When Is the Best Time
The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most popular parks because of its natural beauty and location. With more than one million visitors annually, the park already reached its limit, and the number of visitors is still increasing.
The park opens throughout the year at 8 a.m. but closes before sunset to protect the wildlife and to avoid disturbance (like deer, foxes, bobcats, and owls). Camping is not permitted.
The best time to visit Point Lobos regarding crowds and weather with clearer skies, pleasant temperatures are September and October, followed by April and May.
Crowds in Summer
This magnificent and popular State Reserve is located close to Carmel on HW 1. Point Lobos is a year-round destination and super busy during summer and especially at weekends. Limited parking within the reserve; 150 cars only. At weekends and especially Sundays during summer it’s advisable to arrive before 9 a.m. or later in the afternoon. Otherwise, you have to line up or park your car outside on the shoulder and walk-in.
If possible, visit the reserve mid-week. However, Point Lobos is also much loved by school classes due to the many opportunities to experience and learn about nature and wildlife. The foundation supports schools with transportation and offers adventure programmes for 8 to 12 years old youth in summer, which fills up soon. Nevertheless, it was super busy during our visit on a Sunday, but as soon as we started to hike, we were almost alone on the trails.
It’s a moderate cool coastal climate. The average temperature ranges from about 55 to 65°F / 13-18 °C year-round. Spring is sunny and cool before the foggy summer season starts with fog until the afternoon. Fog banks emerge from the cold water (around 50 °F / 10°C), and the warm coastal air condenses into fog.
Fall (September to November) is the sunniest time of the year, although evenings are more chilly. During the winter, mist and showers occur between November to March.
6 Seasonal Highlights and Animals
- Harbor Seal Pupping Season
Picture by my friend Leif
From March until June, you may spot harbor seals giving birth to a puppy at China Cove. It’s amazing that the newborns start to swim just 20 minutes later. The best months to witness this spectacle are April and May. The cove and beach are closed for the public during this season.
- Southern Sea Otters
They may be spotted offshore in the kelp beds on calm days. On windy days they are more often found in protected coves like in my picture. They are living in waters with a temp between 35°F and 60°F / 1,5°C up to 15,5°C. This is important for their constant body temp of almost 100 °F / 37°C. They mate and give birth in the sea throughout the year with a peak of pupping from January to March, fewer from August to October.
They can be spotted throughout the year. Perfect spots to observe whales are South Point and Sea Lion Point.
# Grey whales are most commonly seen from late December to January and again from March until early May.
# Humpbacks are frequently seen from March until December.
# Minke whales are sometimes spotted from January until April. They migrate in larger numbers, but due to their smaller seize often missed.
# Blue whales are sometimes spotted in summer.
# Orcas; three different species of orcas can be found. The transient orcas feed on mammals, therefore, frequently seen when gray whales migrate with their calves their preferred prey. They can also be spotted at other times of the year hunting seals, porpoise, and dolphins. The resident orcas feed on fish, especially salmon, and always stay in the same area. Nowadays, resident orcas from Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be found around Monterey. The offshore orcas are mostly seen during winter feeding on squid, fish and even sharks.
- Sea Lions
The sea lions are resting along the shoreline of Point Lobos. Most common is the California sea lion at Point Lobos. You already hear them baking from far away. The reason for the name of the State Park Reserve. "Punta de Los Lobos Marinos" in Spanish means "The point of the sea wolves". The sea lion population is much smaller in late spring and summer due to migration to the south for mating. However, you spot them here throughout the year. Elephant seals are spotted occasionally.
Spring and summer is the nesting season for seabirds on bird island. The bird island trail is great to spot lots of birds in the morning or late afternoon. Two cormorant species can be found year-round, nesting on rocks offshore from March to August. Overall there are three cormorant species that can be found here: Brandt's Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, and Pelagic Cormorant.
Depending on the wind it is a bit smelly when you reach Pelican Point but the view is excellent of hundreds of nesting birds. We spotted several birds like the scrub jay and dark-eyed junco along the loop trail.
The wildflower season in spring is stunning when colourful flowers like California Poppies, Douglas Iris, lilac Ceanothus are spread on the ground. We also saw beautiful ground cover plants in bloom in September. Due to the higher humidity; the dense fog, the vegetation is colourful from spring to autumn. If you like to know more about the different common wildflowers follow the link.
A permit is required, and reservations can be made up two months in advance. 15 diving teams always two divers are allowed to dive at Whalers Cove and Bluefish Cove each day. It must be beautiful underwater in 70 foot-high kelp forests. Some caves are accessible in calm seas. Diving map of Point Lobos State Reserve
Parking and Shuttle in the Future
Limited parking at Point Lobos; just 150 spaces are available. The parking fills up quickly in the morning after opening. The only alternative is outside the reserve shoulder parking along Highway 1. It is not safe for visitors walking here to get to the entrance. There is an additional parking lot planned for 100 cars three miles north of Point Lobos. This additional parking will be near the mouth of Carmel Valley also restrooms are planned. However, I experienced a weekend at Point Lobos. It was crazy, and I think even 100 additional parking spaces won't be enough for the huge amount of day-trippers.
Very clean restrooms with soap and towels next to the main parking lot.
Unfortunately, there isn't any campground or accommodation offered inside the reserve. However, there are many lovely hotels nearby in Carmel or Monterey.
My Top Tip to Beat the Crowds
My most favourite park is Garrapata State Park, just a ten minutes drive - 5 miles south of Point Lobos. This park is as beautiful, with 19 stops along HW 1. Visitors are spread in the long stretched coastal and inland park, and it rarely gets crowded. You easily get a parking space.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Point Lobos is a jewel among the State Parks for the whole family with four accessible wheelchair trails. It is located just 3 miles south of Carmel and 90 miles south of San Francisco. The park offers stunning landscape, pristine beaches, pine forest, Monterey cypress grove full of lichen and algae, birds, wildlife, marine life, several well-marked hiking trails, is a great diving spot, and is rich in history.
I have to confess Point Lobos is a breathtaking place in California. The outstanding work of the foundation and its volunteers make this State Reserve even more popular. We got provided with lots of information and tips from the volunteers, even where to spot a whale during our visit.
It is very rare to experience such attentive and kind volunteers as we did at Point Lobos. It's a place that should not be missed on your visit along HW 1.
Beaches and Swimming Point Lobos
The three most beautiful beaches are situated in the south of Point Lobos. There is direct access on short trails. Swimming is not prohibited but keep in mind there are seals, sea lions, and the cold sea temp below 60°F - 16°C It rarely climbs above 60°F it only occurs in August and September.
- Gibson Beach
It's a five-minute walk from the parking to the steep stairs leading down to the white sandy Gibson Beach. It is as breathtaking as Mc Way Falls and Beach, but here it is allowed to access the beach.
- Hidden Beach
Also a short walk from the parking at China Cove. Steeps leading down to the small pebble beach.
- Weston Beach
Get in awe of this awesome beach and its tide pools. The tide pools are accessible during low tide. Tide times The kiddos will love the tide pools with crabs, starfish, anemones, small fish.
Where Does the Name Come From?
Spanish is widely spoken in the Bay Area, and Point Lobos means; “Punta de Los Lobos Marinos – Point of the Sea Wolves". The early Spanish Seafarers got reminded of wolves due to the barking noise of the sea lions. If hiking close to the rocks full of sea lions, you utterly understand why this name was given to this place.
The Whaling Station Museum is rich in history with an exhibition about the different occupants in the last centuries. First of all were the indigenous people, followed by Chinese fishermen and Japanese Abalone Fishermen, and for a short time, the Portuguese Whalers came here. You may even get the impression that you’ve seen the house or area before because it is famous for 50 movies like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Blind Date with Bruce Willis or Turner, and Hooch with Tom Hanks.
The museum is one of the Chinese fishermen houses built in the 1850s. Portuguese whalers were attracted by the annual grey whale migration in 1862, but already in 1880, the oil of the whales was substituted by the cheaper kerosene. The abalone fishery began in 1898. During WW II, the area was the headquarter of the US Army. In 1960 the waters at Point Lobos were declared as a marine reserve. In 2007 Point Lobos became utterly protected.
- Binocular to spot birds and whales
- Bring beverages and food; there isn’t any café or restaurant inside the park, only three picnic areas; one at Whalers Cove parking area, at bird island parking area, and Piney Woods.
- Windproof jacket and fleece pullover also during summer; the breeze is chilly and the fog persistent.
The hiking trails are relatively easy and well-marked. Most of them are short below one-mile distance. To get an idea of the whole beauty of this park, hike the 6.7 miles - 10.8 km loop, which starts at Whalers Cove. The first part is the "North Shore Trail" leading along the rugged coastline to "Cypress Groove Trail" and "Sea Lion Point Trail" which enters the short "Sand Hill Trail" and to the longer "South Shore Trail" until China Cove. The landscape along the coastal track is stunning before heading back inland. However, you can start this trail from every parking. The highest point in the park is the Big Dome at 260 feet / almost 80 meters. It is a wonderful park to spend the entire day in.
Entrance Fee Tip
The entrance fee is 10 $ per car. If you already camp in one of the other State Parks nearby, the entrance is for free. If you park outside, the entrance is also free. However, it is worth paying the entrance fee for such a stunning park.
My Restaurant Tip
The Rocky Point Restaurant is located nine miles south of Point Lobos along the Cabrillo Hwy. We went here several times for the excellent seafood dishes. It has an incredible location with outstanding views to the ocean indoors and outdoors. The entire property is wonderfully located. Dogs are welcome. Google Maps Location
Poison oak is found throughout the park, often a groundcover and thick bush; therefore, stay on the trails. The oily substance on the leaves, stems, and roots is irritating to the skin, which gets itchy for days. I know what I am talking about the reason I have to mention it.
Watch for ticks.
Dogs are not permitted in the entire State Park Reserve to protect the wildlife.