When a concentrated region of California’s diversified topography lies only a couple of hours north of Santa Barbara, isn’t it worth a look? Montaña de Oro State Park takes you from the ocean to the mountains within minutes. This stunning stretch of the Central California Coast became part of the California State Parks in 1965. Even after all this time, it’s still one of the best-kept secrets along the Central Coast. Montaña de Oro means “Mountain of Gold” in Spanish for all the vibrant California poppies that spring to life atop its wave-battered marine terraces and sweeping hillsides.
Within its 8,000 acres are secluded beaches, wind-groomed sand dunes, teeming tidepools, wave-battered bluffs, gurgling creeks, and chaparral-choked hills, the highpoint of which is Valencia Peak at 1,347 feet above sea level. Beyond the breathtaking scenery, a network of trails meanders through the canyons, attracting hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, and trail runners. There is a small campground located behind the visitor center, the perfect car-camping venue offering a terrific base from which to explore this slice of old California.
Wildlife abounds at Montaña de Oro. Southern sea otters can be seen rafting up on the dense kelp-forest canopies. Coyotes lope along the hillsides — their yelps and howls are heard frequently throughout the canyons. Mule deer can be seen at nearly any time of day. Hordes of cormorants, gulls, and pelicans enjoy the craggy sea stacks. Western scrub jays, California thrashers, white-crowned sparrows, and other songbirds forage the sage scrub as raptors soar overhead.
Located at the south end of the state park, there is an amazing bonus hike. The Point Buchon Trail is open to the public Thursday-Monday, from 8 a.m. to one hour before sunset. After crossing over Coon Creek, visitors are required to sign in before hiking the secluded single-track as it hugs the coast to the south with convenient overlooks. The 6.6-mile out-and-back route boasts some of the most pristine and scenic stretches of coastline in Central California.
4•1•1 | To get there, head northbound on Highway 101, take the Los Osos Valley Road exit, and head west. Once in Los Osos, simply follow the signs to Montaña de Oro State Park. For more info, visit parks.ca.gov.