If you haven’t heard, the California coast is stunning. Well, obviously. And should be a must see for every traveler. Point Lobos State Nature Reserve is no exception. Easily accessible, located right off of Highway 1 in Carmel, this was probably one of my favorite stops on our entire trip down the coast. Having been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea”, I was curious to see if it lived up to these claims. Well I was not disappointed. It will cost you $10 to enter the park, but it is well worth it. If you’re able to spend the day here, I highly recommend packing a picnic and exploring as much of this park as possible. If you don’t have that much time but still want to see the beauty of this reserve, I wouldn’t recommend allowing any less than at least a few hours.
Point Lobos has a diverse landscape, an abundance of wildlife and the craziest part? Only half of the reserve can be seen from land. The other half is in the ocean, so if you’re a diver, Whaler’s Cove and Bluefish Coves can be explored underwater.
For those who are land bound, never fear, there is plenty to see and do and it is all beautiful. I recommend going earlier in the day if possible; when we first arrived we were practically alone on the trails and it was very calming and serene. As the day went on though we did notice the trails, especially the more popular ones were starting to get a little crowded.
We started at Sea Lion Overlook trail, which was an easy trail where you, guess what, view sea lions! We actually were lucky and were able to see otters and even gray whales off in a distance from this trail so it was a pretty successful start to our morning. Continuing on from there we walked along South Shore trail, which was just breathtaking. And you can see more sea lions sunbathing in a distance from this trail as well.
Eventually we ended up at China Cove, which is closed now due to erosion of steps, but with its rocky arches, white sand beach and turquoise waters, it was still beautiful to see from above. There were actually sea lions and their pups on the beach down below so it was kind of fun watching them play.
If you keep walking past China Cove, you will come to Gibson Beach, which is open to the public still, via a set of steep and slightly narrow steps. There’s no handrail halfway down so just be careful if you decide to trek down. We were the only ones on the beach when we went, which was really nice since this was when we started noticing the crowds showing up. White, rocky sand and deep blue waters made this an interesting yet relaxing break. If you’re near China Cove, Bird Island is also on that side of the reserve and although we didn’t have time to explore it, it seemed to be a pretty popular trail.
I don’t think you can leave Point Lobos without seeing the Cypress Grove trail. It’s pretty fascinating and the view when you get to the top can’t be missed. This trail winds you through one of the two Monterey Cypress groves left on Earth. Although we only had a half day here, I was glad we were able to squeeze that one in.
The hikes that we took were pretty easy, not too strenuous and are great for kids.
If you’re planning to spend any amount of time here, I recommend having a map. It’s a pretty big place and if you’re looking to see something specific, it might be more difficult than you realize. You can purchase a map/trail guide at the gate which has valuable information or download one online. I personally liked this one better than the one on the Point Lobos website.
If you’re planning to spend the day here (or even half a day) I recommend packing a picnic as there is nowhere inside the reserve to grab something to eat. We stopped at Carmel Bakery on the way (for coffee of course!) and stocked up for lunch there, but there are other choices in downtown Carmel as well if you’re looking for something specific.
Wear layers. After hiking for a while and once the sun came out a little more, we started to get a bit warm, but especially in the morning, it was fairly chilly with a strong breeze coming off the ocean. Keep in mind you are still on the coast here, so the wind can get pick up pretty quickly.
As I stated before, come early if you can! You’ll avoid the crowds on the more popular trails.