Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
22.00 ft (6.71 m)
Trail type
1.70 mi (2.74 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Interestingly, the name Oso Flaco, which means "Skinny Bear," comes from a rather gruesome story about Gaspar de Portola’s expedition through the area in 1769. It is said that a group of men saw a skinny bear walking along the shore, shot it, and ate it, not knowing that the native Chumash people may have fed the bear tainted meat to make it sick to become a non-threat to the scarce resources in the area. Tragically, several of the men died the next day. Although the area has a sad past, there are few places in California that are as rich with life as Oso Flaco Lake.

Oso Flaco Lake is an easy, astonishing bird watching opportunity located in the Santa Maria Valley. An abundance of arroyo willows and wax myrtles provide food and shelter for the vast variety of bird species, fish, and other small creatures of the marsh. With a little effort you will be able to spot song, golden, and white sparrows, American bittern, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, sora, belted kingfisher, osprey, red-tailed hawk, herons, egrets, and much, much more. It may come as a surprise that such a wet area can be found in such an incredible sand dune system. The Oso Flaco Creek, a riparian corridor, is the perfect resource to help this area flourish with life.

Getting to Oso Flaco Lake is quite easy. Just north of Guadalupe, California, follow Oso Flaco Lake Road until it dead ends in a small parking lot. Pass through the white gate to a large gravel road. After a short walk you will see a sign to the left that says "Beach Access." Follow it left onto the boardwalk. Here is an excellent spot for bird watching. There are a couple of benches on the boardwalk if you'd like to spend some extra time there before moving on. Bring your binoculars or camera! Once you've had a enough time to observe the hundreds of species sharing the lake, continue on toward the ocean. Along the way you're sure to see lizards, more birds, beautiful wildflowers, and a variety of dessert plants.

Approximately halfway through the trail, there will be vault toilets and additional resting areas as needed. Once you reach the end of the boardwalk there is a viewing platform to your left. Be sure to check this out before heading down to the beach. Incredible views of sand dunes, Mussel Point, and the Pacific Ocean await! Just to the right of the intersection is access directly to the beach. Some areas will be restricted to protect fragile habitats, but there is still plenty of space to explore and wonder. This is a perfect place for a romantic sunset walk along the beach or a picnic with the family. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Bird watching. Beach views. Sand dunes. ADA accessible.


Moderately trafficked.

Trailhead Elevation

23.00 ft (7.01 m)

Highest point

30.00 ft (9.14 m)


ADA accessible
Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Family friendly
Big vistas
Bird watching

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Adventures

Santa Maria Valley + Santa Lucia/La Panza Mountains, California

Nearby Lodging + Camping


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