San Luis Obispo County

Brown Pelican

Symbol of the Central Coast Birding Trail
Copyrighted Photo courtesy of: Peter La Tourrette

Welcome to California's Central Coast.

Like all four counties on the Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County provides many recreational opportunities in a beautiful natural setting of coastal plain that includes Morro Bay, forest-canopied mountains and interior valleys. Elevation varies from sea level to 4064 feet at the summit of Machesna Mountain.  Morro bay, the Carizzo Plain and the Los Padres National Forest are Globally Important Bird Areas.  Good birding opportunities extend beyond the 21 official trail sites. The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is held each January.  Field trips are regularly offered by two Audubon chapters that sponsor two Christmas counts.  The Morro Bay count is regularly in the top ten.  445 bird species have been recorded in the county including an Arctic Warbler.  

Please visit the Morro Coast Audubon Society  and Mike Stiles' SLO County Birds web sites for more information on birding in San Luis Obispo County.

In addition to the trail site descriptions, please visit: 
Specialty birds of the Central Coast Birding Trail: Trail Specialty Birds 
Pelagic Birding on the Central Coast Birding Trail: Pelagic Birding 
Birding Event Calendars:
  Central Coast Events
Local attractions after birding is done: AfterHours
Resources for birding the Central Coast Trail Areas: Resources


Click on the White Numbers for Individual Site Descriptions and Directions
Shell Creek RoadSan Antonio LakeBig Sandy Wildlife AreaSalinas River Area, Paso RoblesWranglerette/Anza TrailAtascadero LakeCerro AltoHwy 1 Parking Areas and TurnoutsSan Simeon State ParkMorro Strand State Beach
Montana De Oro State ParkCarizzo PlainMachesna WildernessUpper Salinas RiverSanta Margarita LakeMorro RockMorro Bay State ParkMorro Coast Audubon OverlookSweet Springs Nature PreserveOceano CampgroundOso Flaco Lake Natural Area
Go North to Monterey County Go South to Santa Barbara County

For Further Information Contact:

Morro Coast Audubon Society 
PO Box 1507, 
Morro Bay, CA  93443-1507

Morro Coast Rare Bird Alert:  Go to Yahoo! group:  slocobirding

State Park Campground Reservations

Atascadero Chamber of Commerce  
6550 El Camino Real
Atascadero, CA 93422

Morro Bay Visitor's Center and Chamber of Commerce  
880 Main Street 
Morro Bay , CA 93442 
805-772-4467 or 1-800-231-0592 

Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce 
1225 Park Street
Paso Robles CA 93446 

San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce 
1039 Chorro Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Audubon~California (National Audubon Society)
711 University Ave
Sacramento, CA 95825

The mission of Audubon~California is to conserve and restore California's ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.

San Luis Obispo County Sites

Be sure to click on any any highlighted site link below to view a photo album.  There will be more soon!

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access, Fees] A freshwater lake surrounded by willows, tules and cattails. A level path leads to a boardwalk going over the lake and through the sand dunes, ending short of the ocean's edge.
Location: From Hwy 101 in Santa Maria go west on Hwy. 166 to Hwy 1. Go north to Oso Flaco Rd. and west to Lake parking lot.
Highlights: Spring/Summer: Least Tern and swallows. Fall/Winter: scaup, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck. Year round: Sora and Green Heron.
Best season: All year, migrants in winter and spring.

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access, Fees, Camping, Interpretive Center] Large freshwater lagoon surrounded by nature trail, pine and riparian habitats.
Location: Exit Hwy 101 south on Halcyon Rd. Go west 2 miles to Cienega (Hwy 1). Turn right on Hwy 1 and bear right when the street name changes to Front. Continue 1.9 miles and turn left on Pier Ave. to the campground entrance.
Highlights: Fall & Spring: migrating and vagrant warblers, vireos, tanagers, nuthatches. Year round: Nuttall's Woodpecker, Hutton's Vireo and freshwater birds.
Best season: All year, best early morning until noon.

[Parking, Handicapped access] 24 acres with freshwater ponds, cypress and eucalyptus trees, and back bay viewing access. Owned by Morro Coast Audubon Society.
Location: From Hwy 101 take the Los Osos Valley Rd. exit west 12 miles through Los Osos. Turn north (right) on Pine to Ramona Ave. Turn right. Preserve is on left.
Highlights: Winter: Many duck and shorebird species, Widgeon (look for Eurasian), American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, and hundreds of Brant. Monarch butterflies in eucalyptus. Spring/Summer: Nesting finches, Yellowthroats and Bushtits, Red-shouldered Hawks and Anna's Hummingbirds.
Best season: All year. Morning for passerines; mid-tide for shorebirds and gulls; high tide for ducks.

[Parking, Handicapped access] Covered viewing platform overlooking the Morro Bay estuary.
Location: From Los Osos Valley Rd. take South Bay Blvd. to Santa Ysabel traffic light, turn left to Third St. Turn right to end of street, turn right onto dirt lane to parking area.
Highlights: Snowy Egrets, Willets, Marbled Godwits, many duck and shorebird species, Brant, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, terns, White Pelicans, gulls, Black Phoebes, Belted Kingfisher. Sora and Virginia Rail are found in the reeds.
Best season: August through April. In winter, four hours after high tide best for duck and shorebird species.

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access, Camping, Interpretive Center, Fees] Park has a rich diversity of habitats, including ocean cliffs and shores, tidal pools, eucalyptus groves, chaparral hillsides and riparian streams. Many trails are shown on maps available at the Visitor's Center. Checklists are available.
Location: From Hwy 101 take the Los Osos Valley Rd. exit west 12 miles through Los Osos. Bear left and continue when road name changes to Pecho Valley Rd. to park entrance.
Highlights: 5a, b and c are favorite birding sites in the Park.

Location: Continue 1.7 miles from State Park sign (entrance) to large unpaved parking area on right.
Highlights: Wrentits, thrashers, woodpeckers, sparrows, wrens, hawks, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. Black and Ruddy Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers, Whimbrels, Sanderlings, plovers and peeps. American Pipit (winter).
Best season: All year. Fall, spring for migrants.

5b. CAMPGROUND LOOP  See Photo Album
Location: From State Park sign (entrance) travel 2.8 miles to Ranch House Visitor's Center. Bird campground loop and/or take chaparral trails east of Ranch House.
Highlights: Anna's and Allen's Hummingbirds, Purple Finches, goldfinches, towhees, sparrows, warblers, thrushes, woodpeckers, hawks, kinglets, swallows, quail, Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, Wrentits, California Thrasher, Hutton's Vireos, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher.
Best season: Mid-August through April.

5c. BLUFF TRAIL See Photo Album
[Parking] A 3-mile trail along the ocean's edge.
Location: Parking is .01 miles South of the Ranch House.
Highlights: Western and Clark's Grebes, scoters, Brandt's, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Wandering Tattlers, loons and murres. Summer, nesting Pigeon Guillemots, thousands of Sooty Shearwaters.
Best season: All year.

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access, Fees, Camping, Interpretive Center] Park includes Morro Bay estuary, salt marsh, pine, riparian and chaparral habitat. Central Coast Natural History Museum has checklists available. Heron rookery a popular attraction.
Location: From Hwy 101 take Hwy 1 west to Los Osos/South Bay Blvd. exit 0.7 of a mile south to State Park Rd. (before bridge). Turn right 1 mile to campground entrance. Marina and museum entrances are less than 0.5 of a mile further.
Highlights: Year round: Sparrows, kinglets, thrushes, chickadees, Bushtits, woodpeckers, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, and California Thrasher on Black Mountain. Winter: Brant, American White Pelican. Fall to Spring: Royal Tern. Fall: Elegant Tern.
Best season: September through March.

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access] This ancient volcanic plug rises 581 feet above Morro Bay
Location: From Hwy 1 take Main St. exit left (south) to Beach St. Turn right down the hill to Embarcadero. Turn right to Coleman Dr. and parking areas.
Highlights: Breeding Peregrine Falcons; 3 species of cormorants, 4 species of grebes, 3 species of loons; mergansers, scoters, ducks, gulls, and Brown Pelicans.
Best season: October through March, mornings.

[Parking, Restrooms, Fees, Camping) A sandy ocean beach with low dunes and creek mouths on both north and south ends.
Location: Exit Hwy 1 north at Atascadero Rd. (Hwy 41). Turn west to end of road at Morro Creek mouth to walk the beach north. Exit Hwy 1 north, left at Yerba Buena St. for campground.
Highlights: Year round: Snowy Plovers, gulls. Fall/Winter: Sanderlings, peeps, Marbled Godwits, curlews and Whimbrels.
Best season: Year round, best early morning or late afternoon.

[Parking, Restrooms, Fees, Camping] Sandy beaches, a freshwater creek, lagoon, sea cliffs and rocky shores.
Location: From Morro Bay take Hwy 1 north through Cambria to park entrance (about 2.5 miles north of the Cambria Winsor stoplight).
Highlights: Snowy Plovers, Green Heron, Black-Crowned Night Herons, egrets, gulls (including Mew and Heerman's), teals, mergansers and cormorants.
Best season: All year.

10. HWY 1 PARKING AREAS and TURNOUTS See Photo Album
Ocean shoreline and rocks along roadside.
Location: Continue on Hwy 1 north for 8.5 miles from San Simeon State Park. After passing Hearst Castle, stop at parking areas and turnouts along ocean shoreline.
Highlights: Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, Mew and Heerman's Gulls, Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorants, Pacific Loon, basking Harbor Seals. Look for colonies of Elephant Seals.
Best season: All year.

[Parking, Restrooms, Camping-Fees, Fees] Overnight campground with trailhead to Cerro Alto Peak and its spectacular vista view. Riparian area of cottonwoods, willows and sycamores surrounded by oak woodland and chaparral hillsides.
Location: Off Hwy 41, halfway between Morro Bay and Atascadero. Park at entrance or in parking lot.
Highlights: Goldfinches, flycatchers, warblers, phoebes, wrens, Bushtit, woodpeckers, jays, Oak Titmouse, hawks, Turkey Vulture.
Best season: All year; winter for migrating warblers.

[Parking, Restrooms] City park with zoo, picnic area and large lake encircled by road and footpath. Birds found in trees and reed patches around lake. North Cuesta Audubon has display with pictures and descriptions of local bird species.
Location: From Hwy 101 take Hwy 41 (Morro Rd.) west to Lago. Turn left into parking lot.
Highlights: Species listed on display. Egrets, herons Winter: American White Pelicans and other migratory waterfowl.
Best season: All year, winter and spring for migrants.

[Parking] Beautiful riparian trail from road end meanders through Salinas River habitat of oak, cottonwood, willow and sycamore trees. Various side trails lead to the River (east) and Sewage Ponds (west). Note: River bottom fills with water in winter and quicksand areas can occur.
Location: From Hwy 101 take Curbaril Rd. east, past signal light for about 1.5 miles to railroad tracks. Take immediate right past railroad tracks onto Garbada Rd. Turn left on Tampico, right on Aragon. Wranglerette area is on left. Park on road. Walk to end of Aragon where trailhead opens in shrubbery.
Highlights: Many of the same species seen at Cerro Alto (11), but including blackbirds, (Red-winged, Brewer's), kinglets, American Robins, California Towhees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, House Finches, Purple Martin, and maybe a Phainopepla.
Best season: All year, winter for migrants.

[Parking] Riparian habitat in the sandy, dry Salinas riverbed with cottonwood, sycamore and willow trees, and large shrubs bordering the river bed. Note: River bed can fill with water in winter.
Location: From Hwy 101 north take Spring St. exit to Niblick Rd. at signal. Turn right on Niblick over river, turn left to South River Road. Turn right and go to Riverbank Lane. Turn right and park at the small park at end of road. Walk through the park and down into the river area and hike north under the bridge.
Highlights: Many of the same species as Cerro Alto (11) and the Wranglerette (13) area, also Western Bluebird, Killdeer, Loggerhead Shrike, California Quail, Great Horned Owl, White-throated Swift and more.
Best season: All year, migrants in winter and spring.

[Parking] Wildlife area is in the sandy Salinas riverbed. Habitat is the same as found in Paso Robles and the Atascadero Wranglerette areas. Note: Hunters use the area from October through March.
Location: From Hwy 101 take Mission St. exit in San Miguel. Go north to 14th St. Turn right (east). Turn left (north) at Cross Canyon Rd. after crossing the bridge. Go about 100 yards. Turn left on Indian Valley Rd. and continue to the second dirt parking area on the left. There is a trail leading down to the River area. Drive further up Indian Valley Rd. for additional good birding.
Highlights: Similar species as other Salinas River sites. Further up Indian Valley Rd. it is possible to see flocks of Yellow-billed Magpies, Western Bluebirds, Greater Roadrunner.
Best season: Fall through spring.

[Parking, Restrooms, Camping, Fees] Large inland lake, surrounded by rolling grassland hills and dotted with oak woodland habitat. Camping and boating available. Guided Eagle Watch Tours are conducted from January through early March.
Location: From Hwy 101 take the Hwy 46 East/24th St. exit in Paso Robles. Go west at the signal. (This road becomes Nacimiento Lake Dr.) Turn left on Interlake Rd. Continue to San Antonio Rd. Turn right and follow it to the Park entrance. A bird list is at the visitor's center.
Highlights: eagles, Osprey, grebes, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, mergansers and numerous species of ducks. Spotted Sandpiper, Canada Goose, White Pelicans.
Best season: Winter and spring.

[Parking, Restrooms, Handicapped access, Fees, Camping] Large inland lake with camping and boating facilities surrounded by oak woodland habitat.
Location: From Hwy 101 take Hwy 58 to Santa Margarita. Turn right on Estrada (Hwy 58), crossing railroad tracks. Estrada turns left, becoming Pozo Rd. (Hwy 58). When Hwy 58 turns left continue straight on Pozo Rd. to Lake Rd. and turn left. Lake Rd. Park entrance is at road end.
Highlights: Many of the same species as Salinas River and Atascadero Lake areas. Look for Green Herons, Western Bluebirds, Golden Eagles, migratory waterfowl and wintering Bald Eagles.
Best season: All year, winter and spring for migrants.

[Parking, Restrooms, Fees] This is a nice riparian habitat surrounded by oak woodland. Marshy wetland area at river mouth. Dirt trail follows river until it empties into Santa Margarita Lake. Fork on right follows north shoreline of lake.
Location: Follow description to Santa Margarita Lake (17), except continue on Pozo Rd. to River Rd. and turn left. Go to the Upper Salinas River Access parking lot on the left and park. Primitive toilet at parking lot. Note: Parking lot and trail are muddy in wet weather.
Highlights: Many of the same species listed in all the above areas. Look for Lark Sparrows and Northern Harriers.
Best season: All year.

[Parking] This is a paved rural road surrounded by oak/gray pine woodlands with open grasslands in between, and a riparian river habitat on one side.
Location: Follow directions to Santa Margarita Lake (17) until the intersection of Pozo Rd. and Hwy 58. Turn left onto Hwy 58 and drive for about 40 minutes to Shell Creek Rd. and turn left. Drive up Shell Creek Rd., park and walk along roadside at various locations. Private property surrounds road.
Highlights: Woodpeckers, vultures, hawks, sparrows, quail, towhee, finches. A good area for Lewis' Woodpecker, Western Meadowlark, and Western and Cassin's Kingbirds.
Best season: All year, winter and spring for migrants.

[Parking, Fees] This is a trail in a Los Padres Wilderness area, through semi-desert scrub and chaparral habitat, dotted with junipers, manzanita, oak and pine.
Location: Follow directions to Shell Creek Rd. but continue on Hwy 58 to Red Hill Rd. and turn right. Continue past the La Panza campground to the Machesna Mountain Wilderness sign. Turn right and drive about 1.5 miles up to the Condor Lookout Area and/or continue up the hill to the wilderness area and trailhead. There are no fees or services. Note: Four wheel drive is recommended on Machesna Road.
Highlights: Hawks, jays, hummingbirds, towhees, quails, woodpeckers, ravens and thrashers are common. Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and owl species are in the area. Condor lookout is has an inspiring view of Castle Crags and, if you're lucky, you may see a California Condor.
Best season: Fall, winter and spring.

[Parking, Restrooms] Carrizo Plain is a natural area open year round. It is semi-desert scrub habitat with large fields of open grassland, and juniper and piņon pine groves in the foothills. Soda Lake is in the middle of the preserve and is dry in summer.
Location: Take Hwy 58 to Soda Lake Rd. and turn right (south). The Carrizo Plains entrance is about 8 miles away and the Visitor's Center is another 8 miles beyond that. About a mile past the entrance is a lookout turnoff with a chemical toilet. Nice view from the top with a plaque describing habitat and wildlife. Call the Visitor's Center at 805-475-2131 for hours. Bathrooms at Center are only open during Center hours. Primitive camping is allowed in specific sites further on Soda Lake Rd. Note: Many roads are impassable in wet weather.
Highlights: Year round: Shrikes, Ravens, Horned Larks, Brewer's Blackbirds, Kestrels, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks are common. Occasionally seen are Prairie Falcons, White-tailed Kites, Golden Eagles, Northern Harriers, owls (Burrowing, Long-eared and Short-eared), and Mountain Plovers. Winter & Spring: Sandhill Cranes, Long-billed Curlews, American Avocets and other shorebirds, Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks.
Best season: October through April.




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Most recently updated: 30 June 2004 .