The entire genus is situated in a monphyletic clade or sub-family known as the Arbutoideae, which is populated by taxa having bright fleshy berries with fibrous or bony endocarp.. Evolution of the genus is relatively recent, with hybridization playing an important role; however, convergent evolution patterns appear to complicate cladistic constructions for certain portions of the genus cladogram. In any case, fossil ancestors of the Arctostaphylos genus have been suggested to have occurred in the Middle Miocene, with modern species beginning to take shape in the Late Tertiary. It has been further posited that in the earlier Tertiary a greater species diversity was present, influenced by influence of floristic influence of southwestern North America ancestors. This hypothesis also suggests that the present palette of California Arctostaphylos species became more depauperate upon arrival of a cooler drier climate in the Late Tertiary.These evolutionary views are coincident with other research that points to fire-dependent plant associations developing in the Late Miocene in California.
Present species distribution is restricted to a very small coastal extent in San Luis Obispo County, California. Total land area of population occurrence is less than 900 acres in sandy coastal soils, originating as Pleistocene unstabilized or semi-stabilized dunes. Specific occurrence includes Montana de Oro State Park.