The UC California Naturalist Program is designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage the public in study and stewardship of California’s natural communities. The California Naturalist program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning, problem-solving, citizen science, and community service to instill a deep appreciation for the natural communities of the state and to inspire individuals to become stewards of their local resources.
— California Naturalist website (http://calnat.ucanr.edu)


Here at The Coastal Institute, we run the UC California Naturalist Program as an immersive 7-day course.  Each program day runs from roughly 9am-8pm and involves a mix of field trips and lectures led by enthusiastic leaders with decades of experience in the field.  Food, lodging, materials, and field trip transportation are all included in the course fee. 

Each course kicks off with a welcome dinner on the first evening.  The next morning, we get started right after breakfast with our first speaker - from that point on, our days are packed full of field trips, projects, and lectures by local experts!  Students will have time throughout the week on their "capstone projects," which they will present to the class before graduating on the final program day.  The last day wraps up around 2pm with a graduation ceremony.

Each UC California Naturalist Course is a bit different.  The basic natural principles are the same, of course, but each course is tailored to the environment in which it is taught.  Here on the central coast, we have the fantastic opportunity to hear from local experts who work with marine mammals, California condors, rocky intertidal invertebrate species, Monterey pine forests, fungus, marine algae, and more!  To get a more complete picture of the different course topics, follow the link below to download the most recent syllabus.

iNaturalist Data Collection

You will learn how to use the smartphone/tablet app iNaturalist to collect and add your nature observations to the existing Camp Ocean Pines "project."  Please set up your own account on the iNaturalist website before you come to class.

Capstone Project

You will be given directions and time during the week to develop your own “Capstone Project” – a graduation requirement.

Citizen Science

You will become a "citizen scientist" by monitoring and recording scientific data along an established transect in in the San Simeon tidepools to add to a long term monitoring project called LiMPETS.

California Naturalist Handbook

Each student must purchase and read the California Naturalist Handbook before beginning the course.  Click here for a 30% off coupon.  (Please note: this book is not included in the course fee.)


On-site Lodging Option - $1,400 - includes all UC fees, instructors, materials, certificate, pin, camp use, field trip transportation, AND room/board at Camp Ocean Pines (7 nights lodging and 21 meals beginning with dinner the first night.)

Off-site Lodging Option - $1,300 - includes all UC fees, instructors, materials, certificate, pin, camp use, field trip transportation, AND 14 lunches and dinners.

Optional - if you would like to receive 4 lower division academic credits from the UC system, there is an additional charge of $80 (click here for info.) 


This course runs rain or shine!  Be prepared to bring a rain jacket and rubber boots if the forecast looks rainy.

There is a $250.00 deposit required upon registration. You can either pay for the course in full, or choose to pay on the monthly payment plan. There are 3 payments processed on October 26th, November 26th, and December 26th. Total balance of the course is paid in full 30 days before first day of the course.

There are no refunds or transfers to future courses for cancellations made 30 days or less before the course date.  Cancellations prior to 30 days are subject to a $50 cancellation/transfer fee.


Chris Cameron - Retired Executive Director at Camp Ocean Pines

Chris has a life-long love for nature. Using wind-felled logs from the property and straw bale construction in the passive solar designed cabins, Chris has developed the reputation of Camp Ocean Pines as a place of natural beauty and sustainable development, a center for growth in students and adults alike. Through the years, Chris has led hundreds of kids and adults on wild adventures.  A resident on the central coast for 37 years, his hobbies include falconry, gardening, and traveling.  

John Menke - Professor at University of Arizona (Retired)


John Menke studied zoology at Drew University, marine biology at Texas A&M, and has a PhD in ecology from the University of Arizona.  As a resident biologist for the Peace Corps, he researched oysters in Chile, followed by marine ecology/research on coral reefs in Honduras as Fulbright lecturer.  While living in Arizona, John was an adjunct professor at Univ. of Arizona, later head of the science department at the Gregory School, and the President of Saguaro Forest Associates.  Now retired, John generously donates his time as an active docent at the Coastal Discovery Center, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and a naturalist at Camp Ocean Pines.

Richard Neidhardt - Board Member and Pinnacles Condor Fund Chair at Pinnacles Partnership

Richard grew up on a lake in South Carolina obsessed with everything that swims, crawls, hops, flies or grows.  He is a graduate of the Coastal Institute California Naturalist certification program, and has been a volunteer on the Pinnacles National Park condor crew for 7 years.  He has thousands of hours experience in tracking, observing and handling condors and has been leading condor viewing hikes in Pinnacles NP for the last 4 years.  In his youth, he was a backpacking guide and climbing instructor.

Dennis Sheridan - Naturalist and Photographer

Dennis Sheridan is a biologist with a special love for entomology, herpetology and mycology.  He specializes in photography and field monitoring for species of special concern, traveling to wild parts of the planet in search of exotic species. His photographs have been exhibited in many galleries and have appeared in many publications including National Geographic, Ranger Rick and on the cover of California Wild.  Dennis provides animal photo seminars to Brooks Institute and Lepp Institute and has produced educational video programs on entomology.  Animals from his own unique collection have appeared on television and films.

Carolyn Skinder - Marine Science and Policy

Ms. Skinder holds a MS in Education, Marine Science and Marine Policy. Her career in marine science as researcher, educator and in marine policy spans 30 years. Research has included cetacean and seabird studies, benthic habitat mapping as related to marine protected areas and monitoring and analyzing toxic algal blooms in Maine, Oregon and California. 

Dr. David Chipping - Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Dr. David Chipping was born in Scotland in 1943.  He has a BA from Cambridge University (1965), came to the U.S. and earned a MS (1967) and PhD (1971) in Geology at Stanford University.  He has taught at U.C Davis (1968 -1971) and at Cal Poly State University (1971-present), where he is currently Emeritus Professor of Geology.  Dr. Chipping joined CNPS in 1987 as Conservation Chair and is currently Chapter President.  He has served on the Executive Council of CNPS and was Conservation Director from 1999-2005.  He serves on several state CNPS Committees and is Vice President of The Friends of the Carrizo Plain.

Dean Thompson - Outdoor Science Educator at Camp KEEP

Dean Thompson is an outdoor science educator who was trained as a wildlife biologist as well as a classroom teacher.  He has years of field work experience with a variety of raptors in California, Arizona and Wyoming for The Peregrine Fund and the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Group.  He traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji before finally settling down in SLO County.  For the last 31 years he has worked as an outdoor science school instructor at Camp KEEP in Montana de Oro State Park. Winner of the Howard Bell Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions in the area of outdoor education, he has led naturalist and storytelling workshops throughout the state, as well as natural history tours along the central coast.  He’s conducted Least Tern surveys, raised 2 children, coached basketball and managed to stay sane by spending as much time as possible outdoors.  Dean's skill as a professional storyteller makes his tours both entertaining and educational and he feels it is an honor to claim Naturalist as his job title.

Miranda Canestro - Biologist

Miranda pic.jpeg

Miranda Canestro studied at UC Santa Cruz and worked as a researcher in marine natural products chemistry. As a specimen collector, she led expeditions to dive for tropical marine sponges throughout Indo and the South Paciic in search of new leads for cancer drugs. Miranda moved to UCSB Rancho Marino Reserve, Cambria in 2001 where she has been involved with research and education and expanded her interests to forest and grassland ecology. Miranda is a part time faculty member at Cuesta College where she teaches life science and human anatomy.

Jodie Nelson - Bureau of Land Management Outdoor Recreation Planner


I was born and raised in San Luis Obispo County, and have a deep connection to the area. I worked for state parks in San Simeon and Big Basin (Santa Cruz Mountains) for nearly 10 years (2003-2013). I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and have a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection, a concentration in land rehabilitation and a minor in Botany. I taught Dendrology at Cal Poly for a couple of years, and I currently work for the Bureau of Land Management at Piedras Blancas as an Outdoor Recreation Planner. My duties include just about everything imaginable from invasive plant management and environmental compliance documentation, to volunteer and intern coordination and giving tours.


For questions about registration, event details, or anything else, contact:

Bill Thornton, Outdoor Education Director


805-924-4015 (direct line)

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