- Carmel Valley,
- North America,
- Point Lobos State Reserve,
- United States
My husband and I recently participated in the Big Sur Marathon (as 21-mile walkers). This Trip Plan shows some pictures from the trip, some of the sites we saw, and a restaurant I wish we'd tried out.
See + Do
Point Lobos State Reserve, California
Point Lobos State Reserve, California
Tel: 831 624 4909
This blustery jewel of a state park is famous for its wind-blown cypress trees clinging to the rocky cliffs, and for its hundreds of barking, braying, sunbathing sea lions. At low tide, tiny crabs and snails cling to the ink-black rocks and crawl in tide pools; you'll want to roll up your pant legs and explore. Harbor seals are born in the end of April and early May (bring binoculars if you want to see them from shore), and migrating gray whales pass by from December to May, making this a primo spot for whale-watching. There are several hiking trails; call ahead to ask about free guided walks. On weekends, though, be sure to show up early: Parking spaces are limited.
See + Do
Monterey Bay Aquarium, California
Tel: 831 648 4800
This aquarium is one of the best in the world, and the top reason to visit touristy downtown Monterey. Press your nose against the glass of a million-gallon tank,the world's largest,for a window into the sea life that dwells in the bay, including hammerhead sharks and translucent jellyfish. You can also watch otters performing their daily ablutions and see divers feeding swarms of hungry fish in the giant kelp forest tank (daily at 11:30 am and 4 pm). Other exhibits and events cover everything from tide pools to cooking demonstrations. Kids get their own special activities and educational programs, with penguins and touch tanks and patient staff members to keep things entertaining. Education is a big deal at the aquarium. Pick up a copy of the Seafood Watch: Sustainable Seafood Choices brochure, which tells you which edible fish are endangered. To avoid having to wait in long lines to enter, particularly on weekends and in the summer, book tickets ahead of time, by phone or online (some hotels also sell tickets). If you prefer the swishing of fins to the patter of thousands of little feet, call ahead to ask about adult-only visiting hours.
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
See + Do
The best hiking in Big Sur isn't right along the coastline. Because the cliffs here tower a thousand feet high and drop precipitously to the pounding surf below, there are countless rocky coves and tiny sand beaches that are entirely inaccessible; the land is just too steep for trails.On the inland side of Highway 1, though, it's a different story. Here, the terrain is manageable enough that you can get those stunning viewswithout plummeting to your death. For major visual impact and only minor physical output, head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, south of the town of Big Sur. Take the flat Waterfall Trail (about a half mile, round-trip), which leads to a fabulous overlook with a year-round waterfall. Hardier souls can reach the tops of the coastal ridges via the Tan Bark Trail, a 6.5 mile round-trip hike into the hills.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, abutting the town of Big Sur, has lots of great trails, including Pfeiffer Falls, an easy 1.4-mile round-trip walk through redwood groves to a 60-foot waterfall. Serious hikers should continue into the adjacent Ventana Wilderness, part of Los Padres National Forest. Be prepared for some intense elevation gains: Some of the mountains rise nearly 5,000 feet within two miles of the coast. This is rugged countryyou'll need proper hiking boots and physical stamina. You should also bring water and wear layers you can remove. Although it may look foggy near the water in all these hiking areas, once you climb high enough, you'll emerge into the blazing-hot sun.
See + Do
Carmel Mission, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California 93923
Tel: 831 624 1271
Though currently surrounded by ranch-house subdivisions, the Carmel Mission was once the only building for miles around. Spanish missionary Father Junípero Serra established the mission in 1771 to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Today, it's still an important site for Catholicsprimarily because Father Serra's remains are interred under the altarbut even nonbelievers will find it worth a visit. The primitive statuary and ornately carved altar are beautifully preserved, as are unexpected details like the charming cherubs peeping from behind the pipes of the organ loft. Adjoining the church are the living quarters of the missionaries. One of the most interesting rooms is the tiny library (California's first), where you can peer through a glass doorway at decaying leather-bound texts frozen in time. Outside in the courtyard, baseball-size roses grow in the lovely gardens. (Shutterbugs: One of the best spots to pose for pictures is behind the Basilica, beneath the bell tower.)
California's missions were positioned one day apart by horseback, so you can see several in a day traveling by car. If you're heading south on Highway 1, it's easy to make a detour to Mission San Antonio de Padua, in the middle of nowhere near the tiny town of Jolon (Mission Rd.; 831-385-4478). It provides a glimpse of how the missions looked before modern-day civilization grew up around them.
Carmel Valley, California
Tel: 888 648 9463
The long-running star of the Monterey Peninsula's food scene, Marinus uses ingredients from the backyard (the adjacent inn grows much of its own produce) or from organic growers just down the road. Seasonality is the chef's watchword. Mesquite- and oak-grilled prime beef (the house specialty), game meats, and just-picked vegetables figure prominently on the French-California menu, although chef Cal Stamenov frequently changes the choice of dishes. Service is formal but never stuffy, and tables are spread well apart from one another (unlike at other area restaurants). The encyclopedic wine list features some exceptional vintages, including many from Bernardus, the restaurant's sister winery. The dining space, with its vaulted wooden ceilings, massive wood tables, and roaring limestone fireplace, manages to feel expansive and cozy at the same time.
Open daily 6 pm to 10 pm.