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Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, Pismo Beach CA

During our stay in Visalia, Roger mentioned a few places to camp in Paso Robles and Pismo Beach. I was considering them all until he mentioned that in Pismo Beach, if we drove past the commercial campgrounds and the state beach campground, we could camp on the beach. That was all it took to make the decision.

We’ve camped at the beach several times, and we always like it. Memorable places include Charlestown State Breachway (RI), the Red Coconut (Ft Myers FL), and Bahia Honda State Park (Florida Keys). We’ve also driven on beaches, including a couple of weeks ago in Oregon and back east in St Augustine FL. But we’ve never camped on the beach before.

It’s a three hour drive across the sunny dry valley on Route 41 to get to Hwy 101 and finally Rt 1 along the coast. But then when you swing through Pismo’s downtown and see the surfboard shops, Chinese restaurants, art galleries and, just beyond, palm trees in sand, suddenly the sun is a welcoming friend and the drive is worth it.


The camping here is just $10 per night, since there are no amenities except trash barrels and chemical toilets. Most of the dozen or so campers here have brought four-wheelers and buggies to ride in the dunes behind us. They’re here for the long haul, so a truck comes by daily selling ice. The truck also pumps out holding tanks. I hope they keep the two operations well separated.


We got here about 4 p.m. but this time of year that means only about 90 minutes until sunset. Now at 6 p.m. it is utterly black outside except for the stars, the crescent moon sitting low over the Pacific, and a glowing line to the north from the town of Pismo Beach.


I have to admit to a little trepidation about the softness of the sand. The lady at the entrance booth who took our $10 told me the times of high and low tide, advised me to be sure to tow the trailer on the wet packed sand but park above the high tide line. The thought had occurred to me already, when I was first contemplating towing an 8000 lb trailer on the beach. The trailer sinks into the sand about half an inch in most places, a little deeper sometimes. To be on the safe side I kept the speed up to the maximum of 15 MPH and the 4WD engaged.

The trick is that above the high tide line the sand gets soft, so like all the other RVs we are straddling the uppermost line of packed sand and hoping not to get wet. We don’t have floats like Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang. We’ll be watching the tide come up tomorrow at noon.   In the meantime, the pounding of the Pacific surf outside our window is a constant reminder of the sea just outside our aluminum walls.

9,289 Responses to “Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, Pismo Beach CA”

  1. Kevin P. Rice Says:

    Hey! Cool post! Love to see that some non-OHV riders are enjoying the campground! I live in San Luis Obispo (SLO) and often jaunt down to the dunes to ride my dirt-bike in the sand. We’re fighting a terrible battle against some local vehicle haters that want the beach closed. Never mind that it is the only beach I know of that you can camp on (the only one in California, for sure)–but these people have beach front property and don’t want to share it with a campground. They want to close the most popular tourist site in the county! Yes, the dunes receives 3-4 times more visitors than Hearst Castle! They say it’s dangerous to walk on the beach with kids… but, I see a great photo above that doesn’t look like anyone is worried.

    You actually need to park well above the high-tide line (which is way up the beach) to leave room for vehicles to drive by when the tide is up. If you let your tires down to around 10 pounds your chances of getting stuck are much reduced. Getting stuck can really stink! But, usually, just digging with your hands for a while will get you out (carry a shovel, though, if you can). Your vehicle is more than capable of exploring the back dunes a bit if you are adventurous–4WD and a little sand driving knowledge. I take my gutless Nissan hard body out there all the time. Or, rent an ATV or take a Hummer tour…

    Check out the historical Pismo photos on my web page: or get more info about our fight at


  2. Brett Says:

    If you are concerned regarding moving and getting stuck/sinking reduce the air pressure in the tires to around 25 LBS. The tires will float on the sand vs. sink into it. You will of course need to air up before towing on the roads.

  3. Jim Breitinger Says:

    What a photo of Eleanor and Emma . . . . wow!

  4. James Dodds Says:

    Hi Rich,Eleanor & Emma
    Have not seen that much sand since last month when we camped at Monahans sand hills SP inTX.But we had no ocean just sand.
    Hope to see you New Years at Picacho peak.
    Looks like your having a good trip outside of brake repairs.

    Jim & Min Dodds

    The squarestream family


  5. Julio Says:

    How do you get to this campsite? I was considering going to Pismo for Memorial Day weekend, but everything is booked. Do you just randomly show up to this site? Email me info plz =)

  6. Nell Langford Says:

    Please see and the documentary series “What We Need to Know About Oceano Beach and Dunes”.