You'll find some great Carmel beaches to the north in Pebble Beach, and to the south, where Big Sur territory begins. For the sheer splendor of it all, these beaches can't be beat. The scenery is spectacular and the wildlife abundant, including whales, seals, sea otters, birds, and tidepool critters. The beaches are broad and sandy, and the rocky coves are picturesque.
You can stay in the car and enjoy some gorgeous scenic drives, or get out and explore the trails, beaches and hidden coves.
For information on Carmel Beach and Carmel River State Beach see Carmel Beaches
This famous scenic drive winds through the private gated community of Pebble Beach. It travels through pine forests and Monterey cypress groves in the 5,300 acre Del Monte Forest. Stop at one of the many pull-outs to enjoy the spectacular views.
There are five entrances with toll gates. The entrance fee can be applied to purchases made from local merchants. You'll also receive a detailed map and guide. Pedestrians and bicyclists may enter free of charge, though some pedestrian gates may be closed on weekends and holidays.
You'll find pocket beaches, picnic areas, equestrian trails, plenty of wildlife and 7 (count 'em, seven!) golf courses. You can arrange a trail ride at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center. Or take a kayak tour at Stillwater Cove. There's also diving and fishing, and just watching the wildlife.
At Fanshell Beach you'll find the typical Carmel beach white sand and seals. The beach is closed in the spring to protect the pups. Bird Rock and Seal Rock are also good places to watch the critters, though binoculars would be helpful here.
There's a lot to see at Point Lobos. The park is outstanding for its scenery, its wildlife and its rich underwater habitat. There are 1276 acres of headlands with spectacular views of the coast. A series of trails offers you ample opportunity to explore the numerous sandy coves, beaches and tidepools.
At the south end of the park, you'll find China Cove and Gibson Beach. These are both white sand beaches, accessible via long staircases.
You can swim and wade here, but the water is ice-cold, as it is at all Carmel beaches. Moreover, wet suits or other equipment aren't allowed in this area of the park.
The park is popular with photographers, artists and naturalists. The Cypress Grove Trail will take you to Allen Memorial Grove, one of only two remaining natural groves of Monterey cypress.
You'll find sea lions offshore at Sea Lion Point. Bird Island, at the south end of the park, is a sanctuary for thousands of birds.
Both scuba and free diving are permitted here, at Whalers Cove and Bluefish Cove. You'll need proof of certification and reservations are recommended - necessary on weekends and holidays. This is a protected area, so you're cautioned not to disturb the plants and animals. It's a very popular spot, due to the rich marine habitat.
The park is located 3 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. There are 9 parking areas and restroom facilities are available.
Dogs are not allowed and bicycles aren't permitted on the trails. Entrance fees are charged per vehicle. This is a day use park: hours 9 am - 7 pm summer and 9 am - 5 pm winter
You'll find a wealth of information, photos, and an interactive park map at Point Lobos State Reserve.
Check out the view at Point Lobos panorama from Virtual Parks.
Located seven miles south of Carmel, Garrapata is at the northern edge of the rugged Big Sur Coast. It's open for day use, and there are no entrance fees.
The park features two miles of easily accessible sandy beach in the southern portion. The surf here is extremely dangerous, due to strong rip currents. But the beach is wonderful for beachcombing, and the coastal trail offers spectacular views. Dogs are allowed on the beach, if kept on a leash, but not elsewhere in the park.
You'll find parking and beach access via numbered turnouts on Highway 1. Look for gates 18 or 19 to get to the beach. There's a scenic overlook with a bench at gate 17.
Garrapata is a large park, totaling 2,938 acres. In the northern section of the park, you'll find rocky shoreline and the coastal headlands of Soberanes Point. Hiking trails at the point offer panoramic views and wildlife watching.
Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters are common here. In fact, the California Sea Otter Game Refuge begins here and extends south all along the Big Sur coast. California gray whales pass by during their annual migration in winter and spring.
You can access the Soberanes Point Trails from gates 8, 9, or 10 off Highway 1. You'll also find two primitive restroom facilities here, but they're not wheelchair-accessible.
Garrapata also has back country trails that will take you inland through dense redwood groves. The trails form a four mile loop and afford you sweeping views of the coast. But beware, these trails can be rather steep. You can access them from gates 7 and 8.
Get more information and download the park map and brochure at Garrapata State Park.
See for yourself what the park looks like with these panoramic views of Garrapata State Park from Virtual Guidebooks.