Pt. Sal State Beach

The information on this web page concerning Point Sal SB trails is currently under review and is in the process of being updated. California State Parks strongly recommends you contact the park at 805-733-3713 prior to visiting in order to obtain the most current conditions for this park and its trails.

Point Sal Trail

From State Beach to Pt. Sal is 5 miles round trip

When your eye travels down a map of the Central California coast, you pause on old and familiar friends—the state beaches at San Simeon, Morro Bay, and Pismo Beach. Usually overlooked is another state beach—remote Point Sal, a nub of land north of Vandenberg Air Force Base and south of the Guadalupe Dunes. Windy Point Sal is a wall of bluffs rising 50 to 100 feet above the rocky shore. The water is crystal-clear, and the blufftops provide a fine spot to watch the boisterous seals and sea lions.

Point Sal was named by explorer Vancouver in 1792 for Hermenegildo Sal, who was, at that time, commandante of San Francisco. The state purchased the land in the 1940s.

During the winter of 1998, portions of the 9 mile long access road to the beach were washed out by winter rains. The road has not been repaired and remains closed to vehicles. At this writing, Point Sal State Beach is accessible only to visitors who mountain bike or hike to the beach.

Alternatively, the strong hiker can trek twelve miles (round trip) to the state beach from Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park located to the north of Point Sal. Bold cliffs, towering sand dunes and isolated beaches combine to offer a tableau to remember.

If you do manage to get to Point Sal State Beach, the walk north can be a challenging one-on the bluffs above rocky reefs. At low tide, you can pass around or over the reefs; at high tide the only passage is along the bluff trail. Both marine life and land life can be observed from the bluff trail. You’ll pass a seal haul-out, glimpse tidepools, sight gulls, cormorant and pelicans, and perhaps see deer, bobcat and coyote on the ocean-facing slopes of the Casmalia Hills.

The trail system in the Point Sal area is in rough condition. The narrow bluff trails should not be undertaken by novice hikers, the weak-kneed or those afraid of heights. Families with small children and less experienced trekkers will enjoy beachcombing and tidepool-watching opportunities at Point Sal and the pleasure of discovering this out-of-the-way beach.

Directions to trailhead: (Remember to call about the road closure.) From Highway 101 in Santa Maria, exit on Betteravia Road. Proceed west past a commercial strip and then out into the sugar beet fields. Betteravia Road twists north. About eight miles from Highway 101, turn left on Brown Road. Five miles of driving on Brown Road (watch for cows wandering along the road) brings you to a signed junction; leftward is a ranch road, but you bear right on Point Sal Road, partly paved, partly dirt washboard
(impassable in wet weather). Follow this road 5 miles to its end at the parking area above Point Sal State Beach.

The hike:
From the parking area, follow one of the short steep trails down to the beautiful crescent-shaped beach. Hike up-coast along the windswept beach. In 0.3 mile, you’ll reach the end of the beach at a rocky reef, difficult to negotiate at high tide. A second reef, encountered shortly after the first, is equally difficult. Descend carefully to the beach.

Unless it’s very low tide, you’ll want to begin following the narrow bluff trail above the reefs. The trail arcs westward with the coast, occasionally dipping down to rocky and romantic pocket beaches sequestered between reefs.

About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll descend close to shore and begin boulder-hopping. After a few hundred yards, you’ll begin to hear the bark of sea lions and get an aviator’s view of Lion Rock, where the gregarious animals bask in the sun. Also be on the lookout for harbor seals, often called leopard seals because of their silver, white, or even yellow spots.

Your trek continues on a pretty decent bluff trail, which dips down near a sea lion haul-out. (Please don’t approach or disturb these creatures.) You’ll then ascend rocky Point Sal. From the point, you’ll view the Guadalupe Dunes complex to the north and the sandy beaches of Vandenberg Air Force Base to the south. Before returning the same way, look for red-tailed hawks riding the updrafts and admire the ocean boiling up over the reefs.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.