Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – A Pacific Coast Highway Stop

The morning of my visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was a balmy day. The clouds hovered at the tips of the mountains like pennants on flag poles as we drove south from Monterey. Did I mention it’s July, and I’m wearing a sweater? Being a native Floridian, the concept of temperatures lower than 90 degrees is foreign to me. I was motivated to explore the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve because it felt like someone turned on the air conditioning and hung a sea breeze air freshener in the branches of the surrounding pine trees. 


Getting to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Aaron and I are usually early risers for our days of hiking. However, after a long day at the Sequoia National Park the day before, we decided to sleep in and stop at Aaron’s favorite breakfast joint, Coffee Mia. The perfect start to any day is a breakfast sandwich on a freshly baked baguette, a flaky pastry with Nutella and almond slivers, and a large pour-over coffee. Fully energized for the day, we hopped on The 1 (US 1) and headed South towards Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. 

Breakfast sandwiches  at Coffee Mia

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is roughly eight miles south of Monterey and just over four miles from Carmel-By-The-Sea. No matter what direction you are traveling, the drive along the way will not disappoint. Traveling South on US 1, after we passed the shopping centers and the million-dollar homes, the landscape transforms into calm forests and jagged coast. The towering trees hung over the foggy landscape as the mountains peak out in the distance. 


You are getting close to Point Lobos when cars start to line the shoulder of the road. Granted, we did visit on a Saturday but did not realize how limited the parking would be. Inside the Park, there are only 75 parking spots. Visitors are welcomed to park on the shoulder of the road and walk into the entrance. The good thing about parking on the side of the road is we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee (which is $10), but we did walk half a mile away from the park entrance. Aaron called this the hike before the hike. 

Where To Start

After our hike from our parking spot, we decided to start our actual hike on the South Plateau Trail. This took us to the southernmost point of the Reserve, which would allow us to work our way North along the coast. Most of the trails are wide, well maintained, and marked; making it an ideal place for families and hikers at any level to enjoy. Portions of the trail were covered in a canopy of shady coastal trees branches. There were a few expected hills and tree roots along the way. Just enough to stretch your hamstrings. 


Stops Along The Coast

The South Plateau Trail merges into the Bird Island Trail, which opens into your first glimpse of the coastline views. A thin guide wire is strung up along the side of the trail encouraging visitors not to go off the path, in order to protect the coastal plants clinging to the sandy soil. The smell of fish lightly lingered in the air as we made it to the coastline. 

Gibson’s Beach and Bird Island Lookout (0.8 Miles)

Bird Island Trail connects to Gibson’s Beach and Bird Island Lookout. Overlooking Gibson’s Beach from the trail, the fog began to rise slightly, revealing the surrounding mountains. On the far side, a few lucky homeowners have twisting steps leading down to the shore. If relaxing on the beach is more appealing than hiking the entirety of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, this is a great place to stop. 

Bird Island Lookout is a collection of large rocks carved out by centuries of waves lapping against the California coastline. The Isolation and elevation of these rocks perched above the tumultuous tides have made it an ideal home for coastal birds. There are a million chattering birds perched on the rocks. Like a squadron taking off from an aircraft carrier, large swaths of Brandt’s Cormorants fly from the granite rocks into the water below. Gulls hover overhead, waiting to swoop in to steal any remnant leftover from the Cormorants feast (or a few Cheerios from an unsuspecting toddler). 

Landscape looking over the The South Plateau Trail

Hidden Beach and Pine Ridge Trail

As we hiked northward, following the coast on South Shore Trail, we passed by Hidden Beach. This beach can only be described as intimate. The perfect backdrop for a couple in the throes of a new relationship. If someone told me The Notebook‘s, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” scene was filmed here, I’d believe them. Large granite rocks shield either side of the beach, leaving a tiny sliver of ocean water to slide between. The muffled waves break along the outside of the rock faces while picnickers lay down their blankets to enjoy a romantic lunch.   


The wind was beginning to wear on us, and our time was running short. We decided to turn our hiking inland onto the Pine Ridge Trail. The whisper-thin pines guarded us from the wind and the branches kept us in the shade, as the sun was beginning to peek out from the clouds. Pine Ridge Trail reminded both Aaron and me of the hiking trails in Florida: tall pine trees, short bushes covered in ivy, and a padded path of pine needles meandering through the woods. The only things missing from the trail were the swarms of mosquitoes, 100% humidity, and the relentless sun squeezing the sweat from your body like a ringed-out towel. Other than those minor details, the Pine Ridge Trail felt like home. 

Honorable Mentions

We weren’t able to see everything we wanted on the day we visited. Not because the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is so expansive, but we simply didn’t plan accordingly. This just means there will have to be a part two the next time I’m in the Monterey area. 

On the list for next time will have to be Sea Lion Point, a beach area just for Sea Lions. Who doesn’t love seeing these overgrown sea weasels basking in the sun like they’re on a family vacation on an overcrowded beach? 


Cypress Grove, because Aaron and I love trees; especially places that have densely populated spots of the same type of tree. Did you know a person who has a fondness for the woods or forest is called a nemophilist? I also bet you didn’t think you would stumble upon this blog to learn, but here we are. If you like being outdoors as much as we do, you can call yourself a nemophilist too, if you’re into labels and fun words. 

Whalers Knoll Trail is described as a steep ascent through the Pine Forest to the top of the Whalers Knoll. This is where whalers in the 19th Century would lookout for whales to alert whaling crews of a passing pod. While hunting whales is no longer an industry in Whalers Cove, the lookout point is accessible to hikers, and who knows, you might get to catch a glimpse of a whale jumping from below the horizon.

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