Oceano Dunes Camping at Pismo Beach

Camping at Oceano Dunes Near Pismo Beach
Brian Sterling/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

In the entire state of California, you will find only one location where you can drive onto the beach — and camp on it. That place is Oceano Dunes on California's Central Coast south of Pismo Beach in the town of Oceano.

Beach camping is an appealing idea and a potential bucket list activity. But before you hook up the RV or take off with a tent to do that, these are the pluses and minuses to consider before you decide whether or not it's for you.

At Oceano Dunes, there are no trees (and therefore no shade) — but there's plenty of sand. Maybe too much sand. The best part of staying there is that you'll wake up with the ocean at your doorstep. The downside is that your doorstep may have been buried under blowing sand during the night.

Experienced campers will tell you that it's futile to try keeping sand out of a tent pitched on the beach. Even if you take an RV, you'll be finding grit in the weirdest places for weeks after your trip.

Facilities at Oceano Dunes

At Oceano Dunes, the list of amenities is short: They have vault and chemical toilets (porta-potties), and that's all. If you don't have a self-contained RV, it's indeed a primitive situation.

Water delivery and holding tank pump-out services are available on the beach. An RV dump station is on LeSage Drive near the park entrance.

The most popular activity at Oceano Dunes is riding off-highway vehicles and ATVs on the dunes, but you can also enjoy any kind of beach recreation. You can also use the guide to things to do in Pismo Beach to find out what to do when you're ready to go somewhere else.

What You Need to Know

Choose the Right Park: Don't get confused and make a reservation at the wrong place. The names are similar, but Oceano Dunes is not the same as the Oceano Campground at Pismo State Beach.

Know About Closures: From March 1 through September 30, tiny, cute, and very endangered Western Snowy Plovers nest at Oceano Beach. To keep them safe, the beach closes from pole 7 to pole 9 from the waterline and in about 100 yards. The sandy-colored birds sometimes hide in footprints and tire tracks in the sand and might fly up right in front of you.

Don't Get Stuck: Driving on the sand at Oceano Dunes is recommended for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. Passenger cars are almost sure to get stuck in the sand. If that happens, you might find a friendly person with a big truck who can pull you out, but many of those seemingly helpful folks will expect to be paid.

Keep the Dog on a Leash: Dogs are allowed at Oceano Dunes, but you need to bring (and use) their leash and keep them under control.

Camping at Oceano Dunes

Camping on the beach is allowed south of Post 2 on the beach and in the open dune area. There are no defined spaces. The vehicle length limit is 40 feet. Tents are also allowed.

Even if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, getting into the camping area can be tricky. Pismo Dunes regulars say the most important thing to enter during low tide when the stream that runs across the sand is shallowest. Check the tides to plan your entrance. Besides that, take a shovel and towing strap in case you need them. And if you're taking your RV down the beach, stop and watch others cross first, observing how they cross at a slight angle and keep moving at a slow pace.

The sites aren't assigned, but you need reservations year-round at Oceano Dunes. You can make them online or by calling, but you need to do that up to seven months before you want to go and have quick dialing reflexes. Here's how to make reservations at a California State Park.

You can also avoid the hassles and have an RV delivered and set up on your campsite at Oceano Dunes. Luv 2 Camp is the only company authorized to do that.

If you don't have a reservation, try getting there at 7:00 a.m. to secure an open camping space. That might work in the middle of a week off-season, but during busy times of the year, you need a contingency plan. That's where the complete camping checklist comes in handy. For obvious reasons, set up camp above the high tide line. A small rug or mat both outside and inside the door of your tent or RV can minimize the amount of sand that makes it all the way in. Take two-foot by eight-foot plywood sheets to lean against your camper to block the wind.

Regular Oceano Dunes visitors say to take earplugs to block out the noise of vehicles coming and going in the early morning. 

How to Get to Oceano Dunes Campground

If you're camping at Oceano, go to the south entrance on Pier Avenue. Use 200 Pier Avenue in Oceano as your GPS destination.

Get more details at the Ocean Dunes State Park website.