Everyone seems to know that California has an abundance of national parks, but what some don’t realize is that there are also a ton of really great state parks that are well worth visiting. One such park, nicknamed Pismo Beach Sand Dunes, has come to my attention recently.
It’s real name is Oceano Sand Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, near Pismo Beach on the Central Coast of California. One of our favorite outdoor adventuring families that we know online has just returned from a visit. I asked Megan to share their adventure with us just in time for planning a long winter weekend getaway or for spring break!
Over the holiday break, our family explored the Central Coast of California. One of our favorite activities was sand sledding at the Oceano Dunes State Park. The Dunes, as they are known, are most well known for being the last park in California to allow trucks and ATVs to drive on the beach and through the sand. We were not driving through the dunes, but thankfully, there is a huge area closed to vehicles and open to the adventurous ready to explore on foot.
Our family loved this place, even more so because our dogs were able to join us! It truly felt like you were on another planet. Wind swept, beautifully carved ever changing sand creations invited us to play all day.
You can choose your own adventure here. There were steep dunes with challenging climbs, small dunes with easy hikes up and everything in between. Hiking up the sandy hills and rolling down with a sled was the best part. We brought cheap sleds with us that worked great. I would recommend the lightweight plastic saucer type as they slide the easiest. But you can also slide down without a sled if you forget to bring one.
Through trial and error, we discovered that sledding worked best by having a grown up slide down to create a well worn sledding path. This helped with the ease and speed of the kids runs down the sand. They loved it. And went over and over and over again.
You can easily spend all day at the dunes frolicking up and down the hills. It is also the perfect place to watch the sunset over the ocean in the distance. Yes, you will be very sandy by the end of the day, but the sand is super fine so it easily passes through clothes with a good shake.
For families looking for even more adventure, hire your own dune buggy or ATV and explore on the vehicular side of the park. World is a Book has a great post on their day riding ATV’s. Apparently even children as young as 5 can drive them. Maybe we will have to go again to try that. There is also horseback riding nearby as well as the beach for a full day of fun.
Don’t forget to download a junior ranger booklet before you go. These booklets are always great ways to learn more about the area you are visiting. Find a mobile ranger station before you leave to get their signature and see if they have any badges, stickers or patches!
Where to Stay for Pismo Beach Sand Dunes
The Oceano Sand Dunes State Park is located 3 miles south of the town Pismo Beach, which means there are plenty of accommodation options. Camping is a popular option, providing close access to the vehicular side of the park, which can be instrumental during busy seasons. Otherwise, there are various hotels in Pismo Beach itself as well as a little further away in Arroyo Grande. Accommodation options range from motels to resorts with beautiful grounds and heated pools.
Details for Visiting Pismo Beach Sand Dunes
Entrance to the Sand Dunes State Park is free. The easiest spot to access the non-vehicular dunes is in the parking area located within the Pacific Dunes Ranch RV Resort. They have parking available by the check in area as well as by the entrance to the dunes. From here, it is less than 100 feet to the dunes to begin exploring.
What to Bring
There is no shade at the dunes, so I would not recommend going if it is a very hot day. Bring lots of layers as it can be windy and cold before your body temperature warms you up. Bring lots of water, sunscreen and hats. If you have Keens or other sandals to hike around, otherwise plan to go barefoot. Don’t forget your sled or big pieces of cardboard to slide down the dunes. There are no bathrooms or restaurant facilities here, so plan accordingly!
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