The Monterey County State Parks and Beaches Section of the California Central Coast Travel Guide describes 13 parks and beaches along the coast. Includes the spectacular Point Lobos State Reserve, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, historic Asilomar State Park, and many others.
Guide to Monterey County State Parks and Beaches
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Note: Many California state parks and beaches have excellent campgrounds. Reservations are very strongly advised during the prime summer season and weekends and holidays. They can be made through Reserve America.
Limekiln State Park
Located about two miles north of Lucia on California Highway 1, Limekiln State Park offers a bit of history, a beautiful coast redwood forest in a rugged canyon, beach access, and scenic ocean views. The park's name comes from the actual kilns (right) that were used to produce lime in the 19th century. Hiking trails access the kilns, beautiful Limekiln Falls, and trails in the Los Padres National Forest, leading into the high country. The unusual campground offers beach-style camping in a sandy cove as well as sites in the redwood forest.
(Photo,right: Limekilns, by P. Dinnen. Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0)
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
A classic part of the Big Sur country, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers a bit of history, beautiful redwood forests, and great views of the coast. The highlight is the Overlook Trail with its vista of McWay Falls, an 80 foot waterfall which spills out of the cliff directly onto the beach. The same trail offers more scenic views north and south. A network of trails heads into the inland redwood forest. Those with the time and energy can reach the top of the 3,000 foot bluffs with even more exciting views. In the early years, Mcway Creek was harnessed to provide electric power to the Big Sur area. The Overlook Trail passes by the old turbine house.
There is no campground here but there are two reservable tent sites at the south end of the Overlook Trail near the top of a headland. Just a few feet from these sites, there is a stupendous vista point facing the south coast.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
One of the most well-known parks, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is perhaps the center of activity along the Big Sur Coast. It terrain ranges from woodlands to meadows, and includes the finest redwood groves on the central coast. Wildlife and birdlife are abundant. Vistas include the rugged coast, the Santa Lucia Mountains, Pfeiffer Falls, and the Big Sur Valley and River Gorge. The park features a network of trails as well as nature trails.
The park has a large campground in the Big Sur Valley with some sites along the Big Sur River. It is also home to the famous Big Sur Lodge which features cottage-style rooms. The lodge also includes a restaurant, gift shop, grocery store, and conference center (which can be used for weddings!). Even Wi-Fi Internet service is offered. Reservations for either the lodge or campground should be made well in advance.
Andrew Molera State Park
The mostly undeveloped Andrew Molera State Park offers quite a contrast to the highly developed Big Sur State Park just down the road. Molera offers visitors great hiking, camping, fishing, and beachcombing in a quiet, rustic setting. Miles of trails wind through meadows, beaches and hilltops. There is no car campground, but rather a walk-in trail camp about one third mile from the parking lot. No reservations here; it's first-come first-served. Twenty miles south of Carmel on California Highway 1.
Point Sur State Historic Park
The park features the Point Sur Lighthouse which dates from 1889 and sits on a volcanic rock 361 feet above the surf. The facility is accessible only by docent-led guided tours. For information, call 831-625-4419, or see the website.
Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos State Reserve has often been called the crown jewel of the California's state park system. Noted artist, Francis McComas, called it "...the greatest meeting of land and water in the world". The Reserve is outstanding for sightseeing, photography, painting, nature study, picnicking, scuba diving, and jogging. Besides the spectacular scenery, there are rare plant communities, endangered archeological sites, unique geological formations, and incredibly rich flora and fauna habitats on land and in the sea.
Point Lobos State Reserve contains headlands, coves and rolling meadows. Half of the reserve is offshore, protecting one of the richest underwater habitats in the world popular. Part of the offshore reserve (Whalers and Bluefish Coves) is open to divers, and is exceedingly popular. Land visitors can enjoy a varied network of trails, guided walks, ranger programs, and the Whalers Cabin Museum. Hiking trails follow the shoreline and lead to hidden coves. Wildlife includes seals, sea lions, sea otters and migrating gray whales (from December to May), as well as thousands of seabirds.
The reserve is one of the "can't miss" destinations of the Central Coast. It is a day-use area only. Located in Carmel.
Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park offers varied terrain including two miles of beach, redwood forests, scenic canyons, and coastal headlands. Good photography opportunities and a nice network of trails. Sea lions, seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters and California gray whales pass close by during their yearly migration. There is no camping in the park.
Carmel River State Beach
Separate from Carmel's municipal beach, Carmel River State Beach covers about one mile of beach and an inland lagoon with a wide variety of birdlife. The scenic area is popular with scuba divers but is hazardous for beach swimming and wading.
Asilomar State Beach
Located on the Monterey Peninsula in the city of Pacific Grove, Asilomar State Beach is a narrow one-mile strip of sandy beach and rocky coves. A scenic 3/4-mile coast-walking trail is open to pedestrians. There are no restrooms, camping or picnicking facilities at the state beach. The coastal resources are protected; Asilomar State Beach is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The park also includes the historic and beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds which started originally as a YWCA facility in 1913. The complex includes conference and meeting rooms, guest rooms, and food services. It is available to individual visitors for food and lodging. Groups may also reserve the facility for events and conferences. The beach is accessed across sand dunes by a boardwalk.
Monterey Bay Beaches
The area north of the Monterey Peninsula and south of Santa Cruz is Monterey Bay. (The protected Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is south of Monterey Bay.) The bay features four state beaches, all off of California Highway 1 (listed south to north):
- Marina State Beach features a boardwalk that winds through the Marina Dunes Natural Preserves. The beach is known for hang-gliding and is a good spot for picnicking. Water recreation is extremely hazardous due to strong rip currents. Day-use only.
- Salinas River State Beach protects one of Monterey Bay's most interesting sand dune areas which are home to many species of birdlife, from hawks to shorebirds. The beach is a popular for fishing. Day-use only.
- Moss Landing State Beach is popular for offshore fishing, surfing, birdwatching, picnicking, horseback riding. The beach is sheltered from afternoon winds by sand dunes. Swimming is hazardous due to strong rip currents. Day-use only.
- Zmudowski State Beach is a very popular fishing area, with opportunities for perch, sole, flounder, halibut, salmon, steelhead and more.
The beach also includes the Pajaro River estuary natural preserve. Other activities include birdwatching and horseback riding. Swimming and water sports are hazardous because of strong rip-currents. Day-use only.
Laguna Seca Recreation Area
Actually a county park, Laguna Seca Recreation Area is conveniently located on California-68, about 20 minutes east of Monterey. This is an ideal camping area for visitors to the Monterey Peninsula area. Spacious, full hookup campsites are scattered on hilltops with beautiful views of the Salinas Valley. The first-rate group areas make it a popular meeting place for RV clubs and similar groups. The recreation area also includes picnic areas, meeting facilities, a rifle and pistol range, and the Mazda Raceway. The campgrounds and facility are clean and very well-kept.
For more information call: 1-888-588-CAMP (1-888-588-2267).
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