Point Lobos: A Complete Guide

  • 01 of 08

    Visiting Point Lobos

    Point Lobos Headlands in the Afternoon
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    At Point Lobos, craggy rock formations plunge into the Monterey Bay, with ocean waves creating dramatic salt spray against them.

    A host of wild creatures make their homes in the ocean or on the shore, and you'll find a rare stand of original-growth Monterey cypress trees at the point, one of only two such groves left in the world. On a clear day (or a cloudy one), it's a little bit of heaven.

    Point Lobos is a nature preserve. People go there mainly for the views. And for hiking. If you walked every trail in the park (and you may be tempted to do just that), you would cover a little more than 8 miles. With inevitable stops for gawking and enjoying the surroundings, it would take 6 hours or more to do it. There are few better ways to spend a day.

    If you're inclined toward less walking, you'll find plenty of trails that are less than a mile long, each one taking a leisurely half-hour stroll to complete. To do it all in one, the Cypress Grove Trail offers a chance to see a little bit of everything.

    Otherwise, there's little else to do at Point Lobos. The whaler's cabin and other exhibits are open as staffing permits, and rangers offer guided walks. You'll find the schedule posted at the entrance station.

    If you know a little Spanish, you may recognize "Lobos" in the place name, which means wolves. In fact, the wolves in question aren't the canine kind. The Spanish called California sea lions "sea wolves" because of the sound of their barks, so Point Lobos means "Point of the Sea Wolves."

    Point Lobos Tips

    • Waves can sneak up on you - and sturdy-looking cliffs can crumble unexpectedly. Stay on the trails and pay attention to your surroundings.
    • You'll find restrooms at Point Lobos, but no concessions. If you plan to be there long enough to get hungry, bring food.
    • Point Lobos is a nature preserve, not a playground. Activities you might enjoy elsewhere along the coast, such as Frisbee play, volleyball and kite flying are not allowed.
    • Leave Poochy at home. Dogs (except certified service animals) and other pets are not allowed.
    • No fires are allowed at any time, but you can picnic in the open areas where the tables are.

    Diving at Point Lobos

    Half of the Point Lobos reserve is under the water, making it a favorite spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. Diving is permitted only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. You can get permission to dive when you enter, but you'll need reservations, especially for weekends and holidays. Find out about diving at Point Lobos, including an online reservation form.

    What You Need to Know About Point Lobos

    There is an entrance fee for the park, or you can park along the highway and walk in without paying. Don't be THAT person, who always takes and never pays. Do your part and pay to get in if there's room. Allow at least an hour, but you could easily be there all day.

    Point Lobos State Reserve
    California Hwy 1
    Carmel, CA
    Point Lobos website

    Point Lobos is 3 miles south of Carmel on California Highway 1. Look for the entrance on the west side of the highway.

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  • 02 of 08

    Whaler's Cove

    Whaler's Cove View, Point Lobos
    ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Half of Point Lobos State Reserve is under water, and the water between Whaler's Cove and nearby Monastery Beach is one of two locations in the park where scuba diving is allowed.

    The cove got its name from its primary use in the late 1800s when it was part of a whaling station. 

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  • 03 of 08

    Harbor Seals

    Harbor Seals at Point Lobos
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    These harbor seals are resting on the rocks at China Cove, where you may also see egrets and watch sea otters floating in the kelp.

    Much smaller than the California sea lion, harbor seals are less graceful on land and almost always have spots. Their pups are born on the Point Lobos shoreline during April and May, and you may find some areas off-limits at that time to give moms and babies a stress-free environment.

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  • 04 of 08

    Bird Island

    Nesting Brandt's Cormorants on Bird Island
    Brent Winebrenner / Getty Images

    You can probably guess how this island got their name, but these nesting birds aren't the only creatures who live around Point Lobos. Harbor seals, Brandt's Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Brown Pelicans and sea lions are frequently seen. You might even see a Gray Whale spouting as it passes during its migration (December through May).

    A walk on Sea Lion Point Trail (or Sand Hill Trail, which is wheelchair accessible) will get you a better view of the rocks. This photo was taken from Cypress Cove Trail. You can find those trails and more on this handy map.

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  • 05 of 08

    Monterey Cypress

    Monterey Cypress Tree at Point Lobos
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    The Cypress Grove Trail is a 0.8-mile loop trail that leads through a unique area - one of only two naturally-growing stands of Monterey Cypress trees left on earth. The other one is across the bay at Cypress Point.

    Monterey cypress thrives in the foggy coastal environment, surviving coastal winds that sculpt them into beautiful shapes.

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  • 06 of 08

    Lace Lichen on the Cypress Grove Trail

    Lace Lichen at Point Lobos
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    You can find stringy-looking lichen on the Cypress Grove Trail and on the Lace Lichen Trail which parallels the main road from the entrance into the park. The lace lichen (which is often mistaken for Spanish moss) takes up residence on dead branches, and it doesn't harm the rest of the tree.

    Lichen s are cooperative organisms formed from a fungus which provides the framework and algae which provides the food. Deer like to eat the lace lichen, and birds use it to make nests. Lichen can absorb compounds from the air and are sensitive to pollutants, so their presence is a sign of good air quality.

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  • 07 of 08

    Trentepohlia (Orange Pigmented Algae)

    Trentepholia on a Cypress Tree
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    You'll see a lot of this stuff on the north side of the Allan Memorial Grove along the Cypress Grove Trail. Despite its velvet-like appearance, it's actually algae called Trentepohlia which has orange-colored chlorophyll. This plant rests on the tree limbs, but is not a parasite and doesn't harm them.

    On your way back out from the grove, look for big mounds of twigs just off the section of Cypress Grove Trail between the loop and the parking area. They're houses of Dusky-footed Woodrats, and some are used (and added onto) for generations.

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  • 08 of 08

    Cypress Grove at Sunset

    Cypress Trees at Sunset
    ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    As beautiful as these pictures of Point Lobos are, it doesn't look like this every day. It took the photographer four visits over six months to find such clear skies and beautiful evening light.

    Some days you can drive all the way from San Jose to Carmel in the sunshine, only to find Point Lobos shrouded in fog. Other days, a low layer of marine clouds turns everything flat grey. To have the best chance for good photos, visit in spring or fall.

    Famed photographer Edward Weston did much of his most beautiful work at Point Lobos in the 1930s. However, we owe this beautiful spot's preservation to A.M. Allan, who bought the land around Point Lobos just before 1900, including residential lots that might have spoiled its wildness forever. Point Lobos became a California state park in 1933. If you want to help preserve it, you can join the Point Lobos Association.