It doesn’t get much more beautiful than Point Lobos State Reserve. It’s an unforgettable area of the central coast of California with amazing wildlife, dramatic cliffs, peaceful coves, forests, and hiking paths. If you’re anywhere near this area, it’s an absolute must-see. Known as the “crown jewel of the California parks system” (which is saying a lot since CA has a lot of parks!), it’s not hard to see where this name came from once you visit. We drove past during one of our road trips and just from what we saw going by made a note that we had to come back – which we did for a long weekend a year later and it was totally worth it.
Where is Point Lobos located?
Point Lobos is on the central coast of California, just north of Big Sur and about 15 minutes south of Monterey. Other nearby attractions include visiting Bixby Bridge or taking part in a wine walk in Carmel By The Sea.
What To Expect at Point Lobos
As a state reserve, this entire area is protected, so you can expect to see a lot of natural beauty! The coast of the reserve is marked mostly by large rocky dramatic cliffs, which doesn’t offer much access to the ocean. It does however, provide a great habitat for marine wildlife – you can hear the sea lions from almost anywhere in the park! The majority of the park is at the top of these cliffs and include patches of forest, wildflowers, and canyons.
Commonly seen wildlife: harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, sea otters, gray foxes, coyotes, and Monarch butterflies.
The majority of the park is connected via hiking trails and nature walks. There’s also a paved road allowing driving access to much of the park.
Ways to enjoy the park: swim, scuba dive, drive, hike, and kayak around the reserve.
Point Lobos is considered one of the best places along the west coast for scuba divers with its sheltered coves, clear water, abundance of sea life. Diving is allowed in the area around Whalers Cove with the required permit. Conditions are usually clear, but cold, so prepare with a full wetsuit (including hoods and booties) at maximum thickness. More details on diving in Point Lobos here.
When Is The Best Time to Visit Point Lobos?
Point Lobos is open year round and is beautiful year round. It can sometimes get crowded over the summer, so try to visit during the off-season.
- 57 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit year round
- Summer and weekends are the busiest times of the year, especially holiday weekends
- Sept-Nov are the sunniest times of the year.
- Nov-March are usually misty and foggy.
- Harbor Seal Pupping Season – (March-June) – Gather round and watch as the harbor seals have their pups in China Cove! You can expect to see hundreds of seals in the area getting ready to give birth. Once they do, the baby seals will be off and swimming in the water within 20mins!
- Sea Otter Pupping Season – (Jan-March) – Southern sea otters can often be seen off the coast in kelp beds surrounding the reserve on calm days or in the coves during choppy ones. Pupping season for these critters is Jan-March and while they don’t come to the shore to give birth, you will be able to see baby sea otters swimming around.
- Sean Lion Migrations – (April-Aug) – Sea lions can be seen (and heard) on the rocks off the coast of sea lion point almost year round. Their numbers will dwindle though in the late spring and summer as most of them migrate south to mate.
- Whale Migrations Various types of whales can be spotted year round, however depending on the time of year, different types of whales may be visible:
- Grey Whales – Dec-Jan, March-May
- Humpback Whales – March-Dec
- Minke Whales – Jan-April
- Blue Whales – May-Aug
- Orcas – pretty much year round
Preparing to Visit Point Lobos
Know before you go!
- Dogs are not allowed (to protect the wildlife)
- Maps are available at the entrance for purchase or you can view one online here.
- Entrance is free if you are on foot. If you want to drive in, it’s $10/car
- Parking is limited to 150 vehicles (which fills up fast on holidays and weekends!)
- Open from 8am- sunset
- There is poison oak in the park, so watch out when hiking
What To Bring
- Food – there’s no where in the park to buy food
- Binoculars – to see the seals and sea lions that are often off the coast
- Windbreaker or light jacket
Must See Attractions & Hiking Information
The most beautiful part of the park. An absolute must see! China cove is really breath taking. In previous years, you use to be able to walk down to the beach in the cove, however this option is now closed in order to protect the seals that have their pups in the cove. It’s still worth a visit. Getting to the cove is a short walk down a nature trail and then it will appear on your right. You’ll have lots of opportunities for areal views of the cove and might even spot some seals playing in the area.
Sea Lion Point
One of the things this park is known for is the abundance of wildlife, which includes seals and sea lions! Sea Lion point is going to be your best bet for getting a view (and an earful) of these funny noisy critters. The path to the point is easy and flat as it runs along the border of the peninsula on top of the cliffs. It’s a steep drop to the ocean below, but there are roped-off rails to keep you away from the edge. At the end of the point, you can see seals sunning themselves on the rocks below as well as a plethora of sea lions making a raucous on the rocks off the shore. Even without the wildlife, this is still a beautiful stroll along the coast.
Bird Island Trail
This trail will take you right past China Cove on your way to see the sea birds of bird island. It’s an easy trail that’s mostly shaded. It starts with a few steep steps at the beginning and then levels off. At the end of the trail you’ll be right in front of a very large rock island that’s full of all sorts of sea birds and pelicans. It’s really fun to watch them as they “crash land” into the surrounding water.
North Shore Trail
One of the more difficult trails in the park, the North Shore Trail stretches from Whaler’s Cove to Sea Lion point. It follows along the coast for beautiful views of the sparkling ocean as well as cutting inland through the forest where you’ll get to see lots of wildflowers. The reason for the difficulty of the trail is the steep stone stairs at the beginning/end which have a large elevation gain. It’s enough to get your heart pumping before leveling off for the rest of the 1.5 mile hike.