This California beach is an off-roader’s paradise

During my first cross road trip, my brother and I drove our 4×4 motorhome up the California coast. He said to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a place where we could drive to the beach and camp on the beach?” But there’s no way it’s legal. Little did we know California had us covered—we hadn’t yet discovered the off-roader paradise that is Pismo Beach.

Where is Pismo beach?

Pismo Beach is a town of 8,000 people located in southern San Luis Obispo County, California. Pismo is about a three-hour drive from Los Angeles and about a four-hour drive from San Francisco.

OHV on the dunes of Pismo Beach | Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

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When off-road enthusiasts refer to Pismo Beach, they often refer to Oceano Dunes state of california vehicular recreation area on Pismo State Beach. Oceano Dunes Park is a long stretch of Pismo Beach where ATVs and other ORVs are permitted. Playground for 4×4 enthusiasts wishing to drive on the dunes, it is a very popular destination.

Oceano Dunes gets its name from the fact that much of the Vehicle Recreation Area is actually south of the town of Pismo and falls into the town of Oceano. Much of the beach closest to Pismo is a wildlife sanctuary, although you can tow your OHVs through it.

Can you drive trucks and SUVs on Pismo Beach?

You can indeed drive a road-legal vehicle on Pismo Beach. This is very popular with 4×4 RV owners: once you drive down the beach, you can find a spot and set up camp just yards from the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

A convoy of trucks and SUVs tows campers on Pismo Beach in California, mountains visible in the background.
Campers on Pismo Beach | George Rose via Getty Images

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Some street-legal vehicles, such as RVs, are likely to get stuck in the dunes at Pismo Beach. There are companies that tow the vehicle bombs off the beach, but you can imagine this is an expensive towing service.

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck on Pismo Beach is to know the tides and therefore know the condition of the sand you will be riding on. See more tips for driving on sand dunes in the video below:

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Can you drive 4×4 OHV on Pismo Beach?

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area is a major attraction on Pismo Beach. You can either tow an ORV to these dunes or rent one from a local company.

A truck tows a trailer full of ATVs to Pismo Beach and to Oceano Dunes OHV Park.
Mountain Biking on Pismo Beach | George Rose via Getty Images

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There are a few rules dictating the use of OHVs, even with Oceano Dunes. First, anything larger than a dirt bike must have a safety flag on a whip. Second, all ORVs can only drive on the dunes one hour after sunset. Street-legal vehicles, on the other hand, can drive to and from their campsite at any time of the night.

Find out what to expect while visiting Oceana Dunes in the video below:

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