I brace my feet against the floor of our dune buggy as we rip through the spectacular, wind-formed sand dunes of Oceano. And despite my fear and sensory discomfort — bump, jiggle, thud goes my head — one word pops out of my mouth: “Woo-hoo!”
I’m by no means an adrenaline junkie. My family and I have come to San Luis Obispo County, Calif., for our annual late-summer romp through wine country, fabulous restaurants and beachfront boutique hotels. But this time, we’ve added a little adventure. Make that a two-fer: An ATV ride through the 18-mile expanse of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area followed by a zipline canopy tour over a 14,000-acre cattle ranch in Santa Margarita.
The double thrill was easy to schedule through Margarita Adventures, which partners with Steve’s ATV Rentals on the new tour package, aptly named Zip & Rip. You can schedule your zip and your rip on the same day — ziplining in the crisp morning air, off-roading at sunset — or do what we did by spreading them out over two days.
As we swerved our 4-passenger, black-and-red Polaris through the 1,500-acre park — the only California park where you can drive on the beach — I was glad we did. Seat-belted and safety-goggled, we had daredevil off-roading on the brain, kicking up sand as we squealed and carefully inched down inclines, taking breaks to absorb the sparkling shoreline and ocean-diving birds.
At one point, on a hill much too steep for my stomach, our buggy’s rear wheel got stuck. As we teetered on the edge of what looked like a 60-foot dune, my 8-year-old screamed, “We’re gonna die!” We did not. But I’m glad we listened to our safety guide before taking off. He advised us to keep cell phones handy, take notice of designated flags dotting the dunes and call if we needed help. When we did, help arrived within minutes, and we were back to ripping in no time.
The next morning, we headed north to Santa Margarita, the tiny hamlet just south of Atascadero. From the Margarita Adventures headquarters, we took a bus ride to Santa Margarita Ranch, which was established by Franciscan missionaries in the late 1700s and is now a bastion of wildlife and sustainable winegrowing. It’s also home to Margarita Adventures’ six zip-line cables, which together run more than 7,500 feet over valleys and vineyards.
The Double Barrel, two humming tandem lines that travel 2,800 feet — half a mile — and allow guests to ride side by side, is the newest, highest, longest and fastest. It’s also — ahem — the first. Harnessed and helmeted after a tutorial and safety checks, I closed my eyes, crunched up my knees and leapt, cruising over a forested canyon of blue oaks and cresting above a ridge at a height of 160 feet. It was exhilarating. My nerves melted and I was ready for more.
From the mountainside landing, we teetered across a narrow 300-foot suspension footbridge, erected in 2016 over a deep canyon, to our next line, the Renegade. That 1,300-foot ride was serene, with 360-degree views of the valley. Each zipline offers something different: The Hilltop allows for a running start; the Archway sends you flying between a series of legacy oak trees; and the finale, the Pinot Express, travels 1,800 feet over a pinot noir vineyard.
I know I was 125 feet in the air, but this being August and close to harvest, I could see the plump grapes hanging heavy on the vines and smell their sweet musky scent as a final “Woo-hoo!” escaped my lips.
IF YOU GO
Zip & Rip Adventure: This tour package combines the thrills of ziplining (Margarita Adventures) with the offroad excitement of dune buggying in Oceano (Steve’s ATV Rentals). Includes a 2.5-hour zipline tour in the morning or early afternoon, followed by two hours of quad riding along the sand dunes. $175 for adults, $140 for kids 12 and younger; www.margarita-adventures.com.