Point Lobos: A Complete Guide

  • 01 of 09

    Visiting Point Lobos

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

    "The greatest meeting of land and water in the world" is an often-quoted opinion of the small point of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean just south of Carmel, California.

    Craggy rock formations plunge into the Monterey Bay at Point Lobos, 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.

    Scenes from Point Lobos

    Enjoy our best shots by continuting through this slideshow.

    Visiting Point Lobos

    Point Lobos is fundamentally a nature preserve and the main reason people go there is for the views. If you hike every trail in the park (and you may be tempted to do just that), you'll cover a little more than 8 miles and with all the stops for gawking and enjoying the surroundings, it will take 6 hours or more to...MORE do it. We can think of 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. Our favorite is the Cypress Grove Trail, which 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 Spanish called California sea lions "sea wolves" because of the sound of their barks, so Point Lobos was originally called "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 your own food.
    • Point Lobos is a nature preserve and 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

    Point Lobos Review

    We rate Point Lobos 5 stars out of 5 for its extreme natural beauty.

    Diving at Point Lobos

    Half of the reserve is under the water, making it a popular 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. Everything you need to know about diving at Point Lobos is here, including an online reservation form.

    Preserving Point Lobos

    If you enjoy Point Lobos as much as we do, you can help preserve it by joining the Point Lobos Foundation.

    Details About Point Lobos

    There is an entrance fee for the park unless you park along the highway and walk in. Do your part and pay to get in if there's room - don't be THAT person, who always takes and never pays. Allow at least an hour, but you could easily be there all day.

    Getting to Point Lobos

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

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

    Parking is limited at Point Lobos and it can fill up early on weekends and holidays. If your vehicle is more than 20 feet long, you may not be able to enter on those busy days and vehicles towing trailers are never allowed. You'll find more parking along the highway outside the entrance and you can walk in from there.

    If you'd rather not drive to get there, Monterey-Salinas Transit buses go to Point Lobos.

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.
  • 02 of 09

    Whaler's Cove

    Whaler's Cove View, Point Lobos
    ••• 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 takes its name from its major use in the late 1800s, when it was part of a whaling station. This picture is taken across the cove, toward the mainland hills.

    Continue to 3 of 9 below.
  • 03 of 09

    Whaler's Cabin

    Whaler's Cabin, Point Lobos
    ••• Whaler's Cabin, Point Lobos. ©2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Another remnant of the old whaling station, this cabin is now a small museum of sorts, with some nice exhibits and the area wildlife and natural history. 

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.
  • 04 of 09

    Harbor Seals

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

    We found these harbor seals resting on the rocks at China Cove, where we also sighted an egret and some 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 in April and May, and you may find some areas off-limits at that time to give moms and babies a stress-free environment.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Bird Island

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

    You can probably guess how these rocks 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 and 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. We took this photo from Cypress Cove Trail, about an hour before sunset, the time when the sunlight best highlights the ocean spray. You can find those trails and more on this handy map.

    Continue to 6 of 9 below.
  • 06 of 09

    Monterey Cypress

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

    This photo was taken along the Cypress Grove Trail, 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.

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.
  • 07 of 09

    Lace Lichen on the Cypress Grove Trail

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

    This stringy-looking lichen was photographed on the Cypress Grove Trail, but you'll also find a lot of it 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 are cooperative organisms formed from a fungus which provides the framework and an 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.

    Continue to 8 of 9 below.
  • 08 of 09

    Trentepohlia (Orange Pigmented Algae)

    Trentepholia on a Cypress Tree
    ••• 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 an 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, 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.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Cypress Grove at Sunset

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

    We'd might as well confess now. As beautiful as these pictures of Point Lobos are, it doesn't look like this every day. In fact, it took us four visits over six months to find such clear skies and beautiful evening light. On other occasions, we'd drive all the way from San Jose to Carmel in sunshine, only to find Point Lobos shrouded in fog. Other days, a low layer of marine clouds turned everything flat  grey. To have the best chance for good photos, visit in spring or fall (this photo was taken in mid-November).

    Famed photographer Edward Weston did much of his most beautiful work at Point Lobos in the 1930s. Today, 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.