How to photograph Guadalupe Dunes Park


Something about dunes fascinates me. I was surprised to discover this park one day. Rancho Guadalupe Dunes lie just south of Oceano Dunes Park, a vehicular recreation area where people tear up the landscape with their ATV, Bikes and Dune Buggies. Fortunately, this small piece of a much larger dunes area is not accessible to the onslaught of metal, gasoline and rubber.

The park lies off the beaten track near the depressing town of Guadalupe. Most tourists who accidentally took the detour through Guadelupe hurry on and do not dare to veer off Highway 1. That is why not many people come here which means you can find many un-trampled dunes at any time of the day.

How to get there

From Highway 1 take W Main Street out of Guadalupe at the intersection of 166 and 1. Follow the road about 4.5 miles to the parking lot.

GPS position

Parking Area:

How to photograph Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Park

Find an interesting foreground element and get low on your knees or stomach to give some depth to the scene. In the picture above, I am using the driftwood left and right and the brighter sand in between as a big arrow pulling the viewer into the distance where he/she will discover the ocean. Try to find interesting patterns in the sand or something that adds some interest into the vast yellow nothingness of the dunes.

If you use a circular polarizing filter, do not use it at full strength. The Dunes will look flat until you boost contrast somewhat, creating a funny dark black look on the sky if you filter too much here.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

One to two hours after sunrise or one to two hours before sunset give you a good angle of light that will bring out the ripples in the sand. I prefer to have a bit more definition in the sky, but in California we usually have blue sky anyways.

Time required

From Guadalupe it takes you just 10 minutes to get here. You can explore the Dunes in one to three hours.


  • A Polarizer is your best friend
  • A wide-angle lens to get a large depth of field
  • A Tilt and Shift Lens if you can afford one to get even more depth of field
  • A tripod to use a small aperture


I believe there was a drop box at the park entrance (about 4.1 m from Highway 1). I think the fee was voluntary, but I am not sure. In any case it wasn’t much.

Close Locations

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  1. Posted 2009/06/18 at 17:09 | Permalink

    Good article. I have been to this park, but I didn’t spend much time there nor attempt to photograph. There were a lot of “roped off” areas for habitat preservation – how about when you were there?

    Your shot is excellent. It really shows how the wind carves away the sand – the driftwood is protecting a bit of space behind each piece. Getting down low doesn’t come naturally to us people, so your technique is a good one, and a good reminder.

    I hope to move to this area in two years time!

  2. Posted 2009/06/18 at 17:36 | Permalink

    Thanks for the information on possible closures. I have been more lucky. From the parking area (see gps), I could walk around at my hearts content. However it was hard to find and all around there was protected area and OHV area, which makes me wonder if you found the place or turned back after hitting the fences. I asked a local cop for dune access. He sent me here.
    Thank you for your kind comments regarding the article and the photo. I am glad to find the approval of accomplished photographers such as yoursel.

  3. Posted 2009/06/19 at 16:23 | Permalink

    I once spent three years working in the desert in Abu Dhabi. I never did manage to capture the grandeur and quality of the place.

    The best time to photograph was at sunset, but so close to the Equator, the sun just seem to drop out of the sky – better for video than sill photography.

    Keep up the good work, you produce great guides to places and photography.

  4. Posted 2009/06/23 at 06:35 | Permalink

    Dunes are fascinating…must be the starkness and sort of otherworldliness of them–they’re kind of eerie if no one is around. Beautiful photo, Andre.

  5. Frank DelValle
    Posted 2009/06/24 at 02:29 | Permalink

    I love that picture! The tones are great and the colors are magnificent. Thanks for sharing.

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