All About Oso Flaco Lake: A Cyclist's Guide - Cycle Central Coast
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September 28, 2022

Oso Flaco Lake: All You Need To Know As A Cyclist

One of the Central Coast’s best-kept secrets is a little lake just off an oceanside beach. Oso Flaco Lake is one of our most popular destinations for cyclists who ride from Avila Beach. When you pair the journey of cycling the route we’ve carved for road cyclists with time enjoying the serene water, Oso Flaco Lake can be a relaxing day-long excursion.

To help you get the most out of your trip to Oso Flaco Lake, we’ve developed this guide for enjoying your next ride out to the Oceano Dunes’ oasis.

What is Oso Flaco Lake?

Within the 22,000-acre Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Complex, a protected area that goes down the Central California Coast, lies Oso Flaco Lake. This lush 800-acre area is designated for day-use activities such as hiking, fishing, bird watching, and just enjoying the beauty of nature.

The trail down to the lake starts on a lush, shady path that leads to a bridge pathway stretching over the water. The trail continues to a boardwalk with a beach overlook, taking you through the beautiful wetlands and allowing you to experience all the interesting sights along the way.

About Oso Flaco Lake

From the trailhead to the beach overlook, this trail is 1 mile long and 2 miles roundtrip. It is lined with benches for resting and enjoying the gorgeous views. There are also many informational signs with details about native plants and wildlife, so you may decide to park your bike and walk in order to absorb it all!


The weather at Oso Flaco Lake usually stays between 73° and 43° year-round, but it can feel chillier with the wind coming across the water. It is always a good idea to check the tide levels before you visit, as this can limit the walking space on the beach.

Vegetation and Wildlife

When visiting Oso Flaco Lake, you get to experience a unique blend of wetlands vegetation and wildlife as well as coastal oceanic views. The trail starts beneath willow and wax Myrtle trees, leads over the lake on bridges, and then ventures into a sand dune natural habitat. From there, a boardwalk takes you to the sandy beach and a viewing deck that looks over the Pacific Ocean.

Is Oso Flaco Lake open?


When is it open?

The lake is open from sunrise to sunset every day.

Is there car parking?

If you drive to the lake, there is a $5 parking fee for the day. You can pay at the parking lot entry gate. There may not be an attendant present, so make sure to bring exact cash.

History of Oso Flaco Lake

In 1769, men from Gaspar de Portolá’s expedition to California’s Central Coast shot a thin bear as it drank from the lake. As they roasted the sparse meat that night, they proclaimed the lake would be named after the bear. Little did they know the Chumash in the area occasionally left out poisoned food for predators to increase their own hunting chances. As a result, several of the men did not survive the night.

The Spanish name Oso Flaco literally translates to “skinny bear.” Many other coastal areas were named by Portolá and his men during this expedition, but this name is unique with its strange and tragic background.

Where is Oso Flaco Lake?

Right off the Central Coast, south of Avila Beach.

Directions to Oso Flaco Lake

Off Highway 1, take Oso Flaco Lake Road to get there.

Take Highway 1 going south, then turn right to head east on Oso Flaco Lake Road.

Cycling to Oso Flaco Lake

Cycling from Avila Beach to Oso Flaco Lake is a challenging but rewarding experience. The route takes you through a beautiful stretch of historical Highway 1, allowing you to enjoy coastal views and cool breezes as you push your body. You will push yourself. The road includes steep inclines and declines up to 8% grading. Still, the destination is worth it.

Oso Flaco Lake Route from Avila Beach

This 49-mile route takes you from Avila Beach through Pismo Beach and Oceano before ending at Oso Flaco Lake. Along the way, you’ll pass historic areas like the Monarch Butterfly Grove before connecting with Highway 1 in Pismo. From there, you’ll turn onto Oso Flaco Lake Road and continue on to the still waters of the lake.

View the Oso Flaco Lake Route on Strava.

Map and altitude graph of the Oso Flaco Lake Route on Strava

What a Cyclist Should Know at Oso Flaco Lake

Bicycles are not just welcomed but encouraged at Oso Flaco Lake. There is really nothing like riding across a long wooden bridge over a beautiful wetlands lake.

Can you ride your bicycle on the Oso Flaco Lake boardwalk?

Yes! All non-motorized bicycles are approved for the area. You can enjoy cycling down to the lake and on the bridge pathways that traverse the lake. Just be aware that eventually you’ll run into the beach and hit a sandy stop.

Check out The Cycling CEO’s experience riding to Oso Flaco Lake. Gorgeous and magical are just a few of the ways the lake is described. Plus, essential conveniences like trail bathrooms are duly noted.

Activities To Do at Oso Flaco Lake

Once you cycle to Oso Flaco Lake, there are plenty of activities to do in the area. Keep cycling down the path until you reach the sandy beach, or slow down and take a relaxing walk down the lush coastal trail.

Oso Flaco Beach

The lake is a great place for enjoying calm, nature-based hobbies like fishing, hiking, and birdwatching. The benches and informational signs along the trail make it easy to relax while observing wildlife. You can also enjoy the unique experience of walking across the lake itself on the bridge pathways.

If you’re looking for a little extra adventure, keep walking after the boardwalk ends. You’ll cross a short stretch of Oceano Dunes on your way to the ocean. Here, you can see Oso Flaco Creek drain into the sea. This hidden gem is far enough away from Highway 1 that it is not usually crowded.

Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area State Park

The Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area is also a California state park! It’s part of the larger Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area. With so many different natural habitats—sand dunes, ocean water, beachfront, lake wetlands—it’s important to protect and preserve this hidden treasure.

Surf fishing at Oso Flaco Lake

Surf fishing is fishing while standing on the shore or wading into the surf. It uses the technique of catching fish when they are in knee-deep, aka “skinny,” water. Oso Flaco Lake is a great area for this type of fishing.

The open season lasts almost year-round, closing only from January to March. Cycling and fishing are wildly different sports that really should intersect more often, as seafood is considered one of the most beneficial foods for cyclists. Wade into uncharted waters and try eating fish that you caught yourself!

Two fishing poles affixed to the beach shore for surf fishing

Hiking at Oso Flaco

If you’re interested in a hike with waterfront scenery and just enough walking to cool down after a long ride, this path is ideal. The trail at Oso Flaco takes a little over half an hour to complete. It is considered an easy route, with something for everyone to enjoy. Also, the portion that leads to the overlook is accessible for wheelchairs.

Other Points of Interest near Avila Beach

While you’re in the area, don’t miss out on experiencing at least a few other Central Coast activities. Check out Edna Valley’s wineries, the Central Coast Aquarium, and the natural hot springs. Top it all off by staying in Avila Beach to end each adventurous day with coastal relaxation.


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