Sand dunes are diverse natural habitats that can be sources of endless fun whether it is hiking or just playing around. California has dunes all along its Pacific Ocean shoreline so no matter where you are traveling you’ll find one to discover.
These sand dunes can be organized into two different categories. The first is the kind that kids (and adults) love to climb up and leap off knowing that the sand provides a safe landing. The second is a beautiful natural world that is filled with many different plants and animals. Often, both dunes types are in the same general area.
The recreational sand dunes are typically void of plants and animals except for bugs that are hard to spot. These dunes are usually open to the public to explore on foot and in some cases with motorized vehicles.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area
Oceano Dunes is probably the best known dunes on the California Coast. There ATV’s and dune buggies can roam around the vast expanse and make all the noise they want. Just a few miles to the south there’s a similarly-sized quiet dunes that is little known and seldom visited. That’s because Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge has no direct access and getting there on foot is an all day adventure (but worth the trek).
One of the best places to play in the sand is a unique spot called The Crater. At this location right next to the beach on Monterey Bay you’ll find a depression with sand rising up on all sides. Another spot is next to Thornhill Broome Beach between Malibu and Ventura. There a sandy hillside is popular with families who pull off Highway 1 to climb up and slide down the steep slope. Some of the other beaches on this list have dunes that can be fun for jumping around, but if you visit them be careful not to trample any plants next to the open sandy slopes.
Natural dunes structures can be found up and down the Northern and Southern California Coast. Paths meander between the plants on the way to the beach at most of these dunes. Take care to always walk on the sand as there are bird nests and snakes and sensitive plant species off the trails. Also, heed all signage as many of these areas are closed to entry even if they have paths.
Here is our list of the best sand dunes on the California Coast.