Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
No
Lodging
No
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.

Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is located in the Santa Maria Valley along the Pacific Coast just 6 miles west of Guadulpe, California. The park is known for its pristine sand dunes, and it is a part of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes system, the largest south of San Francisco. Between 1969 and 1988 the preserve expanded from 26 acres to over 500 acres through the State Coastal Conservancy grant. It's the perfect place for fishing, birdwatching, and picnicking.

Although the soft sandy beaches are an attraction, the highlight of the preserve is its wildlife. Unlike many beaches in the area, you can spot hundreds of birds in a variety of species such as great white pelicans, brown pelicans, turkey vultures, seagulls, egrets, herons, and the protected California least tern and western snowy plover. Between March 1 and October 1 some areas of the beach are restricted to protect California least tern and snowy plover nesting areas. The nests are very fragile and quite exposed, so park rangers are out during breeding season to help protect these delicate habitats. The sanctuary also helps other threatened species in the area such as the Calfornia tiger salamander, the California red-legged frog, the Morro blue butterfly, and the Morro shoulderband dune snail.

Don't let that stop you though! There are plenty of accessible areas, including the whole coastline along the shore; wet sand travel helps provide a wider berth for the nesting habitat of the threatened species. Closer to the ocean you can find flocks of snowy plovers digging for sand crabs as the tides go out, pelicans diving into the thrashing waves for a quick snack, sea lions surfing alongside them, or even humpback whales breaching for mouthfuls of anchovies. 

One of the neatest features about the beach is its ADA accessibility thanks to the California Coastal Commission's Whale Tail Grants Program. If you make arrangements with the Guadalupe Dunes Preserve by calling 805.729,8461, you can get a beach-cruising wheelchair upon request. There are also restrooms and an unsheltered picnic table in the parking lot as well.

Right out of the parking lot is a perfect sandy beach. Whether you're looking for a nice family picnic or some beach jogging in the morning, you'll have immediate, easy access! About 2.5 miles south down the beach is Mussel Point. Heading north you can reach some incredible bird watching areas along the Santa Maria River just within a mile's walk. Just over 20 minutes outside of Santa Maria, the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is a must-see destination for locals and travellers alike!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Beautiful open beach. Fishing. Bird watching. Free entry.

Cons

Windy. Chilly. No shelter.

Features

ADA accessible
Vault toilet
Wildlife
Family friendly
Big vistas
Fishing
Bird watching

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Santa Maria Valley + Santa Lucia/La Panza Mountains, California
Santa Maria Valley + Santa Lucia/La Panza Mountains, California
Santa Barbara + Sierra Madre/San Rafael Mountains, California

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