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Beauty in its vast desolation

Open the sleepy farming community's back door and discover a vast expanse of coastal sand dunes, California history and a love of beef.

September 01, 2009|Amy Orozco

Situated among acres upon acres of agricultural fields, Guadalupe is a sleepy, dusty crossroads in northern Santa Barbara County that depends on a good rain for its livelihood. It also serves as a jumping-off point for adventures in the coastal wilderness. There's history to explore too, which is evident when those rains expose the original advertisements painted long ago on community's brick buildings.

Coastal dune wilderness

Guadalupe's real claim to fame is serving as gateway to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, a vast expanse of coastal sand dunes. The 592-acre Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is listed as a national natural landmark by the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes it as "the most unique and fragile ecosystem in the state." Film buffs know the dunes from the 1923 version of "The Ten Commandments," "G.I. Jane," "Hidalgo" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." Be sure to note that the visitors center is located in town, almost five miles from the park (1055 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-2455,

Recreation at the dunes is of the passive kind -- surfing, hiking, fishing and bird watching. "Mountain lion warning" and "no dogs allowed" signs greet visitors at the gate, along with a "$3 suggested donation" notice.

From the dune preserve's parking lot, where there are picnic tables and restrooms, it is 1.8 miles north along the beach to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge (docent-led hikes hotline: [805] 343-2455, Ext. 1). Walking close to the water is encouraged so as to not disturb the nesting habitat of the endangered western snowy plover and the California least tern. Parts of the habitat are also cordoned off.

History on Highway 1

Guadalupe's 6,500 or so residents are served by businesses and institutions lining California's Highway 1 -- a.k.a. Guadalupe Street -- such as the Guadalupe Cultural Arts & Education Center (1065 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-2939, and the Rancho de Guadalupe Historical Society Museum (1005 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-5901).

Follow the chuck wagon

The Far Western Tavern offers authentic California cuisine that harks back to the days when huge ranches spread across the state. Barbecue and beef lead as menu favorites -- even the Food Network's Bobby Flay has "discovered" this institution (899 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-2211, La Fogata (253 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-4000) and Nardo's Restaurant (866 Guadalupe St., [805] 343-2588) offer Mexican favorites. Small markets along Guadalupe Avenue are great for picnic takeout and authentic cuisine, with Masatani's Market having been a staple since 1922.


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