The two most popular attractions of this small natural reserve – very close to two famous tourist destinations such as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey – are the sea lions and the beautiful trails that snake along the coastline of this part of California.
Point Lobos is a real paradise for lovers of photography, who can have fun immortalizing nature in pictures, but also for those looking for some rest and tranquility on their road trip.
Directions and Parking
The parking lot inside the reserve is limited (there are only 150 parking spaces divided into nine major areas), and additionally, Point Lobos is a very popular destination both among locals and tourists who frequent this area. So if you can, try to arrive in the morning as soon as it opens, especially on weekends.
The park is open every day of the year from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The latest you can enter Point Lobos is 4:30 pm.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is managed by the Parks & Recreation Department of California and visitors must pay $10 per vehicle. If you have the America the Beautiful annual parks pass with you, unfortunately you will not be able to use it here.
Things to Do
The main attractions of this park are the natural landscapes, especially on the coast, which is varied, and the animals that can be observed in their natural habitat. The wildlife includes noisy sea lions, friendly sea otters and, depending on the season, whales. If you are an experienced explorer, the park provides this check-list of all the animal and natural species that can be seen in the park. Enjoy exploring!
At the parking lot located at Sea Lion Point, open almost every day of the year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., you can find volunteers who provide information about the routes and the best places to observe the animals. They will give you useful information about the park and answer your questions. You can also rent binoculars to observe the local fauna more closely. You are allowed to eat in the park, but only in the designated areas with picnic tables.
The Whalers Cabin Museum
This small building, built around 1850 by a Chinese fisherman is now a museum where you can find a collection of harpoons and other artifacts used over the years to hunt whales that passed through this part of California during the annual migration.
On the outside of the museum, you will also find numerous bones of these large cetaceans. Near the Whalers Cabin Museum, there is a small parking lot where you can leave your car and take either the North Shore Trail or the Granite Point Trail.
Point Lobos Trails
As I have mentioned, one of the most satisfying activities you can do in the park is to walk on one of the many trails that branch off both inside and along the shoreline of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. For your convenience, I have chosen those that I think are the most interesting and easiest to walk to fully enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you.
By embarking on this 0.8-mile trail (roundtrip), you will hit the highlights in this park. Some of the points of interest include:
- Headland Cove Viewpoint: From here you can enjoy a beautiful view of the bay below. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your first encounter with the sea otters and sea lions that frequent this area of the park.
- South Point: Between December and the first days of May, this is the privileged position from which you can see specimens of California Grey Whales that pass very close to this area during their migration.
- North Point – Pinnacle Point: At this point you can stop and admire the view of Carmel Bay to Pebble Beach (weather permitting).
- Cypress Cove & Big Dome: Continuing along this trail, you will arrive at Big Dome, which is the highest point of the entire reserve and it is here that the Monterey Cypress that is typical of this area grows.
Sea Lion Point Trail
The starting point of this trail is from the same parking lot where the Cypress Grove Trail begins. As you can guess from the name of this trail, you will arrive to a section of the coast with a big population of sea lions. Once you get to Sea Lion Point, you are likely to find volunteers who will be equipped with binoculars and portable telescopes and will be happy to give you a closer look at these “inhabitants” of the park.
By walking down some quite steep and uneven steps, you can go down until you reach a small beach. However, access to this area is sometimes forbidden to visitors, especially on days with strong winds. You can still admire from a distance the waves crashing along the rock formations called Sea Lion Rocks.
Bird Island Trail
Along the way, you will be able to admire two white sandy beaches among the numerous inlets of the coast. We are talking about China Cove (particularly famous for the emerald color of its water) and Gibson Beach. Visitors can freely access both of them. Swimming is also allowed, but I want to warn you, because the ocean water is particularly cold even in late summer.
Once you arrive at Pelican Point, you can see Bird Island in the distance. During the summer, Bird Island is home to a large colony of birds that choose it as their home.
Where to Stay in the Area
Since you will be very close to very popular tourist destinations such as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, I recommend that you look for accommodations in these small cities just a few minutes drive from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. You can find the best hotels by reading the in-depth articles we have written about these cities.