Pismo Beach Dunes
Oceano Dunes SVRA
Welcome to Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA). Formerly Pismo Dunes SVRA, this sand dune complex is geologically unique and also provides an impressive playground for off-highway enthusiasts from throughout the United States. One of several OHV areas administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Oceano Dunes also offers visitors other recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, surf fishing, camping, and hiking. The staff at Oceano Dunes wishes you an enjoyable and safe stay.
The Oceano sand dune area is recognized by scientists, conservationists, government agencies, and the public as the finest, most extensive coastal dunes remaining in California. Most of the material that forms these dunes has been carried down to the ocean by various rivers and creeks, deposited here by ocean currents, and then shaped by the wind into the dunes that we see today.
The prevailing winds that blow in from the ocean push sand particles up into wave-like crests that run north-south. On the west or windward side the slope is gentle. On the east or leeward side the slope is quite steep. Sand grains, as they are blown over the dune crest tend to accumulate high on the leeward slope; then, periodically thin tongues of sand slide down. For this reason the leeward slope is called a "slipface."
Indian and Indian settlements were noticed by the early Spanish maritime explorers who sailed up the California coast, but the first European explorers to actually travel through the dunes area were members of Don Gaspar de Portola's overland expedition of 1769. In September of that year, just after crossing the Santa Maria River, Portola's men killed "un oso flaco" — a skinny bear. The lake at the southern end of the park takes its name from this incident.
During the 1930s and 40s, the dunes were the home of a group of free thinking people including mystics, nudists, artists, writers, and hermits who identified themselves collectively as the "Dunites." Among other activities, the group published a magazine, which they called The Dune Forum. The Dunites believed that Oceano Dunes was one of the centers of creative energy in California. Seek out the solitude of the dunes and perhaps you too, will feel these creative forces that the Dunites talked about.
VEGETATION AND WILDLIFE
The Oceano Dunes area is home to a surprisingly wide range of plant and animal life. Those who take the time to explore will see wildflowers, the tracks of countless small mammals and insects, a variety of small birds at the water's edge, and hawks, owls, pelicans, or gulls flying overhead.
Many kinds of shorebirds can be found on the beach, while other small birds such as the Audubon warbler, or the long-billed marsh wren, as well as red-tailed hawks and American kestrels are often sighted among the sand dunes. Both the threatened snowy plover and the endangered California least tern nest within the SVRA.
During the March 1 - September 30 breeding season, small fenced enclosures are constructed around the nests to protect these birds and their offspring from the surrounding recreational use. With ongoing support from OHVers, this nesting program has been a huge success.
Most of the wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses that can be found on the dunes are fragile and easily destroyed. Plants that are native to the area include the arroyo willow, California sagebrush, sand verbena, and bush lupine. European beach grass is an introduced species, brought in around the turn of the century to stabilize the dunes. Rare plants that may be seen here include surf thistle and giant coreopsis.
Pismo clam populations fluctuate dramatically due to a variety of natural influences. A fragile and valuable resource, Pismo clams may be taken under the following regulations:
- Clammers must have a fishing license and an accurate (rigid) measuring device in possession.
- Only Pismo clams at least 4 1/2" in length may be possessed.
- Undersized Pismo clams must be immediately reburied in the area where dug.
- Bag limit is 10 Pismo clams.
- Hours of clamming are 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.
CAMPING AND FACILITIES
Camping is allowed south of Post 2 on the beach and in the open dune area. Vault toilets and chemical toilets are provided, but water-delivery and holding-tank pump-out services are available on the beach. Campsite reservation information can be obtained by calling 1-800-444-7275. Campsites are available by reservation year-round and can be made from 10 days to six months in advance. Reservations are highly recommended, especially for holiday periods.
High tides, heavy rains, and blowing sand determine whether or not you can drive down the beach without getting stuck. Access to the OHV and camping area may be restricted periodically by Arroyo Grande Creek which is subject to water releases at Lopez Dam and increased flow during winter storms.
Beach camping is recommended for 4- wheel drive vehicles only. A dump station, located on Le Sage Drive, 1/10 miles North of Grand Ave. on Hwy 1, is available to campers.
THE OHV AREA
Post 2 is one mile south on the beach from Pier Avenue and marks the beginning of the OHV area. All OHVs must be transported to this point before off-loading. Fenced and signed areas are closed to vehicular use either because the property beyond is private or because the area contains sensitive plant and animal life.
In case of vehicle accidents or injuries, contact a ranger or attempt to radio ranger base on CB radio, channel 9. An emergency solar-powered call-box is located at the entrance to Sand Highway. Do not move an injured person unless he is in immediate danger.
If your vehicle becomes stuck, you might try the following:
- Drop your tire pressure, but don't go below 15 lbs PSI.
- Dig out the sand from around your tires.
- Recruit some friends and — keeping the front wheels straight — push and drive your vehicle either forward or backward. Don't allow your wheels to spin, this will dig you in deeper.
- Beach towing is available if needed.
Dangerous currents, called rip currents, are caused by the combination of wave action and the shape of the shoreline. Should you become caught in a rip current while swimming, don't try to swim against the current. Swim parallel to the shore until you're out of the rip. Then make your way to shore. There is lifeguard service available at Oceano Dunes SVRA June through Labor Day.
All OHVs must be registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles and display a current green sticker. Funds generated from OHV registration are used for acquisition, development, and operation of OHV areas.
OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE USE
Driving an OHV can be an exciting, yet dangerous, adventure. You can minimize your chance of injury and maximize your enjoyment through common sense, intelligent vehicle operation and by extending courtesy and respect to other riders.
- It is recommended that all ATV operators take part in a formal safety training course under supervision of a certified ATV instructor. Such training is mandatory for those under 18.
- Proper riding equipment is essential to the safe operation of an OHV. Each ATV rider must wear a helmet and should wear proper protective clothing.
- Before starting out, familiarize yourself with the terrain. Learn to recognize the telltale signs of a slipface. AVOID SURPRISES.
- Inexperienced riders should thoroughly acquaint themselves with all vehicle controls before starting out. Be especially cautious when driving east in the dunes because dune slipfaces normally face to the east.
- Drive within the limits of your ability. Don't go faster or climb higher than you can safely handle. Watch out for other riders. When in doubt, take time to think and look the situation over before you proceed.
WHERE TO GET HELP
On major holiday weekends, the ranger staff is supplemented by volunteer groups such as the Sheriff's Search and Rescue and the Equestrian Mounted Assistance Patrol. All of these people are prepared to offer help and information to visitors. On most holiday weekends a mobile ranger station is located at the Sand Highway entrance.
FOR INFORMATION CONTACT:
Oceano Dunes District Office
340 James Way, Ste. 270
Pismo Beach, CA 93449
Ranger Station / Maintenance Shop
928 Pacific Blvd.
Oceano, CA 93445
Ocean Tide Table
Ocean tide fluctuations effect beach access by vehicles. An extremely high tide or a combination of high tide, high surf and strong winds can make beach travel more challenging. Wet, hard packed sand surface is less available for vehicle travel during these periods. During these periods you may be forced to travel on dry loose sand, increasing the challenge of avoiding getting stuck in the sand or while crossing Arroyo Grande Creek. If you plan on taking your vehicle onto the beach, we suggest you plan your arrival during low tide periods. A link to an ocean tide table is provided below to help you determine when to enter the beach with your vehicle.
Tidal fluctuations also influence other recreational opportunities such as surfing, jet skiing, fishing and clamming. Surfing, jet skiing and fishing are best when there is a high tide. The high tide covers the sand bars close to shore, creating better surfing and jet skiing conditions. The high tide also brings fish closer to shore where they forage in the holes caused by the wave action and sandbars. Clamming, on the other hand, is best during low tide periods as more wet sand is exposed.
Link to tide table provided by Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce. Ocean Tide Table
Clothing and Equipment EQUIPMENT
All vehicles operating in the SVRA (beach and dune area south of Post 2), must be equipped with the following:
An adequate muffler. (Required for vehicle operation in any area.)
An 8' whip with an orange or red flag with a minimum size of 6" x 12".
Except for two-, three-, and four-wheeled cycles, all vehicles shall be equipped with adequate roll bars or roof structures of sufficient strength to support the weight of the vehicle and shall have a secure seat and seat belt for the vehicle operator and each passenger. Seat belts shall be as specified in the California Vehicle Code.
Shorebird Protection Protect These Birds and Your Recreational Opportunities
The endangered California Least tern and the threatened Western Snowy Plover nest on the sands of Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. You can help protect these species and YOUR RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES.
Your future access to this park is dependent, now more than ever, on your responsible behavior and strict adherance to the following laws and park policies:
- Obey posted 15 mph speed limit; give all birds right of way
- Do not enter posted nest exclosures, hang clothes, towels or items on fences, or drive next to protective exclosures
Vegetation Management VEGETATION MANAGEMENT
Why Vegetation is Protected
In certain places, particularly at the south end of the park, native plants are being planted by park staff and volunteers in an effort to rehabilitate and repair areas damaged from uncontrolled recreational use. This active revegetation program, in conjunction with the plover/tern nesting program puts Oceano Dunes SVRA at the forefront in resource management within the state's many OHV riding areas, a status of which OHVers can be proud. Dune vegetation is fragile and easily destroyed by vehicular traffic. Vegetation breaks the force of wind, thus, helps to keep the sand from blowing away. Vegetated areas are generally closed to vehicular traffic, but there are some exceptions. The Boy Scout Camp, for example, includes a corridor for OHV traffic. Closed areas are signed or fenced, but when in doubt, stay on well-established trails or courses. Don't blaze trails through vegetation.
Sand Dunes & ATV Riding
|Our 8 miles of towering sand dunes are often used in movie and television shows. They are ideal for horseback riding, picnics, hiking, guided nature walks and camping. For the adventurous four wheel ATV riding on the dunes is a thrill not to be missed.