California Flying

Reach the beach

August 1, 2005

It's that time of year again — it's too hot. You think twice even about going outside because as soon as you open the door your body begins to feel as if it is drying up. There just don't seem to be any sunglasses capable of cutting the relentless glare. The relief of the cool, damp days of winter is a distant promise — but don't despair. Instead of retreating to wait the heat out, take action because cool weather is only a short hop away. Just jump in your airplane and fly to the Oceano County Airport. There you and your family will find steady onshore breezes, cool weather, and affordable low-key relief.

Cool breezes at Oceano County

Oceano is a small beach town located within an easy stroll of the ocean shore. It hasn't yet been gentrified; in fact, it's more on the funky side of the scale than on the glitz and glitter side. This means that fly-in visitors are welcome to toss out a tent — if you forgot to bring your tent you can rent one at the airport and enjoy a couple of days of minimalist airport living on a grassy area just to the east of the big hangar. There are even showers, rest rooms, and laundry facilities, not to mention a couple of picnic tables and a barbecue grill to make the stay more enjoyable.

Where?

Oceano is located on the Pacific Coast of California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles near Hearst Castle and the Big Sur Coast. Oceano County Airport is two blocks from the beach, and one mile west of the city.

The Oceano airport is located about 13 miles south of San Luis Obispo near the towns of Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, and Grover Beach. Airports up and down the scorching central valley as far away as Sacramento are less than two "Cessna 172" flight hours away from the cool breezes of Oceano.

The Oceano airport is an ideal fly-in destination for a young flying family just beginning to explore California's many fly-in attractions. Tiedown fees are very reasonable, camping is inexpensive, and in addition to the beach, there are a couple of other unique attractions nearby.

The Great American Melodrama

The locals simply call it the "melodrama" and it's located less than two miles south of the Oceano airport on state Highway 1. Performances are staged every night except on Mondays and Tuesdays — on Saturdays there's also a 4:30 p.m. matinee. Like all true vaudeville shows, a honky-tonk piano player busts out an amazing selection of tunes. The performances lean heavily on simple good-guy (yea! cheer!) and bad-guy (boo! hiss!) themes. Audience participation adds to the fun. The 2005 playbill includes deftly adapted classics such as A Night on the Town and Heaven Can Wait, as well as a western take on Gilbert and Sullivan's classic called The Mikado, Y'all. There's also a couple of shoot-'em-up westerns — Curse You, Jack Dalton and The Road to Dusty Death — as well as an Irish tale about Mr. Conn O'Kelly who strives to save his wrongly imprisoned master and rescue a beautiful heroine from a treacherous villain. You get the idea — every show is memorable because of witty, rollicking good fun. The small theater fills up fast. For more information and to reserve your seats, call 805/489-2499 or visit the Web site ( www.americanmelodrama.com).

Riding those dunes

The Oceano airport is located at the edge of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreational Area (SVRA). The sand dunes and beach are part of a 15,000-acre Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes complex. Three and one-half miles of beach and 1,500 acres of sand dunes in the complex are available for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. In addition to unlimited off-highway vehicle use, there are 1,000 campsites located on the beach that are used year-round by motor homes, trailer campers, and sport-utility-vehicle campers. The beach is divided into two distinct zones — the part north of marker 2 is for street-legal vehicles only, and the much larger section south of that marker is designated as an open riding and camping area. There's a sand highway that weaves through the dunes to the southern end.

Visitors who fly in can get astride a horse from the Pacific Dunes stables (805/489-7787) for a ride in the dunes or they can put on a helmet and then strap into a rented dune buggy or all-terrain vehicle (ATV) for a ride up and down the sandy dunes behind the shoreline. All rental shops conduct training sessions and supply helmets. There are at least three ATV rental facilities within a few steps of the beach. Check out the Web sites for more details ( www.sunbuggiefunrentals.com; www.stevesatv.com; and www.pismoatvrentals.com).

Getting around

There are a couple of beachfront eating establishments within a couple of blocks of the airport. The Rock and Roll Diner — created out of two railroad dining cars — is a five-minute walk from the beach, while Oceano Beach Fish and Chips is only a few-minutes walk toward the beach. Directly across the street from the airport is the Oceano Park. There little kids can jump, climb, run, and swing on the park playground before heading to the beach.

The Central Coast Taxi Company (805/544-1222) can be called for pickup, or rental cars can be arranged through Enterprise Rent-A-Car (805/489-6161). There are many very good restaurants in the nearby towns of Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, and Grover Beach.

If camping out is not on the agenda, the Oceano Inn (805/473-0032) is located near the beach. There also are accommodations ranging from studios to adjoining rooms less than a block from the airport at the Pacific Plaza Resort. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.pacificplazaresort.com).

Last but certainly not least, J.R. Smith of Banner Airways offers biplane rides at the Oceano airport in its 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney-powered Super Stearman open-cockpit World War II trainer. An around-the-patch scenic tour of the area starts at $49 each for kids and $59 for adults (based on double occupancy). For more adventuresome souls, there's the Thrill Ride, which includes a loop, hammerhead, and barrel roll. For those who seek more aerobatic adventures, the Top Gun ride includes every-thing in the Thrill Ride plus a lot more. For more information, call 805/474-6491 or visit the Web site ( www.bannerairways.com).

The airport

There's one 2,325-by-50-foot paved and well-marked runway at Oceano. The approaches to Runway 29 are very clear. Patterns are flown to the south of the airport. Airport elevation is 14 feet msl and pattern altitude is 1,000 feet msl. Runway 29 is the departure runway and visitors are requested to observe the local noise-abatement rules by maintaining the runway heading while climbing at VY until reaching 1,000 feet msl.

The Oceano airport often is under a marine layer of fog — which can last well into the afternoon — during summer months. There is no weather reporting at Oceano and the airport webcam ( www.aircamp.com) was out of service when this article was written. Until the webcam is fixed, the best weather reports can be obtained by calling the airport office at 805/473-2001, or calling J.R. Smith at Banner Airways.

Oceano is one of a very few airports in California that is within easy walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. That, plus the promise of cool breezes and the lure of a relaxed small-town airport, makes a stop at Oceano worthwhile.