Meandering through the little city of Guadalupe and a better view of the GIANT sand dunes

I love to meander.

Frequently while aimlessly exploring I’ll stumble upon a town I’ve known in name only.  California is a very large state, and I may know ABOUT a region or ABOUT a city or town, but if I’ve read something interesting I want to see for myself. I’m always finding something new to interest me. And such was the case when we happened upon Guadalupe, a small town at the very top of Santa Barbara County just ten miles east of Santa Maria.


We’ve been through Santa Maria dozens of times. For instance, there was the time in 2005 when we were on our way north and I cajoled Jay into getting off the main highway so we could “meander” through Santa Maria and drive by the courthouse to see the circus of reporters hanging about during the Michael Jackson trial–I was just curious.

All these many visits to Santa Maria and I never realized we were just ten miles from a charming agricultural city, “The Gateway to the Dunes,” Guadalupe, California.


This lovely little agricultural town was part of early Spanish mission pasture land, later becoming part of the Rancho Guadalupe land grant. The city today is all of 1.3 square miles surrounded almost completely by agricultural land. The area is also rich in oil.

Amtrak runs right through town and the Guadalupe station is on the Pacific Surfliner route connecting San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.


Jay has a 40 year work history as a railroad switchman, beginning with Southern Pacific and following the 1996 merger, Union Pacific.  I couldn’t resist stopping to take some photos of freight car graffiti.

In 1895, the Southern Pacific Railroad completed the 25-mile section from Guadalupe to San Luis Obispo and since 1911, the Santa Maria Valley railroad has been the region’s main means of shipping both oil and agricultural products through Guadalupe.

I couldn’t help asking a few questions.  For instance, who would want to hammer the side of a car? And do you really need soft sole shoes?

This is a very small town. It doesn’t take long to drive right on through the center. And right at the end of Main Street are the incredible Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. I previously shared the story of these gorgeous dunes and how Cecil B. DeMille buried his movie sets in the sand. f you missed that, you can find some photos and story HERE. 

But I mentioned in that post that the only way I could really think to show you the magnificence of the dunes would be if I were able to take aerial shots. I have a treat for anyone interested in knowing more.

I suspect there are few Californians who do not know the name “Huell Howser.” Howser’s Public Television show “California’s Gold” was certainly responsible for introducing me to small towns, landmarks, events and little pockets of interest all over the state, with his trademark enthusiasm for the smallest tidbit of unique information. He was parodied and teased for his folksy reporting style, but well-loved. In 2013 he died of metastatic prostate Cancer and thousands of people attended his public memorial held at the Griffith Park Observatory.

Well, guess what I found? Howser left his archives to Chapman College, including video archives the college has made available on-line. And I found a California’s Gold episode that features the Guadalupe-Dunes. I think you’d enjoy the entire episode, but if that isn’t possible, at least take a moment to fast forward into the episode and see the dunes with more detail than I could capture in photos. Some of these dunes are hundreds of feet in height. And you can enjoy it all with Huell right HERE. He really is a treat!

A weekend is just perfect for meandering and meandering is always a good way to breathe lighter–the perfect exhale!  Some portion of my weekend will be devoted to doing just that! And I definitely encourage you to do the same. You can tell me about that on Monday!


71 thoughts on “Meandering through the little city of Guadalupe and a better view of the GIANT sand dunes

    1. Thank you so much, M-R. I do enjoy sharing my interests in parts of California that to me tell a story. I kind of stumbled upon this as my “reason” to blog. I am doing my best to elevate some previously held rather poor impressions of the state. There is plenty here that is frustrating, mismanaged and not at all conducive to supporting well-being, but I spend as much time as I can find to focus on the more positive and lovely parts. I think if I didn’t deliberately take the time to explore, I’d grow very frustrated@ 🙂

        1. I’m not missing the Governator, that’s for sure, M-R. 🙂 But it pleases me to hear your reference him only because I’m always curious what kind of news and information from California becomes international. I’m pretty sure that a CA governor wouldn’t be newsworthy if he weren’t also The Terminator. LOL!

          1. Probably right; but we do occasionally read about Governors if they do wicked things ! [grin]
            I was interested to see that he already made another movie, and quite pleased that he took a ‘fatherly’ kind of role – except that it’s probably more bash and blowup than any of the earlier ones …

    1. No Cristine, sadly Zena couldn’t come with us. Do you know that in the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes you can’t even bring a dog in the car! In the car!! Isn’t that something? I didn’t actually know this when we decided she needed to stay with a sitter, but when we discovered the very clearly marked sign at the ranger’s station we were glad we hadn’t brought her. We’ll bring her next time and avoid some of the state parks. She needs her field trips, too. 🙂

    1. Cambria is indeed a very special part of the coast, Eric. We hope to be up that way again in September, and we’ll hopefully be able to make our way up to San Simeon. Isn’t Guadalupe a bit of a surprise? I really felt like I’d been dropped into the 1950’s, and quite frankly, that was appealing! We more or less discovered it by accident ourselves, but that really does support my claim that there is more to be found off the path than just staying on the strategic route. Thank you for stopping by, Eric!

  1. Wouldn’t it be fun to take a day and do that Surfliner route, stopping in each town for a bit? This was most enjoyable a read, Debra. I think most of us forget how truly enormous a state California is and how rich it is in culture, history, agriculture, etc. Some good friends just had a daughter marry at Dana Point. We were so sad we couldn’t attend, but, had a nice chat with Patty last Friday and she was just bubbling telling about all the history and the realization of how much a role the missions played in the settlement of CA. Of course, they all spent a day a San Juan Capistrano while there, but, I’m getting off “track” here. I WILL check out the link to Huell Howser. He sounds like a character that I would have appreciated and how grand that his meanderings are saved. We have a similar character here and they are modern troubadours in telling our tales, aren’t they?

    This was such a treat to see so early on this Saturday morning, Debra. Thank you.

    1. I hope you can find just a few minutes to see a little part of the Huell Howser video, Penny. You will get such a chuckle at his delivery and presentation. He really was a unique television presence! My brother does a great imitation where he will stop and pick up an ordinary piece of gravel and go on and on in Huell’s “voice” extolling how special the rock is. In truth, I am certain I have been influenced by this man’s PBS show that was always about interesting little jaunts! It doesn’t surprise me that there are “other Huell’s” around the nation. They serve a wonderful purpose! And oh but I wish you’d been able to come to Dana Point, Penny. Although if time had been tight I’d not been able to see you I would have been frustrated.:-) I was just there the other day! And I’m glad to hear that Patty is as thrilled as I am about the missions. They are really something very special and I don’t understand the number of people who drive by them and show no curiosity. I know some of those people so I know they’re out there. LOL! I hope the weekend is lovely, my friend.

      1. Just saw it – loved it, Debra, and see what you mean. One has be be enthusiastic to keep viewers’ attention, but, Huell seems to have been a natural at it and I had to laugh at how many ways he could ask a simple question. I’m sure PBS still runs some his shows and here you are, exposing him, and California, to the rest of the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m sure I’ll be looking up a few of his others adventures.

        1. Oh you so caught on to why Huell Howser was a treasure, Penny. He wasn’t nearly as “simple” a man as he projected, but he had a way of being relatable to everyone. And I’m so glad you made introduction. I absolutely know he is responsible for why I became interested in simple little adventures around the state. I’m just so glad to introduce him. I can’t begin to tell you how the public responded when he died. It was a real loss! ox

    1. I find it amazing that some of these small towns can exist. They are so often surrounded by much larger cities that make amenities readily accessible, but Guadalupe is just a mile square! That’s small. Next time we’re up there I want to go into the neighborhood and see if I can find anything interesting. I really did like this little town. It felt like I’d been dropped back in time to somewhere around 1950. I liked that!

    1. Thanks for asking about Zena, Nancy. She is much calmer, although we did have one more episode this week. But overall it’s quite evident she’s a happier, less anxious pup! Today we bought her a toy that is recommended for use when we leave the house. You stuff it with peanut butter and then give it to the dog, who will presumably be distracted with the treat, and not miss us so much. Now I only have to worry about coming home and finding peanut butter smeared all over everything. She may be peaceful…I’m getting there. LOL!

    1. I’m so glad you took a peek at Huell Howser. He was such a treasure to those of us who regularly watched him on PBS. When I discovered there was a video of the dunes I was so excited. I’d previously been really frustrated that my photos couldn’t deliver the goods on depth and overall mass…they just looked liked piles of sand. LOL! It’s so fun to me that almost anything is on the Internet if you spend a few minutes looking!

  2. You’re a wonderful tour guide. Thanks for the clip. The dunes are beautiful. I couldn’t help noticing that Huell Howser (Did I spell that correctly?) sounds like a southerner as in North Carolina where I have lived all my life. Great post.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed Huell! He was originally from Tennessee, but had lived in California for a very long time. I think he knew more about the interesting and off the path places than most native Californians, but that is what he was known for, and before the Internet he really was a tremendously valuable resource for information we wouldn’t have another better way of discovering. I think it’s just marvelous that he left so much of his own personal research to Chapman College, making it very accessible to the public. I’m so glad you enjoyed the dunes. 🙂 It’s good to hear from you.

        1. I think that Huell’s southern accent was part of his appeal here in the west. It made him sound like a “good old boy” and we need more of them out here. He wasn’t jaded and skeptical–he is really missed!

  3. Lovely views from above! I have fond memories of sand dunes on the east coast of England, so these pictures made me smile! Have a great weekend Debra. It’s very hot here, so I hope to get some time in the hammock tomorrow!

    1. It’s funny how I get my impressions, Cathy, and I never think of you having a really hot spell. Silly of me, but it’s because your photos are all so green, which I associate with cool! I hope the time in the hammock works out. It sounds glorious to me. 🙂

  4. I love taking that road through Guadalupe. Many times heading north on 101 I deviate and take Highway 1 all the way into Arroyo Grande/Oceano Beach area. There is a great overlook just before drooping off the hill toward Arroyo Grande. Great vistas of farm fields and the dunes in the background. Even nicer when the fields at the base of the hill are planted for flower seeds! Thanks for sharing

    1. This was all new to us, Bishop, and we will be quick to return! We have probably darted over to Hwy 1 in specific spots before, but this was the first time we went from Guadalupe all the way up to Morro Bay primarily on that scenic route, and we were just thrilled. Once again we kept asking ourselves why we’ve never done that before. I am so eager to return and do a little more exploring. Thanks for the heads up about the overlook. We’ll need to become much more familiar! 🙂

    1. I am delighted you’re interesting in the California’s Gold archive! Isn’t it wonderful? The episodes are still available on PBS, but what I’ve enjoyed this week since discovering the archive, is choosing the episodes that most interest me and realizing that if I miss something, I can go back! I think it was such a wonderful gift that Huell would turn all of his archives over to a university for safekeeping and to make them available. He was the treasure. 🙂

  5. Meandering is a great vacation method too. We just spent eight days meandering about different areas of our own state, and a few others! It was wonderful to drive to a place, google their history and go check out interesting facts. Or happen upon a few of them on our own.

  6. Tom McCubbin

    I love Guadalupe and don’t go that far south very often. Thanks for the photos and write-up! The place has such character…

    1. It really does have character, Tom. That’s the perfect word. I was trying to think what it was that caught my attention so clearly, and it is the character of a small town, and I have so few opportunities to really enjoy a small town! 🙂

  7. Meandering is by far my favorite summer activity. We managed to sneak a day in last weekend. I would love to meander through California. The terrain changes so much and the views are always different. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I must tell you that as busy as you are, Kristy, and I totally understand that with your family activities, I am simply very honored that you take the time to stop by. I am ALWAYS happy to see your name in my comments. 🙂 If you ever come this way, by all means let me know. I’ll try to give you a few pointers. LOL!

      1. Thank you Debra. I always just love your posts. You have a zest for life that is invigorating and contagious. I will definitely let you know. I’m dying to get back out that way. I know the kids would love it too!

    1. I need more meandering days, Jim! I think there are just too many demands on my time right now, but I’m trying to throw some of that off! 🙂 And yes, you and your trains. But you’re not alone. I’m not sure I know what it is, but there is a mystique that continues to bring rail buffs out even if it is just to admire them. I’m glad you enjoyed the Guadalupe train station. It was a very small one, but in a very nice little town!

  8. When I first read the title, Debra, I thought you were taking us to Mexico. I should have known better. You’ll get to Mexico once you’ve taught us all we need to know about California. 😉
    This is a quaint town meant for meandering and a bit of research in the local library. A great way to spend a weekend day without having to pack up the car. I do know the joys of meandering. That could be the title of my last trip, Meandering through Florence and Rome. The 3 of us have been to both cities numerous times and, for the first time, there were no “newbies” in our party, so, there was no need to see everything. Before we left home, we agreed that each fo us would see and do what they wanted, when they wanted, without fear of upsetting the travel mates. There was no rushing to get here or there and no disappointments. What a wonderful experience! If and when I go back, “meander” will be my mantra. I have found enlightenment. 🙂

    1. Your meander through Florence and Rome trumps any meandering I have done, John! You must have so thoroughly enjoyed the ability to spend time in cities that mean so much to you without being a tourist. I’m certain you came home with memories that are going to continue to delight for a long, long time. I like your statement “when I go back,” and I’m sure you will, since you are obviously very much at home there. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by an visiting Guadalupe–California. 🙂 And in case you’re ever interested, you can always come and visit where I live. My city is neighbor to San Marino. I know, not quite the same as Italy is it. LOL!

  9. I see you found a reefer to chill out with Debra 😉 Nice images. Looks like the agriculture is progressing well for the local farmers this year.

    The wagons with the warning notices look like 4-bay grain hoppers to me. I’m guessing that hammering an empty grain hopper is likely to create a highly flammable dust storm inside – Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling. Grain dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source (such as hot bearing, overheated motor, misaligned conveyor belt, welding, cutting, and brazing). The soft soled shoes will be to avoid damaging the interior surface and creating more places for grain dust to gather. People have to enter these hoppers to clean them and someone banging on the outside with a hammer for a laugh would not be funny because airborne grain dust can also suffocate you 😦 Still doesn’t answer why someone would want to hammer the outside of one though!

    The Pacific Surfliner route is available on Railworks but sadly only covers the San Diego to Los Angeles section,

    1. Agriculture is going okay in some spots, Martin, and in others we have crisis. The water shortage continues to be significant and if the drought goes one more year there are going to be some serious issues with the farming industry. But little old Guadalupe does seem to be faring well. You have the right idea about the hammering on the side of the grain hopper. Jay told me about the prohibition of using a hammer to try to get more of the grain to empty. But he didn’t mention combustibility, and I’m sure I didn’t know that, nor consider the potential danger of suffocation from grain dust. It’s generally just very dangerous work. Through the years my husband has brought home some really horrible examples of workplace injuries and deaths, and often the workers themselves have caused the calamity with foolish behavior. I have spent a lot of time near railcars, but haven’t before seen those warnings. I had to ask! 🙂

      1. I had a vague idea as I used to be a Union Safety Officer so I knew where to find the info 😉 Thinking about it, the soft-soled shoes is also about fire – hobnailed boots can cause sparks!

  10. I was finally able to watch the video by Huell, after some spotty Internet this weekend. What a treasure, Debra! Thank you so much for sharing! The ‘moving dune’ that starts at around the 16:50 mark in the video.. AWESOME! I would love to visit this place in person!

    1. I’m glad you took the time to visit Guadalupe and the Dunes with Huell, Nancy. You’d enjoy this area very much and to give you a little more sense of direction, you mentioned you’d been on the “Sideways Tour,” and this is really just a hop, skip and jump from there. 🙂

  11. Is it a female trait, the ‘I wonder what’s down that turn-off?’, Debbie, or just something a few of us can’t resist? My other half never shows the slightest inclination or curiosity. He just wants to get there. I have to do a little arm twisting, now and then. 🙂
    Off to see that sea of dunes! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Oh, no! They’re treating my lovely Ice Plants as the enemy! I think they’re so beautiful and have featured them on mine several times. Maybe they’re just in the wrong locale here. 😦

  13. Oh, I do love exploring California with you, Debra. You take us to the most interesting places and give us the most fascinating background information. I always get a real feel for the places you’ve visited. 🙂

  14. Your State really is enormous. I was in LA for just under 24 hours. I wish it could have been longer. We do plan to be back again before too long so I hope there will be an opportunity to catch up with you xx

  15. Pingback: Please Mr Postman | The Accidental Cootchie Mama

  16. Awful of me, I have yet to explore the dunes in California. Fillmore is good when it comes to train. Lots of movies that used their train and their station.

  17. dandyknife

    Neat! One plant can begin the life of a dune, how cool is that?

    Huell Howser reminds me of Canada’s Stuart McLean, a humourist with a folksy style who always researches each town he visits so he can extoll its virtues to the audience (and the radio listeners) at the beginning of his show.

    1. Thank you, Kate. The sand dunes, and the little city of Guadalupe, were a big surprise. Here I have driven right on past them for decades! I hope I can return again sometime later this year and explore a little further up the coast. I’m not sure that comparing sand dunes will reveal much, but I’d like to try! 🙂

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