Places We Protect

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes


Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes on the central coast of California
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes on the central coast of California © Matthew Dillon/Creative Commons

The largest intact coastal dune ecosystem on Earth.



The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes undulate for 18 miles along the central California shore, stretching from Pismo State Beach to Point Sal. A steady wind sweeps over them, sculpting the sand into towering peaks that stretch 500 feet into the sky. Sapphire blue waves crash on white beaches. Freshwater lakes are teeming with life. Dunes sprout shrubs of bright yellow daisy-like flowers. It's easy to see why Cecil B. DeMille chose this dramatic windswept setting to film "The Ten Commandments.

TNC History

Ownership of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes is as intricate a patchwork as the dune ecosystem itself. The property now belongs to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Barbara County, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, a number of private parties, and the California State Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1987, The Nature Conservancy acquired a 567-acre stretch of coastal dunes, followed in 1989 by a 2,550-acre parcel, in order to insure that the dunes would be protected from incompatible development or use. In 1997, local residents, along with TNC and other private, public, and corporate dunes property holders, created the Dunes Forum to provide an open forum where people can share information and resources related to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.

The Nature Conservancy has completed the transfer of part of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes—called the Mobil Coastal Preserve—to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has designated it the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge to ensure the long-term protection of species and their habitats.




Rare plants including the surf thistle, beach spectacle pod, and crisp dune mint; 200 species of birds including the endangered California least tern and threatened Western snowy plover; California brown pelican, coast garter snake, and many other insects, lizards, fish, and mammals.


15,000 acres (24 square miles). Approximately 6,000 acres, including Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, and the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Wildlife Refuge are now protected.

Explore our work in this region

What to See: Plants

In the spring, yellow giant coreopsis, indigo dune larkspur, scarlet Indian paintbrush, and vivid orange California poppies wash these neutral sand fields with fiery color. At least 18 rare and endangered or sparsely distributed plants are found here, including the surf thistle, beach spectacle pod, and crisp dune mint.

What to See: Animals

Among the dunes' 200 species of birds, the endangered California least tern and the threatened Western snowy plover both enjoy protected nesting sites in the dunes. The sands are also home to the California brown pelican and the coast garter snake, as well as a wide assortment of beetles, butterflies, lizards, frogs, saltwater and freshwater fish, and mammals.

The Dunes Center

Center for Natural Lands Management

Hope for the Coast With 90 percent of large cities located near coasts, billions of people and billions of dollars of infrastructure are directly at risk from sea-level rise. California could lose more than half of its coastal habitat to sea level rise.