The first stop on our 2015 Thanksgiving Week road trip was the town of Santa Maria, chosen because I wanted to visit these nearby dunes. Not expecting everyone else to be as interested in sand dunes as I am, I got a nice hotel room to keep the rest of the crew happy. Besides, we were saving money on a car rental by packing the 5 of us into in my smallish sedan. After convincing/forcing the kids to leave our hotel room (a near perfect replay of a scene that took place a year and a half earlier just outside Yosemite) we spent the first evening out here. It was a good time wandering around and watching my son and nieces play around in the dunes - makes me much happier than watching them play on their tablets and phones.
It had been a long time since I'd got out of town. So that first morning I was up early and off to the dunes by myself for a morning run (and to take some pictures). The sun was just rising as I parked the car. I ran (where the sand was firm enough) away from the coast and out into the dunes to take some pictures of the first light on the dunes.
The clouds that were hanging out over the ocean when I first arrived began moving inland. I noticed some nice light towards the ocean and ran as fast as I could in that direction. But, I'm not that fast and by the time I got there the light had changed. It was still pretty.
Photo opportunities were all over the place as clouds continued rolling in. There were some nice reflections in the wet sand. A few times, the light broke through the clouds. I ran up and down the coast taking pictures of the changing conditions.
If I was on vacation by myself I might have stayed out a little longer, but 2 hours after arriving I headed away from the coast towards firmer sand and ran back to the car (with a few stops to take more pictures).
From Santa Maria, drive West on Highway 166 until it ends. That's it. There is a gate that is locked from sunset to sunrise, more or less. Also, the parking area is pretty small. I imagine it could fill up on a weekend or holiday. Parts of the dunes are closed from March to October for bird nesting.