Day Use Area
Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve
What is open now?
- Limited parking is available to the public.
Protect yourself, family, friends and your community by following these prevention measures:
- Know Before You Go – Prior to leaving home, check the status of the park unit you want to visit to find out what restrictions and guidelines are in place. Have a back-up plan in case your destination is crowded. Stay home if you are sick
- Plan Ahead – Some restrooms will be temporarily closed to keep up with cleaning schedules. Bring soap/hand sanitizer.
- Play It Safe – Find out what precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors, especially if this is your first time visiting the State Park System. Learn more at parks.ca.gov/SafetyTips.
- Be COVID-19 Safe – State Parks continues to meet guidance from local and state public officials as COVID-19 is still present and still deadly. Effective March 1, 2022, state guidance recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccine status, continue masking in indoor settings, such as museums and visitor centers. Universal masking remains required in specified high-risk settings. Please plan ahead as local county guidelines may differ from state guidance and visitors are urged to follow county guidelines when required. Read the latest COVID-19 guidance at COVID19.ca.gov.
- Leave No Trace – Leave areas better than how you found them by staying on designated trails and packing out all trash. Do not disturb wildlife or plants.
Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve features ancient sand dunes covered with centuries-old coast live oak trees. According to botanists, five major plant communities thrive within the reserve. They are coastal sage scrub, central coastal scrub, dune oak scrub, coast live oak forest, and riparian (streamside). The oak communities exist close to each other, but each has its own character. The oak scrub has dwarf oak trees growing on the ancient (relict) sand dune. Though they are coast live oak trees, they rarely grow more than six to eight feet tall. The larger coast live oaks are located where the soil is moister. These giants can grow to 25 feet in height. Their massive trunks and gnarled branches twist into all sorts of fantastic shapes
Location - Directions
The reserve is located on Los Osos Valley Road in the Los Osos Valley, just outside the town of Los Osos, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Seasons - Climate - Recommended clothing
The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended.
Facilities - Activities
At the beginning of the reserve's trail, traffic noise from the busy road dominates. Penetrating deeper into the park, these sounds diminish, giving way to birds singing, water trickling in Los Osos Creek, and wind rustling through the oaks. Trails traverse through the variety of plant communities, and the trail is alternately in bright sunlight or dappled shade. A word of caution: one of the predominant undergrowth plants in the area is poison oak. A sign at the entrance helps visitors identify and stay away from this pesky plant. Staying on the trails helps to avoid contact.
One of the trails goes through remnants of an old Chumash Indian midden (trash dump) site. Fragments of clam and abalone shells the Chumash consumed long ago are found here. The nomadic Chumash had temporary encampments all over the Morro Bay watershed area, and this is just one reminder that many other people have come before us.
There is a variety of wildlife in the park. Visitors can spot a shy plain titmouse, or see a California valley quail rustling through the underbrush. Visitors may also see a brush rabbit darting across the trail, or encounter the home of a nocturnal dusky-footed wood rat.
The Reserve is also the home of several species of lichen that can be found nowhere else. Visitors should look for wisps of lichens and mosses dangling from oak branches throughout the reserve.
About the Park
In 1769, Gaspar de Portola's expedition passed through the Los Osos Valley. Father Crespi's diary notes that the expedition saw "troops of bears (osos)" in the valley, and, since then, it became known as the Los Osos Valley. When the new Monterey mission populace faced starvation, a hunting expedition was sent to the Los Osos Valley, killed many grizzlies, and packed the meat back to Monterey, saving the people there from disaster.
Los Osos Oaks was part of a Mexican land grant that was eventually divided into farm and ranchland. Incredibly, unlike the trees in the surrounding area which were cleared away to allow for agriculture, the magnificent oaks in the park are still growing.