A visit to Point Lobos, California

by Jan

If you love nature, wildlife and fantastic views, a visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a must.  This beautiful natural destination is a perfect choice for family-friendly hiking near Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea.

We made a day trip from Monterey to Point Lobos during our recent road trip in California.  Find out how we got on, the best hiking trails and what you can expect to see on a day out at Point Lobos, California.

A visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of California’s national parks and is often known as the crown jewel of California’s state parks. It is a nature reserve which has been set up to help protect the rich natural beauty, wildlife and marine life of the area.

The reserve is abundant in wildlife and is home to over 20 species of mammals, including seals, racoons, ground squirrels, otters and sea lions.  Point Lobos is also a haven for shorebirds, including the Great Blue Heron and Black Oystercatchers.

View of yellow flowers leading to headland on hiking trail at Point Lobos Natural Park, California, USA

As soon as we arrived, we enrolled the children in the Point Lobos Junior Ranger Programme. This is a free educational programme, for children to learn more about the wildlife and nature at Point Lobos.

We had signed up for similar Junior Ranger Programmes at the Grand Canyon and in Point Reyes.  They are a really great way for kids to get first-hand knowledge about the area from local experts.

The children left us to follow the Point Lobos ranger along Carmelo Meadow Trail and Granite Point Trail.  These are both easy, family-friendly hiking trails, which are accessible from the main entrance.  Parents are welcome to accompany the group if you have younger kids.

As they walked, the ranger pointed out local flora and fauna and gave them facts about  Point Lobos plants and wildlife.  The reserve has very unique vegetation, which is why it’s so attractive to a variety of  animal species.

Eventually, the kids stopped at Whaler’s Cabin Museum, so they could sketch the plants and shoreline and examine local shells.

Meanwhile, we followed the same trails (spying from a distance), but then diverted to follow the Coal Chute Point Trail.

Coal Chute Point Trail took us out past spectacular wildflowers and fir trees to a viewpoint, with magnificent views of the ocean. After an hour, we met with the kids and did the following Point Lobos hikes together:-

The best family hiking trails at Point Lobos

Most hiking trails at Point Lobos are short and many interconnect, so it’s worth joining several walking trails together.  This way it’s easy to explore more of the perimeter in one visit.

Read on to see which Point Lobos hiking trails we completed and what we saw on each:-

woodland hiking trails through the trees at Point Lobos, California

South Plateau Trail (1.6 miles)

We started on South Plateau Trail, which took us through beautiful woodland towards Gibson Beach.  It’s an undulating trail, with several inclines and was probably one of the more rugged routes.  It is not suitable for wheelchair users or families with buggies (strollers).

When you get to the cliffs above Gibson Beach, look out for some very steep steps.  This wooden staircase provides access to the bay.  Gibson Beach is a lovely sandy beach with stunning, clear (but rather cold) water.

Be careful of the poison oak shrub which thrives at Point Lobos.  Touching it can cause a nasty itchy rash, which can be painful.

Bird Island Trail (0.8 miles)

After exploring Gibson Beach, we returned up the steep steps back to our original trail (South Plateau).  From here, we continued around the coastline on Bird Island Trail.  This is one of the best hiking trails at Point Lobos, as it provides a direct view over Bird Island.  It really is a fantastic bird-watching area for spotting some of the 150 species of birds who live here.

You can also look down from the coastal path to China Cove Beach.  This sandy cove is a good area for seeing harbour seals.  The beach is not accessible to the public during the pupping season (in April and May).  However, you can still get a great view from above.

Continuing along Bird Island Trail, we stumbled across one of the Point Lobos information stations at the parking lot.  Here, we met some amazing volunteers with hands-on displays for visitors.  The children had fun looking at animal bones and footprint castings and stroking various animal pelts.

South Shore Trail (1 mile)

Coastal View at Point Lobos, California
Coastal View at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, USA

Bird Island Trail lead onto South Shore Trail, a coastal trail which gave us more fantastic views of the ocean and sea birds.

We took a detour from Bird Island Trail down some steps to Weston beach.  We had a quick rest, so the kids could search tide pools for sea life.  They were very happy to find a choice of sea creatures left behind by the tide.  If you go, keep an eye out for anemones, starfish and crabs.

Returning back to Bird Island Trail, we followed an inward trail to the Pine Ridge Trail (0.7 miles).  Here, you’ll find a lovely woodland picnic area, with wooden picnic benches.

Sand Hill Trail (0.6 miles)

Our final trail at Point Lobos was the Sand Hill Trail which leads to Sea Lion Point.

Sand Hill Trail was probably one of our favourite hikes at Point Lobos, as it’s a viewpoint for sea otters.   Of course, I don’t think we’d have ever spotted otters if we’d been on our own, as they are well camouflaged in the sea kelp.  However, we met a volunteer with a telescope,  who showed us exactly where to spot them.

Once you know where to look, it’s fairly easy to find sea otters.  Obviously, having a very large telescope was a major advantage too!  This was a wonderful moment.  We had never even seen a sea otter until our recent visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, so it was absolutely amazing to see them in the wild.

If you continue up to Sea Lion Point, keep an eye out for the Point Lobos sea lions.  We weren’t lucky enough to spot any, so we retraced our steps back to Point Lobos parking lot.

An additional route from the parking lot is round the Cypress Grove Trail.  This is a short, circular trail, which is very popular because it loops through a grove of Monterey Cyprus tress.

Cypress Grove Trail is a very scenic trail, with lots of opportunities for wildlife.  It is also one of only two places on earth where you can see naturally growing stands of Monterey Cyprus tree.  The other place is at Cyprus Point, across Carmel Bay.

For advice on hiking with children, read out post:-

Simple tips for hiking with kids


How to get to Point Lobos

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is about 7 miles South of Monterey, below Carmel-by-the Sea. Its entrance is on Highway 1.  There is limited parking on site, and you do have to pay.  However, there is an overflow area on the Highway.

Top Tip:  As there’s only parking on site for 150 cars, arrive early for a place.

Opening times at Point Lobos

Point Lobos opens at 8:00 am and currently shuts at 5:00 pm.

Point Lobos Trail Map

You can plan your routes by picking up a trail map at the entrance to Point Lobos.

Guided tours

There are free daily guided walks, covering information on the history, geology and wildlife of the Point Lobos reserve.


We actually ended up walking a long way on our visit to Point Lobos, as we tried so many of the trails.  We didn’t really notice the distance, as there was so much fascinating nature along the way.   However, there are lots of inter-connecting short trails at Port Lobos if you want a shorter trip.

If your family loves outdoor adventures and wildlife, a visit to Point Lobos Natural Reserve is a really great trip.  The trails at Point Lobos are ideal for family hiking and the nature is awesome.  Allow plenty of time to enjoy the highlights of this lovely reserve.

Are you planning a road trip to California?  Read all our articles about the USA in our California Road Trip Guide

We hoped you enjoyed this post about a visit to Point Lobos?  If you have any tips of your own or questions, please comment below.

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