Best of Monterey Bay Visitor Guide 2011 – At Play
Out and about in the Monterey Bay’s great outdoors.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Monterey County is a black hole in the most beautiful way: Its gravity sucks many in and lets few escape. Beautiful beaches and the lush forests make this a perfect playground for any outdoors adoree, the challenging terrain that makes it ideal for the the hard-core athlete and the seascapes that make it magic for someone who just wants to kick their feet up and take in the scenery.
From the 2-mile-deep fissure off the coast (that supports the sea life that leads to breathtaking kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching) to the behemoth redwoods (that can reach 360 feet in height and 2,000 years of age), this bit of space has a lot to explore. Enjoy.
Bring a sweater! Visitors are often surprised to discover how cool and breezy Monterey Peninsula beaches can be in the summer. But they’re beautiful no matter the weather – not to mention sunny and warm for most of the winter months.
Asilomar State Beach | This rustic stretch of soft white sand beaches and rocky promontories offers a variety of activities for the family, from kite flying to tidepooling. Asilomar also has a long boardwalk traversing restored coastal dunes laced with delicate vegetation. A popular place for sunset strolls. Sunset Drive, Pacific Grove.
Carmel Beach | You’d be hard-pressed to find a more picture-perfect beach anywhere on the West Coast. Fine white sands ringed by bluffs set off the aquamarine waters of Carmel Bay, making this famous beach a popular weekend and sunset-hour destination. It’s one of the few beaches where dogs are allowed to run off the leash, and there are even three beach volleyball courts for you setters and spikers. At the end of Ocean Avenue, Carmel.
Carmel River Beach | Where the Carmel River meets the Pacific Ocean lies a grainier, less-populated strip of sand frequented by locals, especially bird watchers. Swimming in the surf is not advisable because of strong currents, but the lagoon formed by the river offers more protected wading and swimming. Parking lot and restrooms available. At the intersection of Scenic and Carmelo, Carmel.
Del Monte Beach | The perfect family spot for a lazy day on the beach. The waters are calm and shallow, thanks to the protection from the breakwater and nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. A boardwalk winds through sand dunes with plenty of picnic tables conveniently located throughout. No bonfires, however, and dogs must be on leashes. Off Del Monte Boulevard at Casa Verde Way, Monterey.
Gibson Beach and China Cove | Located within Point Lobos State Reserve, these beaches are perfect for viewing otters and sea lions in their wild habitat. Both lie at the bottom of a steep set of wooden stairs but are well worth the trek down and back. China Cove has emerald-green water and hollowed-out rocky tunnels to swim through. Gibson Beach, located a bit farther back in the park, is usually less populated. Highway 1 south of Carmel.
Lovers Point Beach | A protected cove makes Lovers Point a great place for a family swim. Picnic on the grassy bluff above the beach to keep the sand out of snacks and drinks. Beach volleyball, snack bar and restrooms are available. Ocean View Boulevard, Pacific Grove.
Marina State Beach | This 171-acre beach features a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk through the sand dunes and a hang-glider launch pad. Sweeping views of the Monterey coastline provide a great place to watch rippling waves. Marina Beach is frequently windy. Reservation Road, Marina.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park | This newly opened park has a short trail to 4 miles of beautiful beach. Don’t worry, shrapnel was removed from this former Army shooting range. Lightfigher Drive exit from Highway 1, Marina.
Monastery Beach | There’s excellent scuba diving off the beach just north of Point Lobos and across from the Carmelite monastery. The steep slope is great for skimboarding, but a scary undertow means experienced water-lovers only. Highway 1, Carmel.
Monterey State Beach | Monterey’s long, conveniently located stretch of coastline is accessible at many points along Del Monte Avenue, from Municipal Wharf up the coast to Seaside. An ideal place to jog or stroll. Del Monte Avenue, Monterey.
Pfeiffer Beach | The only National Forest beach in California is found in Big Sur about 45 minutes south of Carmel. Keep your eyes open for an unmarked road just south of Big Sur Station. The mystical scenery once enhanced Beat writers’ prose. Sycamore Canyon Road, 32 miles south of Carmel off Highway 1, Big Sur.
Sand Dollar Beach | Home to Jade Cove, this is one of the few accessible beaches in the southern part of Big Sur. It’s a good place to park your RV and find the pretty sand dollars for which the beach is aptly named. Highway 1, 9 miles south of Lucia, Big Sur.
Seaside Beach | This breezy beach is remarkable for its long, walkable stretches of sand and beautiful dunes below blue skies that often are populated with colorful kites. Check out the native plants and wildflowers at the dune restoration project. Canyon Del Rey Boulevard at Highway 1, Seaside.
Zmudowski State Beach | Monterey County’s northernmost beach is a popular fishing and surfing spot, with more than 177 acres open for exploring. Jensen Road and Highway 1, Moss Landing.
Camping • Hiking
Andrew Molera State Park | This 5,000-acre state park stretches along the Pacific for 4 miles, with access to one of the longest beaches in Big Sur. It offers fishing, hiking, equestrian trails and picnic facilities, as well as walk-in camping in a huge meadow close to the ocean. 21 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, Big Sur. 667-2315.
Garland Ranch Regional Park | Miles of nature and equestrian trails wind through this 4,500-acre park, a local favorite that rises from the Carmel River to the headlands of the Santa Lucia range. An hour of energetic uphill hiking affords sweeping panoramic views. About 8.5 miles east of Highway 1 on Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 659-4488.
Garrapata State Park | Garrapata is a microcosm of everything Big Sur has to offer. Its 3,000 acres encompass scenic shorelines, deep canyons and steep mountains. The Rocky Ridge trail heads inland and upward for some spectacular views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, while the Soberanes Canyon trail is lined with redwoods and offers a rewarding hike without quite as much physical exertion. 10 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 624-4909.
Jacks Peak County Park | This readily accessible park, named after pioneering real estate mogul David Jacks, boasts 10 miles of hiking and riding trails, as well as unsurpassed views of the Monterey Bay and Carmel. This is a great family park with easy day hikes, picnic grounds and a self-guided nature trail. Off Highway 68 on Olmsted Road, Monterey. 755-4899.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | The southernmost state park in Big Sur encompasses close to 4,000 acres stretching from the Pacific coastline to the 3,000-foot peaks of the Santa Lucia Range. Hikers can revel in beautiful redwood groves, river walks and views of the picturesque McWay Falls as it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Two coveted campsites available by reservation. 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 667-2315.
Laguna Seca Recreation Area | This is a good choice for family and RV camping (with both short – and long-term spaces) close to the main attractions on the Monterey Peninsula. Recreational facilities include a playground, boating, fishing and a shooting range. World-class auto and motorcycle racing are also featured at the nearby raceway. Highway 68, Monterey. 755-4899.
Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento | Both the man-made lakes that border Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties are popular summertime destinations for water skiing, fishing, camping and picnicking. Concessions include a marina, general store, laundromat, cabin rentals and service station. Lake San Antonio enjoys the distinction of being one of the largest winter habitats (Nov.-April) of bald eagles in Central California. Lake San Antonio: off Highway 101 near Bradley; Lake Nacimiento: near Paso Robles. (805) 472-2311 and (805) 238-3256.
Los Padres National Forest | Almost half of the 2-million-acre forest that overlays the Coast Range from Big Sur to Los Angeles County is wilderness. Translation: superb hiking and backpacking (though the popular Pine Ridge Trail remains closed from the 2008 fire). There are 11 non-wilderness campsites in the Monterey area. The ranger station is 32 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 385-5434.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park | Established in 1933, this popular state park offers hikes through dense redwood canyons leading up to scenic peaks. Located within its 850 acres are the Big Sur Lodge and cabins, a store, a restaurant, camping, and numerous sites for picnicking, swimming and fishing. Main Camp expected to be closed all summer for renovations. 31 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 667-2315.
Pinnacles National Monument | The jagged remains of a long-extinct volcano jut out of the Salinas Valley to form this hiker’s paradise, with 32 miles of trails, two talus caves and spectacular terrain that doubles as a launch site for California condors being reintroduced to the wild. A must-see for outdoor enthusiasts. Tent and RV camping available at east entrance. From Salinas, Highway 101 south 25 miles to Soledad, Highway 146 east 13 miles to park. 389-4485.
Point Lobos State Reserve | “The greatest meeting of land and water in the world,” as landscape artist Francis McComas called Point Lobos, offers 14 interconnecting trails that wind through lovely Monterey pine forests, cypress groves and breathtaking, rugged coastal scenery. Whalers Cove and other locations provide plenty of opportunities to view 250 bird and animal species, including sea otters, sea lions and, from December to April, migrating gray whales. Day use only. 2 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. 624-4909.
Veterans Memorial Park | This 50-acre city of Monterey park offers overnight RV and group camping facilities, trails, picnic areas, and play fields. Check in at the kiosk for availability, as camping is provided on a first-come, first-served basis only. At the end of Skyline, Monterey. 646-3865.
> RESOURCES <
RE > I145 General Stillwell Drive, Marina. 883-8048.
Big 5 Sporting Goods > 1000 Northridge Shopping Center > Salinas, 449-6767; 2259 Fremont St., Monterey. 375-8800.
Booniez > 865 Fir Ave., Sand City. 392-0538.
J&S Surplus > 1956 Highway 1, Moss Landing. 724-0588.
Outdoor World > 2222 North Fremont St., Monterey. 373-3615.
The Treadmill > 111 Crossroads Blvd., Carmel. 624-4112.
17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach | For the road cyclist, this is perhaps the Peninsula’s ultimate two-wheel trek. Enter at the Pacific Grove gate and hang a right to take the coastal route past some of the loveliest coastline in North America. The road will lead through the Pebble Beach golf courses and down to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Pacific Grove Gate at the intersection of 17-Mile and Sunset drives.
Fort Ord Public Lands | This biking, hiking and horseback-riding paradise encompasses thousands of acres of gorgeous wetlands and woodlands. Pick up a map or just get lost in endless mountain biking bliss. Popular trails are accessible at Giggling Road, Laguna Seca and Creekside Terrace.
Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail | Described by some as a “linear park,” the paved Rec Trail is an ideal way to take in beautiful coastal views at your own pace. The former Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way meanders along the waterfront for 18 miles starting at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove and ending – for now – in Castroville. The trail is popular with pedestrians and rollerbladers, so watch your speed and stay in your lane. Pacific Grove to Castroville.
Old Coast Road | Off-road riders will find some of the area’s most rugged and scenic mountain trails along the 11-mile stretch that was once the main road from Carmel to Big Sur.
Salinas Valley | On a sunny weekend afternoon there are few things more relaxing than cycling the farm roads around the Salinas Valley lettuce fields. The sky is enormous, the roads are flat and the only thing you’ll hear is the sound of romaine growing. Off Highway 68 at Reservation and River roads.
Toro County Park | More than 20 miles of well-maintained trails wind through the county’s second-largest mountain-biking area, which is also a popular hiking destination. Off-road fanatics rave about the fast downhills and the plentitude of single-track trails. The summit area provides sweeping vistas of the Monterey Peninsula and the Salinas Valley. Highway 68, Salinas. 484-1108.
> RESOURCES <
Joselyn’s Bicycles (voted best bike shop by Monterey County Weekly’s readers poll) > 398 East Franklin, Monterey. 649-8520.
Aquarian Bicycles > 486 Washington St., Monterey. 375-2144.
Carmel Bicycle > 7150 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 625-2211.
Sports Center Bicycles > 1576 Del Monte Blvd., Seaside. 899-1300.
Bobcat Bicycles > 141 Monterey St., Salinas. 753-RIDE.
> RENTALS <
Adventures by the Sea > 299 Cannery Row, Monterey. 372-1807.
Bay Bikes > 585 Cannery Row, Monterey. 655-2453.
Bay Bikes > 3600 The Barnyard, Carmel. 624-7433.
The cold, nutrient-rich waters of Monterey Bay make for some of the best diving in the world. On a good day the water is clear and the undulating kelp forest teems with sea life. Otters and seals are occasional company in the enchanting world below the surface.
Bluefish Cove and Whalers Cove | Two miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, these gorgeous spots within Point Lobos State Reserve offer easy beach access and a rich abundance of life inside a 750-acre protected underwater park. Reservations are required on weekends. Point Lobos State Reserve, Carmel. 624-8413.
Carmel River State Beach | Divers who venture out past the kelp will discover pinnacles with steep walls that are home to plenty of critters and creatures, small fish and nudibranchs. Typically not very crowded. At the intersection of Scenic and Carmelo, Carmel. 649-2836.
Lovers Point | Divers can find easy beach access, plentiful parking, and in case of emergency, the Monterey region’s only hyperbaric chamber in nearby Pacific Grove. 17th Street, Pacific Grove.
Monastery Beach | This is one of the region’s most popular diving spots, with north and south entrances, and is a good place to meet new diving buddies. Deep water with dramatic drop-offs and severe undertow make this area strictly for more experienced divers. Opposite the Carmelite Monastery, Highway 1, south of Carmel.
Otter Cove | Less popular, but no less attractive. Here divers can find sea otters (of course), seals, rays, and an abundance of other sea life out past the kelp forest. The sandy bottom features boulders near shore and large pinnacles about 150 feet out. Ocean View Boulevard and Seapalm Avenue, Pacific Grove.
San Carlos Beach | One of the best spots for new divers is the breakwater at San Carlos Beach. There is now an upgraded entrance for divers off San Carlos Beach Park, including bathrooms and showers at the Coast Guard Pier. You’ll see forests of kelp, octopi, anemones, starfish and the occasional otter or sea lion. Coast Guard Pier, Wave and Drake streets, Monterey.
> RESOURCES <
Aquarius Dive Shop > 2040 Del Monte Blvd., Monterey. 375-1933.
Glenn’s Aquarius II Dive Shop > 32 Cannery Row, Monterey. 375-6605.
Bamboo Reef > 614 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 372-1685.
Cypress Charters > (408) 244-4433.
Monterey Bay Dive Company > 225 Cannery Row, Monterey. 656-0454.
See Golf section
Holman Ranch | Wind through 400 acres of sunny trails in picturesque Carmel Valley at this local institution, which is also home to a small vineyard. 60 Holman Road, Carmel Valley. 659-6054.
Molera Big Sur Trail Rides | Choose from five horseback tours leading through almost every terrain found in Central California, from giant redwoods to the pounding Big Sur coast. Ride times start in the morning or at sunset. Riders must be at least 6 years old. Call for details on private rides. Andrew Molera State Park, Highway 1, Big Sur. 625-5486.
Monterey Bay Equestrian Center | Explore the Salinas River State Beach on horseback. Just south of Moss Landing, these folks also offer lessons, day camps, ponies and petting zoos. 19805 Pesante Road, Salinas. 663-5712.
Pebble Beach Equestrian Center | A guided, 80-minute trail ride leads through the stunning Del Monte Forest, past Cypress Point and onto the beach near Seal Rock, where pinnipeds and otters cavort. Don’t forget the camera. Group tours, riding lessons and pony rides also available for small children. 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. 624-2756.
Stonepine Resort and Equestrian Center | It feels like a world away at this lavish Carmel Valley resort built in the late 1930s by the Crocker banking family. Stonepine provides training in all equestrian disciplines and trail rides on 330 acres. 150 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 659-2245.
Esalen Institute | After a million-dollar renovation, the unique cliffside baths are open. Call for reservations. Open to the public only between 1-3am. Highway 1, Big Sur. 667-3047.
Sykes Hot Springs | This gem of three hot pools lies along a remote river reachable only by beautiful and challenging trails. Call the Big Sur Station for info. Ten miles on Pine Ridge Trail, Highway 1, Big Sur. 667-2315.
Tassajara Hot Springs | The winding dirt road out to Tassajara might discourage all but the most adventurous, but this historic hot springs set in the Los Padres National Forest is well worth the trip. Operated by the Zen Center of San Francisco, the retreat is a Buddhist sanctuary with overnight accommodations. 39171 Tassajara Road, Carmel Valley. Make reservations in advance, (415) 865-1899.
Kayaking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary allows visitors and locals to get up close and personal with one of the world’s most pristine aquatic environments. Elkhorn Slough also rewards kayakers with bird and animal sightings in a lush wetland.
> RESOURCES <
Adventures by the Sea > main location: 299 Cannery Row; also: 32 Cannery Row, at Coast Guard Pier on Cannery Row, Monterey. 372-1807. www.adventuresbythesea.com
Monterey Bay Kayaks > 693 Del Monte Blvd., Monterey, 373-5357; 2390 Highway 1, Moss Landing. (800) 649-5357. www.montereybaykayaks.com
Elkhorn Slough Kayak Connection > 2370 Highway 1, Moss Landing. 724-5692. www.kayakconnection.com
Garrapata State Park | On the south end of Garrapata, a series of 15 – to 20-foot cliffs rising from the sandy beach offer a great chance for beginners and more advanced climbers to hone their climbing skills. Highway 1, 6 miles south of Carmel.
Pinnacles National Monument | Primeval spires and volcanic crags offer a range of challenges to serious rock climbers in an otherworldly, thoroughly fascinating locale. Pinnacles also offers great hiking and cave exploring. Highway 146 (west entrance), east of Soledad. East to Hollister, south on Highway 25, east on 146 to east entrance. 389-4485.
Sanctuary Rock Gym | If the weather’s bad, try indoor climbing at Sanctuary Rock Gym, where more than 5,000 square feet of indoor sculpted climbing terrain and a 30-foot, faux-rock peak await. Retail shop, rock climbing classes and trips available. 1855A East Ave., Sand City. 899-2595. www.rockgym.com
> RESOURCES <
Big 5 Sporting Goods > 1000 Northridge Shopping Center, Salinas, 449-6767; 2259 Fremont St., Monterey, 375-8800.
Outdoor World > 2222 Fremont St., Monterey. 373-3615.
REI > 145 General Stilwell Drive, Marina. 883-8048.
Sailing • Fishing • Whale Watching
The fishing in this area is world-renowned, and passengers aboard whale-watching vessels are treated year-round to glimpses of gray, blue and humpback whales, and huge pods of dolphins. Most depart from Fisherman’s Wharf.
> RESOURCES <
Chris Whale Watching > Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, 375-5951.
Elkhorn Slough Safari > 8022 B, Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing (reservations required). 633-5555.
Monterey Bay Whale Watch > 84 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 375-4658.
Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club > Municipal Wharf 2, Monterey. 372-9686.
Monterey Sailing > Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 372-SAIL.
Monterey Sport Fishing and Whale Watching > 96 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 372-2203, 800-200-2203.
Randy’s Fishing Trips > 66 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 372-7440.
Sam’s Fishing Fleet Inc. > Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 372-0577.
Sanctuary Whale Watching Cruises > A Dock, Moss Landing. 917-1042.
Sea Life Tours > Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey. 372-7151.
Tom’s Sportfishing > Moss Landing Harbor. 633-2564.
Skating and Skateboarding
El Estero Skate Park | Open from 10am until dusk daily. Helmets, knee pads and elbow pads are required wear at all times while in the area. Rollerskates and skateboards are allowed, but no bicycles. Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Camino El Estero between Del Monte and Fremont boulevards, Monterey. 646-3866.
Marina Skate Park | This $500,000 facility, one of California’s premier skate parks, is open from 9am to a half-hour after sunset. Helmets, knee pads and elbow pads are required. 304 Hillcrest Ave., Marina (just outside the Marina Teen Center). 884-1253.
Water City Sports Center and Hockey Center | WCSC has long been the definitive county home of roller hockey and roller derby. But its brand-new, lesser-known identity as a public skating venue might be more relevant to locals and visitors alike. Sundays 1-4pm it opens with DJs catering to the crowd, a special “wading pool” section for kids and Skating 101 tutorials. 2800 Second Ave., Marina. 384-0144, www.watercityrollerhockey.com.
> RESOURCES <
Bill’s Wheels > 25 East Gabilan St, Salinas. 769-9999.
Liquid Surf Shop > Lincoln & Ocean, Carmel, 624-7873.
On The Beach Surf Shop693 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 646-WAVE.
Sunshine Freestyle Sports, Inc.443 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 375-5015.
Unlike most of California, Monterey County has plenty of relatively unpopulated waves. For beginners, Asilomar Beach and Del Monte Beach are long, sandy beaches that allow newbies to steer clear of seasoned vets. Moss Landing also has a number of popular spots, especially Zmudowski State Beach. For the experts, some of the best breaks are scattered along the Big Sur coast. Pfeiffer Beach and Sand Dollar Beach are great places to start, but a little exploration can uncover a few as-yet-unknown surf spots.
> RESOURCES <
Adventures By the Sea > lessons and rentals. 299 Cannery Row, Monterey. 372-1807.
Carmel Surf School > lessons. Call instructor Noah Greenberg at 915-4065.
Liquid Surf Shop > Lincoln & Ocean, Carmel, 624-7873.
On The Beach Surf Shop > Rentals available. Voted best surf shop in the Monterey County Weekly’s 2010 readers poll. 693 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 646-9283.
Sunshine Freestyle Sports, Inc. > rentals available. 443 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. 375-5015.