Central Coast Outdoors

Central Coast Outdoors

1. Oso Flaco Lake Nature Trail

Oso Flaco, Spanish for “skinny bear,” got its name from a thin grizzly that the Portola expedition encountered and killed in 1769 on the shores of Oso Flaco Lake, north of Guadalupe, California. Two of the expedition died from eating the kill because the Chumash had already poisoned the bear with tainted meat.

Oso Flaco Lake Nature Trail is twenty minutes south of Pismo Beach off of Highway 1. A mile long level boardwalk trail parallels the protected Oso Flaco Creek and freshwater lake. The boardwalk traverses the lake to the wild, windswept beach and the Pacific Ocean. This is a flat, easy walk and there are outstanding views of the dunes, wildlife, arroyo willows, wax myrtles, and wildflowers. This is habitat for over 150 species of water fowl. Picnic tables, benches and restroom facilities are available all along the boardwalk trail. Stay on the trail to protect the dune vegetation.

The area to the north is the Oceano Dunes State Recreation and Vehicular Area, where all terrain vehicles can drive on the beach. Oso Flaco is part of it’s southern section, but is off limits to vehicles.

2. Pismo Beach Pier Fishing

One of the joys of Pismo Beach is walking out on the 1200 foot pier to watch the surfers ride the waves while dogs play fetch on shore or just to gaze at the tide lapping hypnotically at that wide, sandy beach. The Pismo Beach Pier is a magnet for visitors, drawing upwards of 1 ½ million people every year. There are the children running out to the end, lovers on vacation strolling hand-in-hand, families escaping the sweltering San Joaquin Valley, and the anglers who drop a line into the ocean in the hopes of catching a tasty fish or two. In fact, the Pismo Pier is the most fished of the Central Coast piers.

There’s no license required to try your luck off this pier. You don’t even have to bring your own pole. Everything you need can be rented at the pier bait and tackle shop. Fish cleaning stations, benches, lights, and even food is available. The Pismo pier is open 24 hours a day, with restrooms and four hour free parking at the base of the pier. (However, there is no parking from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.) Red snapper and Ling cod are the fish most likely to be caught. But surfperch, jacksmelt and even sharks can be caught here.

3. Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Preserve

The Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes, also known as the Oceano Dunes, are a Natural National Landmark, comprising eighteen miles of coastline and 22,000 acres of the most significant coastal dune ecosystems on earth. Besides the sand dunes, the area is home to species of plants and animals numbering in the thousands, including brown pelicans, Swallowtail butterflies, and Carnival poppies.

Start by visiting the Dunes Center for information, directions, field guides, guided walks, and exhibits.

A particularly interesting side bar is the story of the making of the 1923 silent film, legendary director Cecil B. DeMille’s early Technicolor epic, the “Ten Commandments” in the sand dunes near Guadalulpe. DeMille built “The City of the Pharoah,“ the largest movie set ever constructed and then dismantled and secretly buried it under the sand where it lay for sixty years. The Dunes Center presents a documentary called “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille,” and has an exhibit featuring artifacts from the film. Incidentally, film buffs discovered the location of the set in 1983 after DeMille left a mysterious clue in his posthumously published autobiography.

The Dunes Center is open from Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and located at:

1055 Guadalupe Street, Guadalupe, CA 93434
(805) 343-2455

4. Lopez Lake

Lopez Lake is not only a reservoir used as a source of drinking water for the “Five Cities” area of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano, Avila Beach and Pismo Beach, but it’s also a recreational area and San Luis Obispo County Park. The lake was formed in 1969 when an earthen dam was built nine miles from the Pacific Ocean on Arroyo Grande Creek. Unlike Cachuma Lake to the south in Santa Barbara County and Santa Margarita Lake north of San Luis Obispo and the Cuesta Grade, swimming is allowed.

Throughout the year there are many activities scheduled at this SLO County Park including ranger led hikes among the coastal sage scrub and ancient oaks and regular fishing clinics for kids. Among the numerous events at the lake is the annual Lopez Lake Turkey Festival held in November which features a turkey calling contest, free nature boat cruises, hay rides, and a 5K Turkey Trot. Other yearly events include the Lopez Lake Trout Derby in May, the Cal Poly Triathlon in April and the Scott Tinley Dirty Adventures Triathlon, an October weekend of bike racing, swimming and running sponsored by the two time Ironman World Champion.

There are twenty two miles of shoreline around the lake and 4200 acres to explore. Because the area used to be under water, there are pockets of fossilized shells in the hills surrounding the lake. Miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails circle Lopez Lake Recreation Area. Bird watching is especially rewarding here with over 150 species of birds having been identified within the park. There is so much to do and see here on land and in the water.

Besides water sports like sailing, windsurfing, boating, waterskiing, fishing, and canoeing, Lopez Lake is also a popular place in the summer months for local San Luis Obispo kids to go for the Mustang Water Slides. With the “Stampede,” a giant half-pipe double slide, two curving 600 foot waterslides, Pony Slides, and wading pools for little tykes, the Mustang Waterslides is the one of the coolest places to go in the south county for kids of all ages. (The north county equivalent is the Ravine Water Park at 2301 Airport Road in Paso Robles.)

Hours for the Mustang Water Slides are 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admissions range from $20 for those over 60” tall, down to $12 for children under 42” in height. A “Dry Observer” ticket gets you park entry but not use of any pools or slides.