There’s a big reason the Guadalupe–Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge has been a filming site for major motion pictures like the original Ten Commandments and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. The place itself is epic! As the largest intact coastal dune ecosystem in the state it’s a bucket-list must for enjoying the solitude of an amazing winter sunset. Amongst the distant bellows of California sea lions, scampering western snowy plovers, and those curvaceous, fishhook-shaped dunes, an afternoon trek across these 500-foot-tall mountains of sand reveals a coastal California from 200 years ago. Continually sculpted by northwest winds, the artful dunes make prime perches for watching the sun sink as shadows chase shades of pinks and apricots to oranges and gold across this mystical landscape.
To reach the Guadalupe-Nipomo Sand Dunes NWR from Los Angeles: Head north on Highway 101, turn left at Main Street in Santa Maria, and follow the road for 9 miles straight and west to the dunes. Park at the beach at the end of the road. The tallest dunes are 2.5 miles south (allow about 3 to 4 hours for round-trip hiking, gawking, and photo-taking). More information on hiking the dunes, directions, and access: Dog-friendly! (Note: March through September no dogs are allowed due to nesting season restrictions for the endangered western snowy plover and California least tern.)