Skip to main content

During my first cross-country road trip, my brother and I drove our 4×4 camper truck up the California coast. He said to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a place we could just drive out onto the beach and camp on the beach? But there’s no way that’s legal.” Little did we know that California had us covered–we had yet to find out about the off-roaders’ paradise that is Pismo Beach.

Where is Pismo Beach?

Pismo beach is an 8,000-person town 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.

This is a side-by-side ATV taking a jump on the Oceano dunes of Pismo Beach
OHV on the dunes of Pismo Beach | Roberto Nickson via Unsplash

When off-roading enthusiasts refer to Pismo Beach they are often referring to the Oceano Dunes California state vehicular recreation area on Pismo State Beach. The Oceano Dunes park is a long stretch of Pismo Beach where ATVs and other OHVs are allowed. As a playground for 4×4 enthusiasts looking to drive on the dunes, it is a very popular destination.

Oceano Dunes gets its name because much of the vehicular recreation area is actually south of the town of Pismo, and falls in the town of Oceano. Much of the beach nearer Pismo is a wildlife preserve, though you can trailer your OHVs through it.

Can you drive trucks and SUVs onto Pismo Beach?

You can indeed drive a street-legal vehicle onto Pismo beach. This is very popular with 4×4 camper owners: once you drive onto the beach, you can find a spot and set up camp just a few feet from the beautiful Pacific ocean.

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

Some street-legal vehicles, such as RVs, are susceptible to getting stuck in the dunes of Pismo Beach. There are companies that tow trapped vehicles off the beach, but you can imagine it’s an expensive towing service.

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

Can you drive 4×4 OHVs onto Pismo beach?

The Oceano Dunes state vehicle recreation area is a major attraction on Pismo Beach. You can either trailer an OHV to these dunes, or you can rent one from a local company.

A truck tows a trailer full of ATVs down Pismo Beach and to Oceano Dunes OHV park.
ATVs on Pismo beach | George Rose via Getty Images

There are a few rules dictating the use of OHVs, even with Oceano Dunes. Firstly, anything larger than a dirt bike must carry a safety flag on a whip. Secondly, all OHVs can only off-road on the dunes until an hour after sunset. Street legal vehicles, on the other hand, can drive to and from their campsites at any time of night.

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


Take a Scenic Drive to America’s Most Wholesome Auto Show