The sculpted headland south of Carmel Bay, now protected as Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (831/624-4909, daily, $10 per car), holds one of the few remaining groves of native Monterey cypress, gnarled and bent by the often stormy coastal weather. The name comes from the barking sea lions (lobos del mar) found here by early Spanish explorers; hundreds of seabirds, sea lions, sea otters, and—in winter—gray whales are seen offshore or in the many picturesque sea-carved coves.

The entrance to the reserve is along Hwy-1, three miles south of the Carmel Mission. In summer the park is so popular that visitors sometimes have to wait in line outside the gates. If possible, plan to come early or during the week. Whenever you can, come: Point Lobos has been lauded as the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world, and crowded or not it’s definitely a place you’ll want to see. Point Lobos has endless vistas up and down the rocky coast, and if you don’t mind a short hike, there are a number of magical beaches hidden away at its southern end.

Map of Pacific Coast through California's Central Coast.
Map of Pacific Coast through California’s Central Coast.