Just a few miles south of Monterey and Carmel on the Pacific Coast Highway is Point Lobos State Reserve, a coastal park that is a must-visit for anyone that loves nature. It’s been described as the “crown jewel” of the California State Park system, and once you visit you’ll understand why. Whether you visit it as a stop for a couple of hours on your drive along the spectacular Pacific Coast or you spend a leisurely day exploring, you will run out of superlatives in a few minutes and be left looking around in wonder and amzement at the beauty spread out before you.
The park has a fascinating history. The area was used for whaling activities and abalone harvesting in the 1800s (the Whaling Station Museum in the park has exhibits that describe the history). Later in the 1800s, the area was a coal mining and granite quarrying area. During WWII, the park housed military operations. In 1890, the area was slotted for a residential subdivision to be known as Carmelito. But a visionary named Alexander Allan bought up the lots, wanting to preserve the beauty of the area, and and set up a booth to collect entry fees to view the park. In 1933, the park was absorbed into the California Parks system and became the gorgeous coastal park we see today.
There’s parking inside the park and some on the sides of the Pacific Coast Highway just outside, but the park is popular, so it’s best to arrive early. There are plenty of trails to walk, most of them easy and some accessible. Pull up the trail map on your phone or get a copy at the gate. We started with the South Shore Trail, which hugs the coast for about a mile, and offers views of the rocky coast and the water. It was a cloudy morning, but the views were still awesome.
We passed by a group of artists sketching and stopped here and there to check out the wildflowers growing along the path. There were purple lupines, yellow Queen Anne’s lace, orange poppies, and a host of other flowers. Wildflowers generally bloom in the park between April and June.
The South Shore trail merges into the 0.8-mile Bird Island trail, which is accessible, and a beautiful trail any time of the year. If you have limited time at the park, my vote would be to walk this trail! There is a parking lot at the start of the trail, with restrooms and picnic tables. On this trail is China Cove, arguably the most photo worthy spot in a place filled with photo worthy spots! The beautiful green color of the water in the cove contrasts with the bright blue of the ocean beyond. The cove is currently closed so you can only view it from the trail above. You may see sea otters, sea lions or seals on the beach below.
As you walk further along the trail, you come to Gibson Beach, with beautiful ink blue water and creamy white sand. There are steps (rather steep) to go down to the beach, and you can swim or snorkel. The water is almost always very cold though!
Following the trail further, you come to Pelican Point, which is full of wildflowers in the spring. At the end is the viewing spot for Bird Island, home to hundreds of birds. I identified herons, gulls, and cormorants. On one of our visits a docent was kind enough to point out some nests in the rocks that we were able to view through his binoculars. Very cool!
We walked the South Shore trail back to the parking lot near the entrance and drove out to the Earthbound Farms farmstand in Carmel Valley for lunch. After lunch we headed back to the park (admission is good for the day) to explore the other side. We first walked the Cypress Trail, where you can view the rare and prized grove of Monterey cypresses. The trail is about 0.8 mile long, and loops back to the starting point. The park was originally acquired by the parks system to safeguard these trees and the grove is dedicated to Alexander Allan.
The final trail we walked was the North Shore Trail, which is only 0.75 miles long but more rugged and not as easy as the other trails. The sun was out and the water was a gorgeous blue.
Point Lobos is a spectacular park for wildlife watchers, wildflower hunters, nature enthusiasts, artists, and photographers, as well as for people wanting to have a lovely day outdoors with family or friends, or alone!
For information on docent-led walks and trail maps: http://www.pointlobos.org/planning-your-visit.
Tips: Arrive early for parking and uncrowded trails. Carry water and snacks. Dress in layers: it may be chilly in the morning by the water. The trails are mostly easy and there are two or three that are accessible as well.
What is your favorite coastal park? Comment below with recommendations!