Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve—A Santa Barbara County Park

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Open Daily 7:00 am – Dusk
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Just south of Guadalupe, CA lies an extraordinary and unique nature preserve. Featuring towering 550 foot high dunes-the tallest on the west coast-and the Santa Maria River Estuary, not only is this park beautiful but it is also ecologically significant. AKA Main Street Beach or Guadalupe Beach, Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is a great place to surf, fish, hike, take photos, view wildlife, and simply enjoy nature.

Plover Nesting Season

Part of the Dunes are closed between March 1st and October 1st for the protection of the western snowy plover’s breeding and nesting habitat.

This park is unique in the sense that it doesn’t have a system of established trails. The main hike that people do is to walk south along the ocean to Mussel Point/Rock. Please note that the surf can be very dangerous at this location. It is approximately 2.5 miles from the parking area to Mussel Point and walking in deep sand can be strenuous.

Out side of plover season you can walk into the dunes and explore these interesting geologic formations.

To the north of the parking area is the Santa Maria River, the Chevron Restoration Site and then the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. During plover season there is no access to the Refuge. Outside of plover season you can access the Refuge from the beach. Keep an eye out for boundary and private property markers.

The Preserve is also the location used in the 1923 film, The Ten Commandments, by Cecil B. DeMille.

Floral Highlights

beach evening primrose, Camisonia cheiranthifolia
magenta or beach sand verbena, abronia maritima
beach morning glory, Calystegia soldanella
surf thistle, Cirsium rhothophilum
beach spectacle pod, Dithyrea maritima
dunedelion, Malacothrix incana

Important Poisonous Plants

giant stinging nettle, Urtica dioica ssp. holosericea

Looking into the under-story notice (but don’t touch!), the giant stinging nettle, it is the tall plant with serrated leaves, purple splotches on the stems, and in the spring, small white flowers. This plant is covered in fine hairs which can deliver a good dose of formic acid, the same chemical found in fire ants. If you accidentally brush up against it with bare skin, a white rash will quickly appear.

poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum

From the sumac family, poison oak takes a variety of forms. It can appear as a vine or a shrub. The smooth leaves are in groups of three and can range from bright to dark green and/or bright to dark red. The smaller leaves are yellow-green and the fruit is whitish. Any part of the plant is toxic and even the bare dry stems can cause the severe itchy, weeping rash.

poison hemlock, Conium maculatum

Hemlock is upright with purple dots on the stem. The leaves are smooth and compound. The flowers are white and umbrella-shaped. This is the plant made famous when it was used to poison Socrates. Every part of hemlock is poisonous.

Invasive Plants

veldt grass, Ehrharta calycina
European beach grass, Ammophila arenaria http://www.nps.gov/archive/redw/beach-gr.htm
Jubata grass, Cortaderia jubata http://www.nps.gov/archive/redw/pampas.htm
slender-leaved ice plant, Conicosia pugioniformis
ice plant, sea fig, Carpobrotus chilensis
ice plant, hottentot fig, Carpobrotus edulis

Wildlife

Keep your eyes open and you can see mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.