history and locale

From beaches to valleys, the regions of San Luis Obispo have it all. »

Oceano is a classic – and now historic – California beach town whose honkytonk character has hardly changed since its heyday in the 1940s. The ubiquitous clam stirred into a variety of hearty chowders is the star of most menus in the many seaside eateries.

In addition to all the usual beach activities, this is also prime horseback-riding and kite-flying territory. Off-road and ATV enthusiasts will go wild for the Oceano Dunes, an official SVRA where 1,500 acres of natural sand dunes comprise the only park in California where visitors may legally drive vehicles on the beach.

During the 1930s and ’40s, a bohemian community of depression-era misfits set up an encampment on what were then pristine sand dunes. Calling themselves “Dunites,” they believed the Oceano Dunes was a sort of global center of creative energy, a sentiment felt by many non-Dunites who’ve spent time in their solitary beauty. Indeed, this unique area is recognized even by conventional agencies as the finest, most extensive coastal dunes left in the entire state. Several books have been published about the Dunites, well worth the read before or during your visit.

The dunes are but one of many surprising attractions in this lively beach town. By 1895, the Southern Pacific Railroad had laid tracks that reached south to Oceano and a depot was built here that year. Now open to the public, the current historic depot was built in 1904 (when the original burned down), and is packed with railroad and World War II memorabilia.

Despite its well-known “spicy” history, including colorful honkytonk bars, prohibition violations galore, and dance hall brawling, today Oceano is a family-friendly place with “Dinosaur Caves” to explore and some of the best live stage entertainment around. Cheer the heroes and boo the villains at the Great American Melodrama, home to a cast of multi-talented performers.

From October to February, more than 50,000 monarch butterflies fly a thousand miles to return en masse to a eucalyptus grove in nearby Pismo Beach State Park. Come discover why … and you’ll be back, just like the butterflies, season after season.


The warmest month of the year is September with average temps from mid-50s to high 70s. February is typically the “wettest” month, when 4 of the 18 inches of annual rain falls. Winter months will be in the chilly 43 to 67 degree range. Summer months will be in the 53 to 78 degree range. Humidity along the coast is generally between 45% and 65%.

Packing List

Morning fog and cool evenings suggest lots of layers for these typical beach towns that are mostly sunny and warm during the day. Tank tops, sandals, and shorts will help you feel right at home during the summer months; but for midnight strolls on the beach or if you plan to come at Christmas-time, you’ll need a warm jacket and socks. Binoculars will give you a better look at the butterflies, and if you like off-road fun, don’t forget your helmet!