessible restrooms are available here.
The entire trail from the parking area to 50 yards short of the beach is wheelchair accessible.
There are a number of interpretive boards which give information about the wildlife, plant life and wildflowers which can be found around the lake and through the dunes.
There is a lovely causeway passing over the middle of the lake with several observation areas with benches which gives you a great view of the lake.
The path from the parking area to the lake is an easy and level path of about 1/4 mile.
From the lake to the beach the path covers approximately 3/4 of a mile and has some slight elevation changes.
At the end, overlooking the beach, is a raised observation deck which allows views of the coast from Point Buchon north to Point Sal to the south.
Regarding the variety of attractions and activities in the dunes, more information can be found on the following pages:
Oceano – Beach city page
Fun Beach Activities
Rancho Guadalupe Dunes (south of Oceano)