It was a warm and sunny Central Coast California day when I visited Oceano Dunes and gathered a specimen of sand to share with you. This is the land of the dune buggies, where sand dunes tower over the waves and vehicles of all shapes and sizes cruise over the slopes with grace and ease.
As I walked along the dunes, I felt the steady, fresh wind that is constantly blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. This wind occurs year round and is responsible for sculpting the towering sand dunes. The wind brings this incredible landscape into a perpetual state of change and transformation.
Oceano Dunes is part of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex and covers five and a half square miles. Oceano is the only state beach where vehicles can enter. The park attracts over 2 million people from around the world every year, and the sight of all the vehicles driving on the beach is exhilarating.
All sorts of vehicles roar past on the beach. There are even custom, open-air tour buses that travel up and down the coastline. Driving along the sweeping sand is not the only source of excitement. Swimming and surfing are other activities visitors flock to the beach for.
Many residents have become concerned with the dust pollution that all the vehicles have caused by driving through the sand dunes. Another concern is the safety of the endangered wildlife which live in the biome nearby, particularly the Western Snowy Plover.
There are three types of terrain in the park: fore dunes, back dunes, and the sandy beaches. The fore dunes are closest to the water, forming at the high tide lines. This is where low growing plants, which have deep root systems, can live. An example of this type of plant is sand verbena, a leafy plant with bright yellow flowers. The salt spray and strong winds in this area makes it impossible for other types of plants to grow there.
The back dunes are home to several types of shrub species like mock heather, dune lupine, and coastal buckwheat. Walking through the back dunes brings an experience that can only be defined as wonder while I am observing all the various and alien plants which only live on the dunes.
The sandy beaches are only home to various crustaceans, birds and sea mammals. No plants can grow here due to the rough conditions of the tidal forces and the salty spray
The winds and scattering sand has held numerous buildings and events over the years, the greatest of which have been beaten down by the sands of time. The Villa hotel, for example, was built in 1905, overlooking the lagoon. Nine years later, it was converted into a Buddhist monastery. At the time, it was reported to be the only one in
the entire country. Part of the monastery was demolished in the ‘30s and was converted to a residence which lasted until 2003. Finally, that was demolished as well.
In the 1930’s, Oceano Dunes became home to the “Daytona Beach of the West.” It was set up as a racecourse, which many people supported. Unfortunately, just after its construction, the high winds and sandy conditions caused the course to be closed shortly after its inception. Back then, the speed limit was “as fast as you can go.” Now it is 15mph.
Oceano Dunes is an extraordinary place to visit, hike and explore. The history of the area is unique, and it is also the only state beach in California where you can take your vehicle for a spin. A bottle of Oceano sand will bring you one step closer to this marvelous and exciting place.