The Monterey Peninsula is known worldwide for its magical scenery, both by land and sea, and in order to ensure this beauty remains for our children and our children’s children, many of these most gorgeous sights are protected by the California State Parks system. The Monterey Peninsula offers California State Parks and Reserves that will delight both land lovers and beach goers alike. Keeping friends and family of all ages entertained in these parks is easy, as there are endless activities to choose from including hiking, kayaking, walking paths, surfing, horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, diving, birding, tide pooling and more!
Take a look at some of my favorites in the local area easily accessible from the Portola Hotel & Spa!
Located just steps away from the Portola is the Monterey State Historic Park, which boasts a collection of significant historical houses and buildings that can be found throughout Old Monterey. Visitors can discover Monterey’s unique history by taking a stroll on the “Monterey Walking Path of History,” a two-mile path that is marked by yellow-tiled markers – Robert Louis Stevenson walked the same trail in 1879. The historical park stands to preserve places and objects that are of historical significance including 12 buildings and several residences. Visitors should be sure to check out the spot where the Spanish explorers first landed in Monterey in 1602; Custom House, which is the oldest building in California and one of the nation’s last remaining whalebone sidewalks. Many of the historic adobes can only be viewed with a State Park Guide so be sure and stop by the Pacific House Museum to get tickets.
Located about 10-15 minutes from the Portola in Pacific Grove, is Asilomar State Beach offering gorgeous white sand beaches and tide pools galore! Friends, families and their dogs are always welcome to come explore this one-mile strip of white sandy beach and its rocky coves. Visitors can pack a picnic, go surfing, explore the tide pools and take a stroll on the short boardwalk loop that winds through the natural dune preserve. The State Beach is free of charge and vehicle parking and a bicycle lane are adjacent to the state beach on Sunset Drive.
About 25 minutes from the Portola heading south on Highway 1 toward Big Sur, is the Point Lobos State Reserve, which represents some of the greatest coastal beauty that Monterey County has to offer. With teal waters, white sand beaches, cypress trees and an abundance of wildlife including sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, birds and even whales, Point Lobos should not be missed. There are a number of hiking trails that are easily accessible from the parking lot with the majority of them being perfect for beginners. Visitors should be sure to check out Whalers Cove, which offers spectacular views that often include whales. Humpback whales migrate through the area from April until December and Gray whales can be seen during their migration mid-December until mid-April. Another great spot within the park to view wildlife or simply take in the calm atmosphere is China Beach, a secluded beach that harbor seals and sea otters also use as a quiet refuge. Trail maps are available at the entrance kiosk and there is also signage located throughout the park.
For spectacular views and an overall great outdoor experience, head south on infamous Highway 1 to Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur. The journey will begin long before entering the park as Highway 1 is packed full of breathtaking scenery that includes dramatic coastal cliffs, giant redwood trees and the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. Andrew Molera State Park is located right off Highway 1 and is a great place to go on a long walk and experience the dramatic scenery of Big Sur. There are great swimming beaches at this park and for those who want to stay off their feet; horseback riding is available from commercial stables nearby. Be sure to pack layers as it can be windy at Andrew Molera State Park and also pay attention to signs that point out dangers such as jagged cliffs and poison oak.
Just 20 minutes south of Andrew Molera State Park is the home of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This is another State Park that is not to be missed as it offers extensive views of the powerful Big Sur coastline, ginormous redwood trees and an abundance of wildlife. The famous McWay Falls is not to be missed and is probably the most spectacular feature at the park. An easy five to 10 minute walk from Highway 1, McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall that drops right onto a white sand beach and then straight into the Pacific Ocean. There is scuba diving available at the Underwater Area of the park, but special permitting is required. In December and January, Gray Whales can be seen from Overlook trail migrating southward to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast. Springtime is also a great time to visit, as it is lush with wildflowers and the smell of sage. Be sure to bring layers no matter the time of year.
From divers to hikers, whale watchers to bikers and history buffs to kayakers, there is a State Park for everyone’s taste right here in our own backyard. The Concierge at Portola is always happy to help plan the perfect day trip so grab family, friends and a camera and get out there and enjoy the Central Coast at its finest!