One of the best family activities you can experience in the San Luis Obispo region is a day out trying your hand at the Oceano Sand Dunes with a Pismo Beach Dune Buggy rental. According to my 8 year old this was the most epic adventure we have experienced to date!
The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is one of the last remaining parks in California that allow off roading. This little stretch of beach on the Central Coast offers a unique day out that you can’t find in many other places. Visitors come from all over the state and beyond for the ability to drive their all terrain vehicles, 4×4 trucks and of course dune buggies on the natural sand dunes here.
I mean who hasn’t dreamed of frolicking around pristine sand dunes where there are no roads or rules on what you can or can’t do? Read on to see how this scaredy cat mama fared on the dunes of Oceano.
ADVENTURE: Off-Roading on Sand Dunes // NATURE: One of California’s Most Unique State Parks // ADRENALINE: Driving in a Bowl
A Day Out in a Pismo Beach Dune Buggy
When recounting our day riding on the sand dunes, a friend said to me “I don’t think you are in the right line of work if you are always so scared of things.”
I was slightly offended, but then realized that he was actually wrong. I am totally in the right line of work. What else would constantly challenge me, make me examine what I am scared of and why and help me show my son on a regular basis that even when we are scared of something, we should give it a go before we write it off? Travel and adventure.
Enter our day at the Pismo Beach Sand Dunes.
While on a media visit with the San Luis Obispo County tourism department, we had a day scheduled for riding sand dune buggies at Oceano State Vehicle Recreation Area. I had heard of this amazing state park from a friend who wrote about their family day out sand sledding, but that was all I knew.
I was feeling a bit nervous leading up to it, but I thought “I know how to drive. I love to drive fast. And SAND DUNES! So surely I can do this!”.
Not sure what to expect, we arrive to SunBuggy, the go-to rental for ATVs and dune buggies in the Oceano area. Soon after we we complete all of our paperwork, we are sent off into another room to watch a safety video.
I have to say the video sort of scared me, which I think is the point. It shows all the worst case scenario things that can happen if you are reckless. It also shows how insanely expensive the repairs can be to these $20,000 dune buggies.
The staff at SunBuggy were amazing. Seeing my eyes wide with fear, they reassured me that their custom designed buggies are almost topple proof, and that as long as we were not doing wild tricks, all would be fine. And as a bonus we would have a guide to lead us through the park.
Whew. I could finally breathe again!
Getting Geared up with SunBuggy Dune Buggy Rentals
After completing our formalities we were ushered down to the beach where we were met by another staff member who would drive us further down the beach to start our adventure. Honestly, I would have been totally happy if this was the extent of our adventure as it was already so much fun to ride in a crazy custom made truck/buggy contraption watching the sand and sea glide by under our feet.
But that was just the beginning.
Arriving to SunBuggy’s sand station, we were fitted with helmets and goggles for our adventure. Thank goodness they provide goggles. I thought sunglasses would be fine, but the goggles are much better at keeping the sand and glare out.
Go time. We are situated in our buggy, shown how to turn it on and off and set loose.
GO FOR A RIDE WITH US
It definitely takes a minute to get used to the buggies. They don’t seem to have any shock absorbers which makes it a bit rough at first. And, you have to learn how to have a heavy foot. I’m usually pretty good at this in my car, but it took me a minute to find it here on the beach.
We had special treatment with a guide, but for those of you heading out on your own, cruising down the straight stretch of beach is a great way to warm up and get the feel for the buggies. We headed all the way to the end of the park, which we later learned is also the part of the park with the biggest hills and dips.
I would not have done that had I known. LOL. But I am so glad that I did. Our guide Logan was super cool and was always ready to test my limits and push me a little further. Since I was following him, I just had to do it. I will admit there were several times that I came to a dead stop at the top of a dune after he had already gone down. I just couldn’t do it.
Obviously I could. Because I did. But my brain would stop me occasionally. Logan would come over and help reset my brain and then I would scream like I was on a roller coaster the whole way down.
At one point, Logan realized I wasn’t ever going to be as confident as he was because well, he has been doing this since he was a kid! Instead, he offered to take us for a ride in his dune buggy to show us how the pros do it. WOW. It was so fun. He really knows how to drive these dunes and make scaredy cat mamas feel safe and secure too.
It took a bit of convincing but my son finally went with him as well and then he refused to get back into my dune buggy. I just wasn’t as fun or daring. I take the challenge. Next time I will be you can bet!
By the end of the 3 hours, I was much less nervous and starting to just follow our guide through some BIG dips rather than fear-stopping at the top. I still screamed the whole way down, but it was mixed with laughter too.
It ended up being SO much fun that we didn’t want it to end. We missed lunch and almost missed our next appointment because it was so amazing.
Heading back to base, I was flying over those mini dunes that almost stopped me in my tracks at the start of the day. I had finally found my groove. It was exhilarating.
Cost of Sunbuggy/ Pismo Beach Dune Buggy Rentals
I know you are now ready to give it a go. You must be thinking “If she can do it as a total scaredy cat, then we can totally do it!” And you can. And you must.
Renting dune buggies is not cheap, but it is an amazing experience and a great way to spend time with the family that makes the cost worth it. Trust me your kids will remember this much more than waiting in lines all day at Disneyland (I mean we like that too.. but, this is super AWESOME!)
During our 3 hour session with SunBuggy, we were in a RAIL buggy, which is one of the more powerful buggy’s. For the stuff I was doing (i.e. not a lot!), I could have easily had a less powerful ride since I was not going too crazy on the dunes.
There are single rider dune buggies available starting at $133 for the first hour going up to 4 and 5 seat buggies that start around $230 for the first hour. The best bet is to speak to SunBuggy staff to find out what would be the best buggy for your family and circumstances.
Overall I would recommend at least booking 2-3 hours. It takes time to get the hang of it and the park is pretty big!
What to Expect with SunBuggy Sand Dune Rentals
As I mentioned previously, once you arrive to Sunbuggy, you will complete paperwork, which includes handing over your drivers license and credit card for security. Then you will watch a short video on safety.
When all of the formalities are sorted, you will go to the park entrance for the beach tram ride to take you further down the beach to start your adventure.
After this, you will be fitted with helmets, goggles and your buggy.
Definitely don’t bring much with you as there is no real storage space in the buggies and EVERYTHING will be covered in sand at the end of the day.
You will be cleared, given a map and set off to go on your adventure.
We headed all the way down the beach to the end of the dunes in order to work our way back. However note that the dunes at the end of the park are the biggest! We had a guide with sunbuggy which made it much easier for us.
In hindsight, if I was on my own, I would have started from the more mellow sections of the park and worked my way to the bigger dunes at the end. Or maybe I wouldn’t have ever even made it there.
If you are heading out for your first time, definitely chat with the staff about what would be a great route for you to go on for your first adventure. They are so helpful.
If you get stuck (which we saw several people do), chances are you will meet Logan our awesome guide. He is the one who is sent around to pluck people out of their sticky situations. Tell him thanks and that we said hello.
What About Kids Dune Buggy Rentals?
Yes! Kids can go dune buggy riding as well as adults. There are options for kids ages 4 and up to go with their adult drivers as well as options for youth to go on their own.
SunBuggy has 1 seat dune buggies available for kids that are a minimum of 60 inches tall. Ideally, these are great for kids 12 and up. If you have younger children, they are welcome to join their adult drivers in either 2 person or 4 person dune buggy rentals. Trust me, your kids will not want the day to end!
While you can easily rent a 4 person buggy, if you have a family of 4, it might be beneficial to get two different ones so that you can all have some fun racing around. Also, the more people in one buggy, the less powerful it will be. Lastly, if you have two and one breaks down, you can still cruise around a bit while waiting for a rescue!
Regardless, get your kids out there. Don’t put this fun experience off as we were told that the park was given only an 8 year lease to keep operating as an off road recreational vehicle park. This is definitely one adventure you don’t want to miss out on.
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