Insider’s Outside Guide
Ahhh, the threedom of summer!
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Think of this list as a guide to what we get for paying our infamously atmospheric mortgages or rents. It’s time to embrace Monterey County’s storied beauty, fully and freely. Fully, as in doing those things folks don’t normally do, and don’t normally know about, from exploring the sandstone rock formations beyond Snively’s Ridge in Garland Ranch Regional Park to tapping the almost-hidden tide pools at Soberanes Point in Big Sur. Freely, as in doing it without cutting into your barbecue budget.
Therein lies the beauty of Summer Threedom, the Weekly’s list of 10 sublime, somewhat undiscovered active summer possibilities (packaged in bundles of three); they’re some of the best-kept best. They’re fun, and aside from gas costs (insert groan) they’re free. (Disclaimer: By design, the directions are not always exact, for that would only serve to undermine the explorative spirit that is at the core of these accessible adventures.)
Soak it up and respect their sacred, sort-of secret style. And get to it: As of Thursday, May 26, you have 158 days until Daylight Savings Time ends.
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BIKE~ Helmet and spandex in place, motor up or down Highway 68, head east onto Reservation Road and look to your left for a metal gate. Park there in the turnout—there’s room for about two cars. Then  try to wipe the smile off your face as you rumble through all those rolling unpaved roads and single-track trails in the Bureau of Land Management’s backyard. Mix in some  surface riding by heading over to the former Ford Ord, parking by the Black Box Cabaret on the CSU Monterey Bay campus (3rd Street and 4th Avenue) and launching east to get lost in the endlessly entertaining maze of abandoned neighborhoods, cemeteries, dry lake beds, old playgrounds and the concrete conglomeration of the Impossible City. Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs and hoping the birds haven’t returned from their winter nests down south will help. Need something more hard-core? Take on the  Old Coast Highway, accessible across from the entrance to Andrew Molera State Park to the north and next to Bixby Bridge on the southern end. Brave it only with water and a serious bad-ass streak in place, but reap the benefits of steep coastal beauty.
TIDE POOL~ One of the area’s least obvious but most accessible summer activities is scurrying, squirting and splashing right under the County’s collective nose. In all truth, any tidepooling locally is an all-too-overlooked way to wrap one’s self in the rich fabric of the Monterey Bay’s marine creature quilt. A supreme spot to connect with your inner hermit crab lies  across Highway 1 from the Rocky Ridge Trail, less than seven miles south of Carmel in Big Sur. (Look for the patch of Cypress trees on the east side of the highway). Wind your way toward the south, out toward Soberanes Point, and commence intertidal exploration. Or, closer to home (for most), trickle through the  seeming endless complex of pools and crevices along Ocean Boulevard in Pacific Grove. Or halfway in between, check out the finest underappreciated facets of  Point Lobos (hint: they rhyme with “schnide dools”). Just remember not to disturb any of the intricate lil’ critters. No insider ever would.
DOG WALK~ Dodge the military enforcement of the leash law at  Asilomar State Beach by following the trail at the southern end of the beach (towards the Beachcomber Inn) until you reach the silver pole with faded orange paint at its tip. Go left, towards Spanish Bay, towards freedom.  Del Monte Beach, with its wide sand and its occasional, engaging dog owners, is another surprisingly underutilized place; meanwhile,  Mission Trails Park in Carmel is a nice change of gears and the rare dog-friendly trail. Access it through the south entrance across from the Carmel Mission on Rio Road or drive east on Eighth Avenue for about a half a mile and you’ll come to another entrance.
PICNIC~ Between the people-crowded extremes of Lovers Point and the Monterey Bay Aquarium lies  a swath of gorgeous grass set off by huge, sculpted Cypress trees; look past your spread of cheese and wine and let the panoramic view from Berwick Park satisfy your soul’s appetite. Along 17-Mile Drive  between Asilomar and Point Joe, pull up a picnic table and congratulate yourself on being an insider. Or slide over to  the sanctuary of Hartnell Park in Salinas, four acres of grass with volleyball and basketball courts and a picnic area on West Acacia which surprisingly doesn’t get much play.
DRIVE~ Okay, so maybe this category isn’t as cost-free as in years past. But these roads are worth the petrol for the Dale Jr. in us all. They’re also a clear reminder that Monterey County perennially ranks amongst the most filmed car-commercial locales in the country. Exit  Aguajito Road off Highway 1 and follow it up into hilly, curvy, forested nirvana, or approach it from the Highway 68 exit at the top of Carmel Hill, heading east instead of across the overpass toward PG. Also gripping, with a little more commitment:  pick up Nacimiento Road’s mountainous twists just past Kirk Creek Campground in southern Big Sur and let its majesty ascend into the atmosphere. Turn around at the summit where the end of the earth comes into view. And a not-so-secret drive—  golden, rolling Laureles Grade—because only real-deal local insiders tap into Carmel Valley’s many resources as religiously as they should.
DIVE~ Swim past the most mainstream local dives and  discover Pinnacles in Stillwater, Pebble Beach, where a labyrinth of geographically stunning towers of rock are enough to keep an enchanted underwater explorer occupied until only a few psi remain.  Chase Reef, inside Point Piños, is a fount of marine life, making it a favorite among savvy spear-fishers and traditional divers alike.  For that oceanic-jungle-gym experience, try navigating St. Paul’s wreck off Point Joe in Pebble Beach.
HIKE~ As challenging and fun as the meandering campaign up Snively’s Ridge at Garland Ranch in Carmel Valley seemed last time, there’s more, since it keeps going long after hikers think they’ve reached the top,  past sandstone formations to the spellbinding vistas of Mount Carmel. Over in Big Sur, another rather tough hike offers just what the summer ordered: a heavenly swimming hole. Walk 4.5 miles up the Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station, following the Big Sur River itself, then  duck down a steep trail to Ventana Camp, where you will come upon sun-warmed rocks and impossibly crystalline waters. Toro Park provides its own brand of outdoor ambrosia:  Wildcat Canyon, hidden so much by the equestrian area and other trails that people don’t often take it, guides athletic trail-goers through a shady, secluded and lush canyon criss-crossed by a system of clean-running creeks.
WALK~ For the sake of journalistic credibility (that’s Weekly-speak for “keepin’ it real”), let’s face it: rare among us is the righteously accomplished connoisseur of the walk. Well, if not you, who? If not this summer, when? Hit  the boardwalk at Asilomar at sunset or anytime, or stride  along on the river and amongst the calming native flora at Natividad Creek Trail in Salinas; better yet,  wander your own neighborhood after dinner or at dawn, and discover a depth of local character that can otherwise go unappreciated.
SNORKEL~ Lost amid the bobbing islands of beginning divers and their streaming bubbles at Breakwater/Coast Guard Pier by  San Carlos Beach in Monterey is great snorkeling. Skip dragging gear and slip right into the water along the rocks, pausing to marvel at the unbridled playfulness of the female sea lions and the cautious curiosity of the plump males. Try the impressive, conveniently shallow sights at  Point Lobos, but make sure to get a permit. In keeping with the three-part theme, the third place...anywhere. The snorkel experience leaves folks as eager as an otter to scavenge around the reef next time. And it’s awe-inspiring anywhere that the waves don’t muddle visibility and the entrance doesn’t involve swan diving off a rocky cliff. Okay. To make it official,  Lovers Point is as aquatic-scenic as it is accessible.
SURF~ Among the fiercely protected local secret surf spots, these three are definitely the most intensely guarded and most rewarding. They are scattered along miles of coastline and itinerant surfers risk more than a wipeout to surf these well-protected waves. But some things are so locally sown and cultivated that they can’t make it into print. Of course, sufficiently empowered by a summer of active exploration and adventure, the ability to uncover one of these spots is well within your reach.