Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. --
The California central coast is home to some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. Highway 1, the most western highway in the continental United States, is internationally recognized as a road trip destination. This is where we live and I’m not sure about you, but I cannot believe my luck. The Pacific Coast Highway brings travelers from across the world right past my front door. What those travelers don’t have the privilege to see is our private coastline. Members of Vandenberg Air Force Base get exclusive, tourist-free access to some of that legendary central coast shoreline. It’s not the bikini-friendly beaches of Southern California—often envisioned by out-of-towners—but it is protected, wild, and largely untouched by human development. This is something crowded, Southern California beaches cannot boast. If you’re looking for tranquility, you’ll find it on Vandenberg.
Closest to Vandenberg’s cantonment area is Wall Beach. Its rocky coastline makes it a jungle gym for adults and my favorite base beach, complete with rock alcoves, beach cliffs, and sea caves! The sea caves are hidden within the rocks about a half mile north of the main beach entrance. They are only accessible at low tide, so plan your hike according to a tidal chart. Wall Beach is also an excellent place to spot our threatened shorebird, the Western Snowy Plover, foraging for food in the sand. Be advised Vandenberg’s beach are sometimes restricted during their nesting season 1 March through 30 September. Finally, I have to mention the breathtaking trails along its rugged cliff line. To access these trails, take Beach Road almost to Wall Beach. Immediately after crossing the train tracks, turn right. Follow the gravel road about a half mile and past the tree line and stay left. This trail overlooks the beach and reveals hidden beaches, tide pools, and views for miles in every direction. Every now and then, I’ll see sea lions or whales from this point. It’s the perfect post-work nature walk, not to mention an excellent sunset spot. There is nothing quite like watching the last glows over the Pacific surrounded by miles of undisturbed coastline without a soul in sight.
To access Wall Beach, take New Mexico Street out of the cantonment area, stay right onto 36th Street, pass the Rod and Gun Club, then take a right onto, the appropriately named, Beach Road.
At the end of, also aptly named, Ocean Avenue out of Lompoc is Surf Beach. Keep an eye out for the oddly tall telephone poles just as you round the corner to the parking lot. These were originally built when Vandenberg AFB was equipped to launch manned, space shuttle missions, allowing the shuttle to pass beneath the wires. Surf Beach is the only public access beach on Vandenberg, so expect a few more locals mulling about. It also hosts the “Lompoc-Surf Station” Amtrak stop for the Pacific Surfliner. This line stops twice daily on its 350-mile trek between San Luis Obispo and San Diego, with connections to LAX. The Pacific Surfliner is a must-do on the central coast.
To access Surf Beach, take Ocean Avenue west out of Lompoc. Follow until the road closes. Take a right into the parking area.
MINUTEMAN BEACH/BROWN’S BEACH
On the far edge of North Base, where El Rancho Rd cuts dramatically between the cliffside and the Pacific, lie Minuteman Beach and Brown’s Beach. Brown’s Beach is the furthest north and offers the best view of Point Sal. This beach is best viewed during low-tide, but access may require some climbing. Minuteman, on the other hand, just a few miles south of Brown’s is significantly better marked and accessible. This long beach is protected by tall sand dunes that stand out between the land and the sea.
To access Minuteman Beach, take 13th Street north, slight right onto El Rancho Road, and drive until you think you’ll run out of base. For Brown’s Beach, keep going past Minuteman and turn left at Bldg 2002.
Seal Beach is a new one for me! The first time I heard of it, I had been on station two years. This one is a little trickier to find. From the parking area, the sandy ¼ mile trail down to the beach is narrow, weaving you through the low-lying central coast shrubbery that looks like an above-ground coral reef. Since the trail takes you to the cliff overlooking Seal Beach, the views are incredible. The beach is not easily accessible and only visible during low-tide, but it is wild and beautiful, offering the rare glimpse of the California coastline pre-human development. However, this is a known Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) area, so stay on the trail!
To access Seal Beach, take 13th Street north past the airfield, out of the cantonment area. Take a left onto Cross Road. Take a right onto Tangair/26th St. Just as you cross the bridge, take the first left onto Spur Road. If you reach SLC-2 or the Space Museum, you’ve gone too far. Spur Road will take you down toward the coast; stay left at the fenced area, and park on the gravel loop.
Located on South Base, Trestle Beach is one of my new favorites. It’s an isolated beach at the mouth where the gorge meets the ocean, surrounded on all sides by cliffs. Towering above, of course, is a trestle bridge carrying the Pacific Surfliner. Honda Point is an excellent look-out point on South Base. On a clear, sunny day, I’ve even seen the continental shelf drop off, the shallow, azure waters absorbed by the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Surfing or swimming is generally not advised or permitted on base beaches due to dangerous surf, and Trestle Beach is no exception. Our beaches are as wild as they are beautiful. So be careful out there!
To access Trestle Beach, use the South Vandenberg Gate, turn right onto Bear Creek Road. You’ll see SLC-3 on your left. At the “T,” turn left onto Coast Road. Just past Honda Ridge Road, turn right at the Honda Point, also called Point Pedernales, turn-off. Bear right and follow the gravel trail to the small parking area just before the trails drops steeply down the beach.