CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA — It has been called “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”
Unique headlands, irregular coves, contrasting rock types, and rolling meadows at seaside create a visual feast for those venturing to the Point Lobos State Reserve that one can sit for hours and simply enjoy. There is literally something different along virtually every segment of the Point Lobos coastline to savor as you walk along on foot or scamper over numerous rock formations that have trapped pools of water and sea life between high tides.
It was the fierce yet dainty images created with winter waves slamming against rock formations during a visit years ago that that made me fall in love with Point Lobos. It is a place made for exploring and contemplation. The ocean and beaches in general are not usually my thing, but Point Lobos in a 5.36-square-mile area manages to offer kaleidoscope of images you can’t find collectively in one place anywhere else on the California Coast. And although much of the plant and animal life in the living museum are below water, Point Lobos will not disappoint.
Point Lobos State Reserve lives up to the billing of “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” thanks to a dramatic nearby drop off in the ocean floor that usually is found in the mid-Pacific. Carmel Bay just a mile north of the reserve reaches 1,000 feet and ties into the Monterey Canyon that drops 7,000 feet just six miles offshore. That, combined with the fact Point Lobos is where warmer waters of the central coast mix with the colder waters of the north, creating an abundance of ocean life. The end result is a mixture of plant and animal life from both temperature zones. It makes an ideal paradise for divers who can access the underwater portion of the reserve by permit but like those on land are prohibited from removing anything.
If you take a pair of binoculars with you, one can take in “floating logs” in and around seaweed in coves Those dark logs are actually Southern Sea Otters floating on their back. They usually eat and sleep on their backs. You won’t find many that come ashore although harbor seals and the California Sea Lions (that departs in July for southern waters) can occasionally be seen lounging on the rocks.
Binoculars also help you take in gray whales that pass within three miles of the shore from December to May. The brochure you receive when you pay the $10-per-vehicle fee at the entrance tells you about the best places to look for the whales.
Ocean life aside, the rugged scenery of Point Lobos created by a combination of coarse-grained ingenuous rock and sedimentary rock shaped over millions of years by by waves and wind is as impressive as you’re going to find anywhere on the coast. The walking trails are easy to maneuver and include ones more inland that gives you a good feel of the unique plant life of the Monterey Peninsula.
Each beach and cove offers a unique visual playground.
Even the most difficult spot to reach – the protected hidden sandy beach of China Cove – isn’t that difficult. It is not handicapped accessible due to steps along the coast trail plus a stairway – including finished logs secured with anchors on one side of the cliff at the bottom. However, elderly in good shape and young kids have no problem descending or ascending from the pristine mini-beach at the upper reaches of the cove.
Our trip earlier this month did not include a stop at Whaler’s Cove where the rock formations are much easier to transverse and offers yet another unique vision of coastal ocean life and landscape.
Nearby is the whalers’ cabin and whaling station museum.
There are plenty of ocean-related trips to take in including a trip 25 miles south of the entrance along windy California Highway 1 with its dramatic drop off to the Pacific Ocean to reach fabled Big Sur with its rugged beach, Bohemian colony, and soaring redwood groves nestled in the Coastal Mountains.
Caramel Beach immediately north of Point Lobos offers a sandy spot along with a lagoon and a bird sanctuary.
Monterey, of course, has the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is next door to Pacific Grove with its miles of public access shoreline that offers a popular spot for kayaking. The best part about Pacific Grove is the ability to take the bike trail along the Monterey Bay and Pacific Ocean. There are a host of beds and breakfasts that offer commanding views of Monterey Bay.
And if you want the traditional expanse of beach and sand, Seaside just north of Monterey is the start of such an attraction that runs for miles.
There are some things to keep in mind about Point Lobos. There are no reservations and access is strictly limited to a maximum of 420 vehicles at any given time. No fires or BBQs are allowed. Pets are not allowed and fishing is prohibited. Point Lobos closes a half hour after sunset daily.
Nearby attractions is the quaint village shopping area of Carmel-by-the-Sea that gives you an idea of how the other one percent shops, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey’s infamous cannery row.
What is often overlooked looked is the Monterey Wharf that is adjacent to the plaza where a replica of California’s first state house is an interesting place to explore.