Coastal dunes are created when rivers wash and grind rocks to the coastline where it is shaped by the wind. These dunes are habitat to wildflowers, grasses, shorebirds, mammals, and insects. Oceano Dunes have a unique status for use in a coastal area of California. The beach is a designated a State Vehicular Recreation Area; meaning, vehicles are permitted to drive on the sand within a five and a half stretch of sand and dunes. This area is very popular, yet visitors numbers are limited. It is recommended to get a campground reservation in advance, then, admittance to the area is free, and guaranteed. Alternatively, local companies rent ATVs and offer off-road tours of Oceano Dunes.
Oceano Campground is a part of Pismo State Beach. This campground sits between the edge of town, and the edge of the water. An estuary runs adjacent to the campground, and a short dirt road leads to the sand, dunes, and water’s edge. Campsites are reserved and offer flush restrooms and coin showers. A campsite reservation will give you free entrance to the Oceano State Vehicular Area, if you have a four-wheel drive and want to drive on the sand.
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Late October through February, monarch butterflies cluster in the trees near Pismo Beach in a eucalyptus grove as they make their annual migration from as far north as Canada. The Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo is one of the largest in the the United States. Over 25,000 butterflies have visited this grove in the last five years. In recent years, numbers have drastically declined, and scientists are conducting studies to figure out why. In peak season, November through February, naturalists spend time in this monarch grove, inviting visitors to ask questions and look through their telescopes for a closer view of the butterflies hanging high in the trees. What an opportunity to see nature’s beauty. If this type of experience appeals to you, note that Ventura’s Camino Real Park is a roosting site for monarch, as well.
Sycamore Mineral Springs
For selfish reasons, I’m not sure I want to get the word out too much about Sycamore Mineral Springs, so what if we keep this between you and me? That said, we did call the same-day for an hour use of a tub on a weekend and had no problem booking it, so I imagine I am safe from overcrowding one of my favorite places. Tubs cost is $15-$20 per person, per hour, 8:30am –10:30pm, 365 days a year. These hillside day use, private tubs are heated at hot tub level, and tub views give a treehouse effect. They will, soon, be your secret spot. I won’t tell.
Bob’s Well Bread + Avila Valley Barn
Bob’s Well Bread Bakery This is serious road food of my favorite kind. Besides, I am a bread person, a sucker for bread whose crust you can knock on. And, then there are the croissants. Bob’s Well Bread Bakery is in Los Alamos, an easy exit off the 101 north, specializing in hand-made, small batch, artisan bread. Shops like this are hard to come by. in the U.S., so yes, yes, it is worth the stop.
Avila Valley Barn The road food for this trip is rounded out with a stop at Avila Valley Barn. The barn is, practically, across the street from Sycamore Mineral Springs. Easy. During the holidays, they sell Christmas trees, in the summer they offer pony rides. All year, there are farm animals to pet and feed, a lunch counter, and candy shop, and the barn shop itself is a giant farm stand. Fresh, local produce fills most of the grocery store, with some sections dedicated to specialty foods and foodie gifts. Some people look for the best burgers on the road, and, yeah, I love artisan bread and farm stands, but I do that, too.