Time for a new perspective on the Oceano Dunes

August 3, 2023


For years, the public discussion regarding the Oceano Dunes and vehicle access has been binary: four wheelers versus environmentalists. But it’s not as simple as one would think.

Not every person who accesses and recreates on the beach and dunes does so in the same manner. There are pedestrians, cyclists, surfers, kite fliers, clammers, and nature lovers getting on the beach with various vehicles. And yes, there are off-road enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, some local news sources have not done a good enough job in encouraging informed dialogue when they choose to run only pictures of Oceano on the busiest days, at the entrance to the dunes, and only highlight the off-road enthusiasts, rather than reporting on diverse uses that are enjoyed by many.

More people are able to enjoy the beach with vehicle access. Could you imagine no vehicle access into Yosemite or Yellowstone?

There is also a line of thinking that suggests making the Oceano Dunes accessible for locals only. This is akin to the notion of giving access to national or state parks to only to those you live near it, or Pismo Pier to those who only live in Pismo Beach. Access is for all of us, not just a select few.

The vehicle access issue is now against the backdrop of the recent economic study commissioned by SLOCAL. The study, which is supported by San Luis Obispo County and local municipalities, determined that the Oceano Dunes contributes half a billion dollars each year to our local economy. The countywide economic contribution include hotel stays, grocery store purchases and local restaurants throughout the county.

It’s time for our community to come together and work on how to do this right. How do we make vehicle access on the dunes and beach safer? We can work on designated recreational zones and access points with more robust enforcement. The benefits of diverse recreational uses and vehicle accessibility, coupled with the gigantic economic benefit and legal victories of Friends of Oceano Dunes, should compel us to work on how to make inclusive access safer and better for all.

Adam Verdin is the co-owner of Old Juan’s Cantina in Oceano.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Here’s the biggest problem and a central issue as to why there needs to either be an alternative solution or all vehicles on the sand should go away. I hear as one of the largest arguments: it brings in an immense amount of tax dollars and without it Oceano disappears. This is far from the truth! Look at Oceano (much of it has no sidewalks, 1 park, pier avenue is horribly designed and laid out, and the parking lot is a drug trade hub). Oceano is a failing CSD with no fire service and a limited patrol presence by the sheriff department. Oceano and Grover should be receiving a shared amount from state parks revenue and Oceano should receive the majority. There is potential. Paved walking/biking path from Oceano to Pismo, revitalize downtown Oceano with two story businesses (restaurants, bars, bike rentals, coffee shops) /residences on top. Pismo had to start somewhere as Pismo was once an entrance. Oceano is the step child of the county and it shows. Oceano could burn to the ground and the county would shrug its shoulders. There is so much potential here, but Oceano continues to be a mess and the perfect flag would be the homeless rv’s with flat tires and a generator running on the sidewalk. Fix Oceano and the community first, recreation should be secondary.

I see what you’re saying, but the “recreation should be secondary” includes the highest grossing income stream and individual visitor stream becoming secondary while relying on investors to take on your vision as a financial risk. I agree there are areas in Oceano that need attention, and a revitalized downtown would be great, and I bet we have the same “potential vision”, but you’re asking the market to take care of it on the back of risk.

760 mile long coastline and only about 10 miles for ORV, I say leave it alone.

FYI you are severely underestimating the uniqueness of the dunes… Of that 760 miles less than 30 miles are dunes. The other dunes, Samoa, get used by OHV as well… Couldn;t we keep one nice and natural? No? Gotta use use use!!! Shame really.

We could build padded corners, so off-roaders would safely bounce off the..uh..corners. Or, we could cover the dunes with that rubber matting they use in playgrounds, so people and buggy’s will fall softly like small children!

Or, we could just let people continue to enjoy the dunes, just like they have for well over a hundred years.

Yes, people get hurt. The sand people know this, and accept the risks involved with recreating with machines and nature in the dunes. Exactly the same as any other park used for a pastime: Buffalo in Yellowstone. Bears in Yosemite. Homeless shit on the streets of San Francisco. Muggers in New York City. Sunburn at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento.

There is danger in nearly all aspects of life and living. Quit being a “Karen”, and leave the management out of it.

No sh*t Sherlock. No one cares whether OHV riders get hurt. We care that they trash the place! Why do you think there’s “shit of the streets of San francisco”?! Certainly not because of too much “Karen management”, right? C’mon, use your head.

Yosemite would be vastly improved without cars. Traffic there is horrendously bad, John Muir is spinning in his grave. What Zion National park has done is the model to follow – lots and campgrounds at the entry to the valley and natural gas buses with less than 5 min frequency up and down the valley. Cars ruin our most beautiful places.

The local chapter of the Sierra Club, back in its infancy, traded PG&E the dunes for what was that beautiful stretch of coast known as Diablo Canyon. Now we have a marred, scarred, and poisoned coast that was once pristine. Thanks to the Sierra Club. Thanks Sierra Club. The dunes were hammered by the oil industry. Standard oil basically spilled all over the dunes to the south of Oceano Dunes. It was a dumping ground. OHV and State Parks (as badly managed as Parks is) has taken a place that few ventured into and made it a wonderful, affordable place for adventure, recreation, and family. Not to mention that it is an economic juggernaut. And the air district is just another lying instrument of Bruce Gibson.


It amazes me how there didn’t seem to be a problem on this and a lot of other things when I was a kid but now everything is a problem and you have to make everyone happy ( Impossible ) We as a nation and state took 10 steps forward and 30 back so sad

Once the amount of trash and mistreatment of the dunes reached a certain point; yeah, there’s a problem.

Well said Mr. Verdin. “Access is for all not a select few”. All the stakeholders should be involved in determining viable solutions for their concerns. We need to get away from this one size fits all mentality and the Us vs Them vitriol.

The Oceano Dunes state park suffers from terrible management. And where does all the money go? Drive down Pier Avenue and you can see the ugliest, most dysfunctional entrance and parking lot to a state park you will find anywhere in California. Potholes, overflowing dumpsters, sand pits that trap the cars of tourists, adjacent to decrepit buildings with billboard style signage. Venture out into the dunes, and you will find more signs of gross mismanagement. If the park was better managed, we wouldn’t be having all the opposition to the off-road vehicles.

Everything on Pier Ave., except the Park Ranger kiosk, is privately owned. The parking lot was there decades before the Park was forced on us.

Park fees from the millions of visitors should enable state parks to purchase adjacent properties and create a state park worthy of the name. The current entrance and parking lot at pier Avenue is so dysfunctional, I’ve seen ambulances caught in the parking lot, unable to leave because of a long line of RVs waiting to get into the park, blocking the exit. Totally unacceptable.