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There’s nothing like Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. And if you’re visiting, you’ll want to remember these tips. This stunning coastal California state park has long been one of my favorite places to explore and immerse myself in nature.

The pristine ocean views and hiking trails make this an incredible place to spend a few hours or more. The area is also home to an abundance of marine life. You’re bound to spot birds, seals, otters, and more along the ocean.

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There are a few things to know in order to correctly prepare for and maximize your time in this crown jewel of California’s state park system. Below I’m sharing my top tips for visiting Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, all to help you make the most of your excursion.

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What to Know About Visiting Point Lobos

Getting to Point Lobos

Point Lobos is just a 10-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea, so if you’re staying in the area.

If you’re coming from farther away, there are three major airports in the vicinity: Monterey County Airport, San Jose International, and San Francisco International Airport (in order of proximity).

Be forewarned that driving from San Francisco to Carmel can be rocky with traffic. Be sure to leave before or after rush hour to avoid getting held up.


The day-use area is from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. The last entry is at 6:30 p.m.

Entrance Fees

There are entrance fees to enter Point Lobos. For each vehicle, it’s $10, and $9 for seniors. Disabled visitors with a Discount Pass can enter for $5.00.

When visiting Point Lobos, you can also buy a CA Explorer Annual Pass for $195, which covers entry to most parks throughout the state, or a Golden Poppy Annual Pass for $125, which includes many of the premier “destination” parks in the Redwood region of California.

Bus entry fees are $50 for 10-24 passengers and $100 for 25-plus passengers, and permits are required for all buses.


Point Lobos has a parking lot capacity for 75 vehicles, but given the park’s popularity, it can fill up fast. For the best chance at getting a spot, arrive before 9:30 a.m. Alternatively, com later in the day, once other visitors have left.

There’s also overflow parking on the shoulder of Highway 101, and from there you can walk into the park.

Tips For Visiting Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel

How much time to plan on spending

Three hours is a great amount of time to walk around the park. It will allow you to see some wildlife and have a picnic. But you can easily spend longer, especially if you tackle some of the park’s many hiking trails.

Best time of year to visit Point Lobos

Fall is a great time of year to be in this area, as it brings many sunny days and a break from the fog that’s typical on the central coast from July through September. The climate is mild year-round, though summers are dryer and winter can bring occasional rain.

Spring is another favorite time to visit as the super bloom brings in a wonderful array of wildflowers.

Helpful Tips for Visiting

Tips For Visiting Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel

Plan to Arrive Early

As mentioned above, the reserve can get very crowded—especially during the summer and on holidays. Arriving early gives you the best chance at snagging a spot and also provides for a more tranquil atmosphere within the reserve itself.

Be Prepared For the Weather

Weather in this part of California changes quickly and often, so you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Given the unpredictability, it’s essential to pack layers!

Pack a picnic and a refillable water bottle

There’s nowhere to buy food or drinks within the reserve, so bringing your own is the way to go. If you’re visiting Carmel from out of town, there are several companies and restaurants that offer to-go picnic boxes you can bring with you.

Things to Do in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Go Hiking On One Of The Many Trails

There are so many trails to explore in Point Lobos that could easily keep you busy on many return trips. My favorite is the Bird Island Trail, which is the park’s only in-and-out trail. It takes you out to see where pelicans nest in the rocks, and you can also see harbor seals in a hidden cove.

Other popular trails include Sand Hill Trail, Sea Lion Point Trail, and Cypress Grove Trail, which all afford beautiful views. Don’t forget proper footwear, as the ground is uneven.

Visit the Picturesque China Cove

This emerald-green cove is a stunner that you can’t skip on your visit to Point Lobos. It has a small beach and, at low tide, a small cave and rock arch as well. To get to China Cove, take the Bird Island Trail, which has steps leading down to China Cove Beach.

Look for Local Wildlife

This stretch of coastline is one of the richest marine habitats in the state, and visitors can see seals, sea otters, peregrine falcons, and even occasionally whales. Make sure to bring along binoculars for whale spotting if you have them!

Explore Whaler’s Cabin Museum

Whaler’s Cabin, built by Chinese fishermen in the 1850s, is now a cultural history museum that’s open as docent staffing permits. This fascinating structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spend Time Down at Gibson Beach

Gibson Beach is the southernmost beach in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and is considered the best by many. To reach it, you’ll need to continue on the Bird Island Trail past China Cove; the trail ends at Gibson Beach.

Book a Docent-Guided Walk

To gain a deeper understanding of the area’s plants and animals, you can book a two-hour nature hike. Your guide will help you navigate around the reserve, pointing out the most beautiful views and wildlife. This small-group tour is capped at 14 guests for an intimate experience.

Tips For Visiting Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel

Take in the Local Flora and Fauna

In addition to the many marine animals listed above, you can find several plant and flower species throughout the reserve. The easily recognizable Monterey Cypress is one of three tree species that occurs naturally at Point Lobos, and more than 40 wildflower species grow within the park boundaries as well.

What to do Nearby to Point Lobos

Visit Iconic Carmel-By-the-Sea village

The town of Carmel is incredibly picturesque and a must-see if you’re in the area. Homes look like they’ve been plucked straight from a fairytale, and there are so many charming courtyards and hidden alleys to explore.

There’s also plenty of top-notch cuisine to be enjoyed in Carmel. Chez Noir, La Bicyclette, and Stationery are a few favorite eateries in town.

Go to Carmel Valley for Wine Tasting

While other areas of California may be more recognizable for their wines, the wineries in Carmel Valley are not to be missed. One of my personal favorites is Folktale Winery, which has a gorgeous setting, great food and incredible wine. I highly recommend booking a table in advance to accommodate both wine tasting and lunch on the beautiful outdoor patio.

Take a Drive South to Explore Big Sur

The ultimate destination on the Pacific Coast Highway, this part of California’s coast is nothing short of magic. Big Sur has standout restaurants, outdoor adventures, and aspirational hotel stays. You could easily spend several days here and never run out of corners to explore.

Don’t Miss a Scenic Drive Down 17-Mile Drive

This aptly named drive features 17 stops you can make for a self-guided tour. Lone Cyprus and the John Denver Memorial are among my favorites, and I also love the ghost cypress trees at Pescadero Point in the Del Monte forest.

Where to Stay to Visit Point Lobos

The Hotel Carmel

Consistently ranked one of the best places to stay in Carmel, the Hotel Carmel is incredibly charming and is my top recommendation for lodging in Carmel’s center. It’s modern and design-forward, with an outdoor area that boasts firepits and a hot tub.

Carmel Valley Ranch

For a scenic luxury stay, Carmel Valley Ranch has 139 rooms available to travelers at many different tiers. Set on a golf course, the resort has a long list of activities on offer, including hiking trails and tennis courts.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands

You can’t get much closer to Point Lobos than Hyatt Carmel Highlands. The property is a bit older and feels more like a vacation rental than a hotel or resort, but the rooms are cozy and the views are unbeatable.

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