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Oso Flaco Lake and Dunes, Santa Maria

Santa Barbara, California, United States


Oso Flaco Lake and Dunes is a lovely walk with many varied sights! You start on a hard-packed dirt trail and walk through a wooded area. Next, my favorite part, you walk on a pale wooden boardwalk over the lake. You look out over tall marshy grasses and the bluest water. Aaaah. It's peaceful and idyllic, and usually the weather is warm and pleasant.
Once the boardwalk ends you walk a sandy path past yellow and purple wildflowers. You can hear songbirds around you, and watch lizards dart by your feet.
When you come to the beach and dunes, a biting wind sometimes makes you turn back, unless you're a really brave soul!
Oso Flaco means "skinny bear." Portola's expedition party in 1769 caught and ate a skinny bear here. But in the morning two of their men were dead! This was because the Chumash Indians used to hang rotten meat for pesky wildlife to eat. The wildlife would then become too weak and sick to be a bother. This "skinny" bear must have eaten some of the meat and passed on the bacteria to the two men in the expedition.
Dogs are not allowed at Oso Flaco Lake.
The Dunes Visitor Center is located in an early 20th century craftsman bungalow in a cute area of old Guadalupe. It's a small museum about the geography, animal life, and history of this area. The best part are some columns and remnants from The Ten commandments set. The movie was filmed at the dunes in 1923, and now lays fully intact buried under the sand. The site is considered a state of California archaeological treasure. You can search for it at the Guadalupe Dunes, where you can drive right up to the dunes and play for a while.
A nice place to go in nearby Santa Maria is Waller Park, a wonderful wooded park with a pond full of ducks with a fountain in the middle, several playgrounds, an off-leash dog park, and a get-away-from-it-all feel.
Nearby to the north is Oceano, which has a great tropical-themed playground. And Arroyo Grande Village, a cute little town that is nicer to visit than sprawling Santa Maria. The Butterfly Preserve at Pismo Beach is also a wonderful place to visit with its eucalyptus grove filled with monarch butterflies and its lovely beach and dunes.

Photo Gallery

The dunes, seen as you drive along Oso Flaco Lake Rd.

Oso Flaco Lake.

The beginning of the boardwalk that takes you over the lake.

Looking back along the boardwalk.

A happy lizard darts by.

The first peek of sea as you near the end of the walkway.

The Dunes Visitor Center, in a cute part of old Guadalupe.

Historical house next door to the Dunes Visitor Center in a pretty little area of Guadalupe.


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

For the Oso Flaco Lake and Dunes: Exit Highway 101 at Main St/Hwy 166. Go west about 5 miles and then turn right on Guadalupe Street/Highway 1. Turn left on Oso Flaco Lake Rd and drive to the guard booth. Parking is $5 per car. Bring exact change because you have to leave it in an envelope at the ranger station.
For the Visitor Center: Exit highway 101 at Main St/Hwy 166. Go west about 5 miles and then turn right on Guadalupe Street/Highway 1. The Visitor Center is at 1055 Guadalupe Street, Guadalupe CA 93434, call (805) 343-2455. Tues-Sun, 10-4pm.
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