The Monterey Peninsula is under a 2-hour car trip south from San Francisco. The area has a wide range of things to do, including some nice hikes that allow you to take in some beautiful views. Here are some of our favorite hikes in the area. And when you get tired of hiking, take a walk to explore the beautiful towns.
Big Sur Hikes
We thought we had it planned out: a roughly 4-mile round-trip hike down to the beach and along the Bluff Trail at Andrew Molera State Park, followed by lunch at Big Sur River Inn (see below), a stroll through the world’s southernmost redwood grove and along the roughly 3-mile round-trip hike along Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trails and two short trails at Julia Pfieffer Burn’s State Park, the 0.5 m Canyon Trail to the base of McWay Falls and the 1 mile Partington Cove trail down the cliffs to a pretty cove. When we arrived at the parks we discovered that Andrew Molera’s Bluff Trail required the fording of a river and that Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s Phieffer Falls and Julia Pfeiffer Burn’s State Park’s Canyon Trail were closed. And besides that, the most stunning high-altitude views of the several hundred-foot cliffs plunging down to a roiled ocean lined with and beaches and whose waves were slamming against huge offshore rocks and sea stacks were all but obscured in shade. Then, on the way home, we found that one of the region’s most interesting art gallery (the Coast Gallery was closed) and that our drink on the Nepenthe’s deck overlooking the coast had to be canceled due to fog.
Such is life in a region of unpredictable fog and an era in which parks are continually plagued by droughts, ravaged by wildfires, and ripped apart by winter storms and floods. So, we made lemonade out of lemons as many of our favorite trails were still closed (some have recently reopened after our trip). We did the trails we could, found a couple of very nice substitutes, had a lovely lunch along the river, and found alternatives to the trails we were unable to do. While views were only occasional, we were still left in awe of the grandeur and the delicacies of nature’s balance. And then there was the always delightful stop at Hawthorne Gallery and sculpture/cactus/succulent garden.
Our trails included:
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s largest redwood groves. The trees are roughly 100-feet shorter than their cooler weather, Northern Californian cousins. This roughly 2-mile round trip hike takes you up to and back down from the view at the top of the Valley View Trail;
- Julia Pfeiffer Burn’s State Park. We ended up taking the short, but lovely half-mile McWay Waterfall Overlook trail and then, about five miles north of the park’s main entrance, down and back up the park’s scenic 1 mile round trip Partington Cove trail to the bluff just above the cove; and
- Garrapata State Bluff Trail goes along Big Sur’s northern ocean-hugging bluffs on the awe-inspiring roughly 1.5-mile roundtrip trail.
What a lovely day exploring the surf exploding against the cliffs that lined the shores, and the beautiful vistas. We happened to also be there to see the numerous displays of wildflowers and colorful ice plants.
By the way, the state park pass that you buy is good for the entire day at multiple state parks in the area. As many of the ranger stations may not have a human to collect your money, make sure you have some small bills to pay the fee.
Point Lobos Hikes
We hiked several trails at Point Lobos, each with very different features and attractions. Our favorites were:
- Cypress Grove Trail is a short .8 mile round trip trail through a highly varied grove of Monterey Cypress lining a rugged, rocky coastline. The trees ranged from seedlings to wind-shaped, fully mature trees and the bleached eerily twisted white trunks and branches of dead cypress, some of which were covered in red algae and others dripping with long stands of moss.
- Bird Island Trail, is a point whose shoreline is pocked with several scenic coves with turquoise waters, sea caves and arches, and tranquil sandy beaches which, in spring are populated by harbor seals who are about to or have recently given birth. It is surrounded by several islands that, in the spring, serve as rookeries for thousands of nesting cormorants.
- Whaler’s Cove, a roughly 1-mile trip around a head that is home to a 19th-century whaling station (complete with cabin, whale skeletons, and pots in which blubber used to be boiled down into whale oil. The head itself, which climbs to one of the highest points in the park, is surrounded by rock outcroppings and pocked with sand beaches that are seasonal homes to birthing harbor seals.
While these aren’t hikes, we also like to walk around the towns in the area. Explore the galleries, browse menus, rambles up down and across Carmel’s scenic streets, walk along the shores of Pebble Beach, a stroll along Pacific Grove’s lovely coastline, through Monterey’s historic Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and historic Alvarado Street. We love:
- Carmel-by-the-Sea’s quirky architecture, rocky shoreline, beaches, and a profusion of interesting galleries, shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms represent dozens of Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands wineries.
- Pebble Beach with the natural beauty of the justly famous 17-Mile Drive drive with its rugged coastline, the proliferation of Monterey Cypress trees, mansions and complemented by (or depending on your perspective, despoiled by) five fastidiously designed and landscaped golf courses and the Inns at Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay.
- Pacific Grove with its Lighthouse Avenue commercial district, Monarch Butterfly Refuge, and the majestic cliff walk, bay-front parks, and mansions that line Ocean View Boulevard.
- Historic Monterey, along the restored, very touristy street of Cannery Row, replete with its history of immigrant sardine fisherman and cannery, John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts—is also home to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium—past the clichéd but fun tourist restaurants of Fisherman’s Wharf, past the 1820-era Custom House and along Alvarado Street, the city’s historic commercial street that is lined with historic adobe buildings.
The stretch of coastline, from Pacific Groves’ lovely Berwick Park, next to Lighthouse Avenue and past Monterey’s Cannery Row to Fisherman’s Wharf and Alvarado Street is paralleled by a lovely, roughly 2-mile walking/biking path that provides a very scenic and relaxing stroll or ride past some of the most scenic sections of the coastline.
- Carmel Mission, a 1770-era mission generally considered the most authentically preserved on the missions and the last of the nine founded by Father Junipero Serra. The mission, with its basilica, large courtyards, museums, and reconstructed rooms–including a formal reception room, kitchen, padre bedroom, and the oldest library in the state was lovely and dedicated clearly to Serra, who after decades of controversies over his subjugation of Native Americans, was ultimately beatified in 1988.
- 17-Mile Drive, from Carmel, through Pebble Beach and ending in Pacific Grove, is one of America’s most lovely routes. The road which generally runs along the beautiful rocky Pacific shoreline on one side and dramatic mansions on the other passes five beautifully situated and designed championship golf courses and is effectively bookended by two luxury resorts, the Pebble Beach Inn and the Inn and Spanish Bay. The Drive is crisscrossed by a number of trails and one 1.8-mile stretch, between Bird Island and the Inn at Spanish Bay, is lined by a walking path (between the road and the shore) that brings you up close and personal with the shoreline, the dense vegetation and fortuitously when we walked the round-trip path, a riot of beautifully colored wildflowers, red algae-coated rocks, and multi-colored ice plants. And don’t forget, if you eat at one of the restaurants along the drive, you get your admission price back on the meal.
Other Things To Do on the Monterey Peninsula
If you are tired of hiking and walking, here are some other things to do on Monterey Peninsula
Restaurants and Dining
Exploring the Monterey Aquarium