Point Lobos, ‘the crown jewel of California’s State Parks,’ is worth braving the crowds

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Point Lobos, ‘the crown jewel of California’s State Parks,’ is worth braving the crowds

It was only a few minutes into our hike when we first saw a crescent of cliffs and trees and water. The waves lapped onto the sands, while low-slung clouds cast a moody overtone onto the kelp forests swirling gently within the waves. And to our delight, we spotted a white and gray harbor seal, looking like a chubby rock with fins, as it napped on top of an actual rock.This was Whaler’s Cove, our first stop on the picturesque perimeter hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, located only four miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and seven miles south of Monterey. The approximately six-mile hike through the park takes visitors through some of the most awe-inspiring vistas along California’s Central Coast. My husband and I weren’t the first to have our breaths taken away, not by a long shot. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has inspired many poetic descriptions. The California State Parks system itself calls the park its “crown jewel,” and landscape artist Francis McComas described it as the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” It’s easy to see why. It’s impossible to get a bad view in the park, even during one of the busiest travel times of the year, the Fourth of July weekend. Point Lobos receives more than 600,000 annual visitors, so we knew it would be crowded, especially on a holiday. The main parking lot off of Highway 1 was full, and like many other visitors, we found parking along the highway about half a mile away.The map that we bought for a mere $2 described the perimeter trail as a three-to-five hour hike. Three hours is very possible, but that’s only if you breeze right through without visiting the historic Whalers Cabin, stopping for photos, peeking into tide pools or descending down to relax on a sandy beach. If you do any of these things, the hike will be much longer — and it will still be entirely worth it. Point Lobos is a park that is best enjoyed slowly, letting all of its splendors unveil themselves. It’s a fairly family-friendly park, even with steep stairs on the trail, but the sheer cliffs with only guide wire for protection could be dangerous for younger children. Unfortunately for dog owners, furry friends are not allowed.We started out by asking a docent at the main entrance about the best way to stay on the Point Lobos perimeter hike, which consists of many smaller trails linked together along the coastline. “Keep the water to your right,” he advised. That proved to be excellent advice as we headed north via the Carmelo Meadow Trail, to Whaler’s Cove, and then west to Cypress Cove. It’s hard to see now amidst the scenery, but Point Lobos was once a thriving commercial center. In 1851, Whaler’s Cove was home to what was possibly California’s first Chinese fishing settlement, after a small group sailed across the Pacific from southern China. There was a whaling station and an abalone cannery, with the community growing to include Japanese and Portuguese settlers as well, as word spread of the abundance that the waters held. As hundreds more Chinese settlers arrived to the area, nearby Monterey was also where Chinese fishermen commercialized the abalone and fishing trades, including squid, sending their harvests to China via San Francisco, according to a docent at the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today, the Whalers Cabin is the last remaining building of what was once a small village comprising 12 buildings.As we passed through history to enjoy the incredible views along the trails, we quickly realized that Point Lobos also offers excellent glimpses of wildlife, especially birds. Pygmy nuthatches flicker within the branches; you should expect to hear some busy woodpeckers too. There are at least three bird islands, including the one actually called Bird Island to the south, as well as Guillemot Island and Cypress Cove in the north. On these islands, which are reminiscent of the Farallones, visitors can view massive flocks of cormorants, along with brown pelicans soaring effortlessly across the waters. And don’t forget to look up, where ospreys can be seen searching for prey. While we sadly did not notice any sea otters, we did see a whale spouting in the Pacific Ocean when we stopped at Cypress Cove on the northern end of the park. And at Sea Lion Cove, the water was a stunning teal blue and crystal clear, with more harbor seals lying on its white sands. After Sea Lion Cove, we headed down South Shore trail, still keeping the sea to our right. Along this stretch, the crowds became larger, and sometimes we had to wait for other visitors to leave before we could take in the views. There is another joy to discover in this part of the park though, and that is the tide pools. In certain marked sections, visitors can clamber over the rocks to examine the small ecosystems each tide pool contains. I would recommend visiting the park after a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, because then you — or your children — can apply what you learn at the exhibits to the purple sea urchin and the striped shore crab that can be seen just a few feet under the surface.When we turned onto the last leg of the park, the South Plateau trail, it became more serene. Away from the crowds along the coast, only the forest and the birds surrounded us. As we headed up the trail, and then another half mile to our parked car, we reflected that despite the crowds, it had all been worth it. After all, we were part of those crowds too.

It was only a few minutes into our hike when we first saw a crescent of cliffs and trees and water. The waves lapped onto the sands, while low-slung clouds cast a moody overtone onto the kelp forests swirling gently within the waves. And to our delight, we spotted a white and gray harbor seal, looking like a chubby rock with fins, as it napped on top of an actual rock.

This was Whaler’s Cove, our first stop on the picturesque perimeter hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, located only four miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and seven miles south of Monterey. The approximately six-mile hike through the park takes visitors through some of the most awe-inspiring vistas along California’s Central Coast.

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My husband and I weren’t the first to have our breaths taken away, not by a long shot. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has inspired many poetic descriptions. The California State Parks system itself calls the park its “crown jewel,” and landscape artist Francis McComas described it as the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”

It’s easy to see why. It’s impossible to get a bad view in the park, even during one of the busiest travel times of the year, the Fourth of July weekend.

Point Lobos receives more than 600,000 annual visitors, so we knew it would be crowded, especially on a holiday. The main parking lot off of Highway 1 was full, and like many other visitors, we found parking along the highway about half a mile away.

The map that we bought for a mere $2 described the perimeter trail as a three-to-five hour hike. Three hours is very possible, but that’s only if you breeze right through without visiting the historic Whalers Cabin, stopping for photos, peeking into tide pools or descending down to relax on a sandy beach.

If you do any of these things, the hike will be much longer — and it will still be entirely worth it. Point Lobos is a park that is best enjoyed slowly, letting all of its splendors unveil themselves.

It’s a fairly family-friendly park, even with steep stairs on the trail, but the sheer cliffs with only guide wire for protection could be dangerous for younger children. Unfortunately for dog owners, furry friends are not allowed.

We started out by asking a docent at the main entrance about the best way to stay on the Point Lobos perimeter hike, which consists of many smaller trails linked together along the coastline.

“Keep the water to your right,” he advised. That proved to be excellent advice as we headed north via the Carmelo Meadow Trail, to Whaler’s Cove, and then west to Cypress Cove.

It’s hard to see now amidst the scenery, but Point Lobos was once a thriving commercial center. In 1851, Whaler’s Cove was home to what was possibly California’s first Chinese fishing settlement, after a small group sailed across the Pacific from southern China. There was a whaling station and an abalone cannery, with the community growing to include Japanese and Portuguese settlers as well, as word spread of the abundance that the waters held.

As hundreds more Chinese settlers arrived to the area, nearby Monterey was also where Chinese fishermen commercialized the abalone and fishing trades, including squid, sending their harvests to China via San Francisco, according to a docent at the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. Today, the Whalers Cabin is the last remaining building of what was once a small village comprising 12 buildings.

As we passed through history to enjoy the incredible views along the trails, we quickly realized that Point Lobos also offers excellent glimpses of wildlife, especially birds. Pygmy nuthatches flicker within the branches; you should expect to hear some busy woodpeckers too. There are at least three bird islands, including the one actually called Bird Island to the south, as well as Guillemot Island and Cypress Cove in the north. On these islands, which are reminiscent of the Farallones, visitors can view massive flocks of cormorants, along with brown pelicans soaring effortlessly across the waters. And don’t forget to look up, where ospreys can be seen searching for prey.

While we sadly did not notice any sea otters, we did see a whale spouting in the Pacific Ocean when we stopped at Cypress Cove on the northern end of the park. And at Sea Lion Cove, the water was a stunning teal blue and crystal clear, with more harbor seals lying on its white sands.

After Sea Lion Cove, we headed down South Shore trail, still keeping the sea to our right. Along this stretch, the crowds became larger, and sometimes we had to wait for other visitors to leave before we could take in the views. There is another joy to discover in this part of the park though, and that is the tide pools. In certain marked sections, visitors can clamber over the rocks to examine the small ecosystems each tide pool contains. I would recommend visiting the park after a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, because then you — or your children — can apply what you learn at the exhibits to the purple sea urchin and the striped shore crab that can be seen just a few feet under the surface.

When we turned onto the last leg of the park, the South Plateau trail, it became more serene. Away from the crowds along the coast, only the forest and the birds surrounded us. As we headed up the trail, and then another half mile to our parked car, we reflected that despite the crowds, it had all been worth it. After all, we were part of those crowds too.

Contributed by local news sources

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