Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Photo of Elfin Forest from Boardwalk, Los Osos, California, © B. Radisavljevic

The Elfin Forest is a natural area in Los Osos. It's named for its "pigmy" live oaks which have been stunted by growing where they do. The forest looks out over the southeastern shore of Morro Bay and covers about 90 acres. 

Should You Visit the Elfin Forest?

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Sign at Entrance of Elfin Forest, Los Osos, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


Every traveler or tourist has unique interests. I, for example, am much happier walking a nature trail than I would be walking in downtown San Francisco. I know, because I've done both. I'd rather be surrounded by nature and have a camera in my hand.

One winter day we decided to play tourist while out doing errands. We had time to kill after our medical appointment in San Luis Obispo. It was too soon to take advantage of the lunch special at our favorite restaurant (now closed).  After twenty years in this area, we’d never stopped in Los Osos. I thought it was time. I wanted a photo walk, and Hubby couldn't take his usual swim at the gym because we were away. We both needed exercise. We decided to go see the Elfin Forest in Los Osos.

Before we left for San Luis Obispo that day, I'd checked the sites that listed tourist attractions. Although the AAA Tour Book for Northern California did not consider this attraction worth mentioning, I had passed signs along the road before. So I looked it up and discovered we could walk the entire trail through the pigmy oak forest in less than an hour. We decided to see what was there and walk off a bit of the buffet lunch we would eat afterwards.

We took the Los Osos Valley Road exit west from the 101 Freeway in San Luis Obispo. Below is a scene we passed on Los Osos Valley Road once we were out of the commercial area. I made my husband stop the car so that I could snap the photo I used in this canvas print. It's also available as a greeting card, poster, postcard, and iPad Mini case. In fact, once you are on the Zazzle site, you can transfer the design to any product you choose.



What We Saw at the Elfin Forest

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
Shot from Elfin Forest, Los Osos, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


As mentioned above, we toured the Elfin Forest in winter, but Los Osos is on the coast and the climate is mild. The weather was just right for taking a walk outdoors -- not too hot or too cold. But the season did give us a different experience than we would have had in spring or summer. We were still experiencing the drought of 2014 when we took our walk, as well. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos - View of Estuary
Estuary, with Morro Rock in Distance, © B. Radisavljevic


 I took the photo above from a lookout on the trail called Siena’s view. It looks out toward Morro Bay, and you can see Morro Rock off in the distance. Do you see how the drought has affected the estuary?

This is another view of the estuary from the boardwalk, looking toward Baywood Park. I made a puzzle of it on Zazzle with the same design as the postcard below. The text is easy to remove with the customize button.




Fauna I Saw During My Visit


I'm sure there were probably some fauna around, but I didn't see anything in the Elfin Forest itself the day I visited. The creatures must have seen me first. In other reviews I've read, people mentioned seeing rabbits, lizards, and even a fox. All I saw was birds. In one of the photos above there was either a hawk or a vulture in the sky. There were many water birds I could see in the estuary from the boardwalk. To get a good view one would need binoculars. This is what I was able to capture with a zoom lens from quite a distance. It would have been better if I'd been zeroing in on the birds, but at the time I was more interested in the overview.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Water and Shore Birds in Estuary

Many people enjoy bird watching from the Elfin Forest. I recognize the ducks, but not the birds with longer legs. Here is a complete list of the birds that hang out here. Unfortunately, there aren't any photos. If anyone recognizes the two wading birds near the center of the photo below, please let me know in the comments.




Flora of the Elfin Forest


I have seen photos taken in spring when the forest's many plants are in bloom, but not much was blooming in January. I did see coyote brush in bloom. You can learn more about coyote brush here - Coyote Brush: Blessing or Curse.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Coyote Brush
Coyote Brush in Bloom,  © B. Radisavljevic
I did find something else in bloom, but I haven't been able to identify it yet. I'm quite sure it's a berry, but the blooming times and/or leaves didn't match what seemed to make sense from the list I checked of the flora of this forest. Or maybe my eyes are bad. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos- Flora
Mystery Plant in Bloom at End of January,  © B. Radisavljevic



Poison Oak also lurks around the Elfin Forest. Be careful of it, especially in winter when it's harder to see. In the photo below, the very bright leaves are oak leaves. The leaves that show some red are poison oak. Do you see their bare stems? Those are just as dangerous to touch as the leaves are. Sometimes in winter there aren't any leaves to warn you. So stay on trails and don't touch bare stems unless you know it's not poison oak. Find more help with poison oak identification in this article: Oak and Poison Oak in Photos - Can You Tell the Difference? 


The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Poison Oak
Oak and Poison Oak in Winter,  © B. Radisavljevic
The pigmy oaks are live oak trees that are stunted by their environment and can't grow as tall as the live oak trees you find in other places. It appears many of them are dead or barely alive. Some appear to be skeletons offering a place for Spanish moss to establish themselves. Below you see one such tree with what appear to be suckers or fresh baby branches near the bottom of the tree. A healthy tree sits to the right displaying branches full of deep green leaves. 

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Pigmy Oak and Spanish Moss
Pigmy Oak in Winter with Spanish Moss,  © B. Radisavljevic
To get things into perspective, here are some photos to help you gauge the size of the plants in relationship to the boardwalk. Usually when one thinks of walking through a forest, one imagines looking up at the trees which block the view of what's beyond them. The Elfin Forest is different. Everything that grows there is short -- elf-size. Here's my husband, a giant among the pygmies.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: Hubby on Boardwalk
Giant Among the Pigmies,  © B. Radisavljevic


But sometimes the trees and shrubs along the boardwalk do grow higher, as did the oaks in the previous photo. The photo below shows that they can often go over one's head and block the surrounding view.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos
A Tunnel through the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic
There are many other photos of the flora that I snapped from the boardwalk, but there is not room for all of them here.

Amenities in the Elfin Forest


There really aren't many to speak of. There are no restrooms or drinking fountains nearby. If you plan to stay long, bring water. Most people would not spend more than an hour here. The boardwalk loop is only 4/5 of a mile long. It is flat and wheelchair accessible. There are several benches for resting along the way. Here is one resting place. You can find out where the nearest restrooms are here.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: A Resting Place
Benches along Boardwalk at the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic
Some benches like these, do have backs.

The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos: A Resting Place
More Benches along Boardwalk at the Elfin Forest,  © B. Radisavljevic


Along the walk there are also signs to point out attractions or help identify some of the plants. Some just let you know where you are on the walk. I showed one such sign near the beginning of this post. Although sometimes as you go through a "tunnel" you may feel like you are in a maze, there is little chance you will get lost.

The Los Osos / Morro Bay Chapter of Small Wilderness Area helps maintain the Elfin Forest and also sponsors nature walks on the third Saturday of each month. You can find more information about visiting the Elfin Forest here.  If you are ever driving south on Highway 1 or 101 from Paso Robles or Cambria or points north, The Elfin Forest is a quick place to stop and stretch your legs and get a dose of nature. 

Hungry people can take a short drive to the San Luis Obispo Costco afterward for an inexpensive snack. Pizza, hot dogs, frozen treats, and more are available to the public -- not just Costco members. Purchase the food outside the store and eat at the picnic tables provided. There are also several restaurants nearby.  


If you are in the area with some time to kill and would like to take a quick nature walk or do some birdwatching, stop by the Elfin Forest. It's also a good place to walk your dog. And admission is free. I plan to go back in a couple of days when we again have a medical appointment. I'm hoping to find all the plants that were dormant in January in bloom in June.
The Elfin Forest in Los Osos, California: A Review in Photos:
This collage was created with Fotojet. See review by Contributor Dawn Rae

Related Posts


Dawn Rae reviewed one of my favorite places that also appears to be one of hers -- Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. She has done a lot of hiking there. I've only been there for a couple of hours at a time on my way to and from other historical sites. If you're ever near it, don't hesitate to stop and explore.

Contributor Mary Beth Granger reviews some tips for taking photos while hiking.


Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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8 comments:

  1. What a wonderful boardwalk! Certainly a great way to get out, stretch your legs, and enjoy fresh air. The pygmy trees are a lovely compliment to the hills. Like you, I also prefer a nature walk to walking around a city. Those benches are quite the invitation to sit for a while and take it all in.

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    1. I'm glad there are so many benches along the boardwalk. Next time I plan to use the 16th Street entrance that has boardwalk all the way from the entrance. Of course, had we used that entrance this time Hubby would have gone in with me and sat on one of those benches and not met the neighbor who lived next to where we parked. They graciously let us use their bathroom. It was hard to drag Hubby away because he got into a good conversation with the neighbor. Wouldn't you know I must have left my hat inside that bathroom. I can't find it in the car now or the house. We just may need to go back sooner than I'd intended.

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  2. Barb, this was a fascinating article. I actually lived in Los Osos/Baywood Park on 12th Street just a short distance from the Elfin Forest you describe. Our 7 years there pre-dated the establishment of the Elfin Forest (1975-1982) which I see was not built until 1999. Your photo of Morro Rock in the distance was similar to our view of same from our house on 12th Street. Definitely brings back memories. :)

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    1. Too bad you moved too soon. When I returned yesterday, I saw more wildlife, including a coyote. There was also more color. I got lost trying to find the entrance I'd used to get in and walked all the way to the 11th Street end of the forest. I wound up in someone's driveway. It seemed I had parked on 14th Street. I finally got back to my car. It's a shame the forest wasn't open to the public when you were there. It would have been a great place to walk. But at least you had great views of the bay. The forest itself must have been there -- at least the oak trees. I don't know if the flowers were there then. It's amazing how our neighborhoods can change in a few years. When we first moved to Templeton, there were only one or two wineries close to us. Now we pass at least ten between the highway and our Templeton house and it seems new ones spring up every day.

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  3. My brother lives in Arroyo Grande, not too far from San Luis Obispo. We might explore the Elfin Forest and go for a stroll next time we visit him!

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    1. I hope you go in spring or summer when it's prettier than in winter. It was much more colorful when we visited yesterday than it was when I took the photos for this post in January.

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  4. It is always interesting to compare a place from season to season. Each time of the year has its benefits in terms of weather and crowds (and pests like mosquitoes!). Thanks for sharing so we could all visit the Elfin Forest vicariously. I wish I knew what that blooming plant is that you asked about. I don't recognize it.

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  5. Barbara you really are a great photographer. I love going on walks with you and Costa. When I get out to the west coast, I have a list of places that I have to see and you to thank for pointing them out to me. One day hopefully soon I will be able to compare my photos with yours. Thanks for this lovely side trip!

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