Carmel Beaches and Parks
Carmel-by-the-Sea beaches are known worldwide for their beauty. Our Carmel inns are just steps away from Carmel Beach and you are just minutes away from several state parks and other beaches on California's central coast . You could quite easily spend your entire vacation in Carmel visiting beaches.
Carmel beach is a two-mile stretch of white sand beach that offers beautiful views, great walks, and the perfect place for picnics and gatherings. Though it is quite cold for swimming, you will see surfers and boogie boarders, and it is great for a cooling dip of the feet but care should be taken, particular with children. There are no lifeguards and conditions change quickly.
Get to Carmel Beach by driving to the foot of Ocean Avenue, where you'll find the beach's main parking lot. You may also park for free until midnight along Scenic Road. If you are staying in Carmel, it may be better to talk down the beach because parking can be quite crowded. The beach is dog-friendly and dogs can be off leash provided the owner has control. Mutt-mitt stations for dog clean-up are easily found as are recycling bins. Fires are allowed on the beach until 10pm but must be no larger than 3x3x3. Fires should be extinguished using water not sand.
Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River State Beach is a mile long beach including the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Reserve, which are frequented by a variety of migratory birds. To get the park from Carmel, go down Ocean Avenue, turn left on San Antonio Avenue, turn left on Santa Lucia Avenue and then right onto Carmelo Street where the parking lot is located.
This State park beach is a popular spot for experienced kayakers and divers, and a great place for picnics and hiking. Carmel River Beach Trail is a 2-mile round trip popular with hikers. Though perfectly safe for beach walks, caution must be used when exploring near the shoreline. Swimming and wading here can be dangerous and is not recommended because of strong currents, a steep drop off, and ever changing wave conditions which can be quite rough, particulary but not limited to the south end known as "Monastery Beach" (see below). The steeply dropping ocean floor also creates an area of deceptive calm near shore that does not indicate the actual condition of waves further out. Kayakers should check conditions further out. Dogs must be on leash at all times.
Monastery Beach is named so because of it's proximity to the Carmelite Monastery. The beach is sometimes known as San Jose Creek Beach and is actually part of the Carmel River State Beach - located at its southernmost end with pounding surf and views. Dogs must be on leash. It is a quiet, somewhat secluded beach, perfect for picnics and beach walks, but, we strongly urge you to be aware of some extreme dangers here near the shoreline.
Be Aware of the Dangers
Monastery beach is beautiful but also has a deserved reputation for danger. Most local drowning fatalities in the Carmel / Monterey area occur here. Staying a respectful distance from the shoreline is best. Even experienced divers know the dangers here and some still get into trouble in its waters - many when exiting the water back to shore. It is not safe to swim, wade, or walk too near the shore here. Large waves can unexpectedly break near or right on the beach and can easily knock you down. The strong rip tide can then pull you away from shore and the very steep drop off and pebbly bottom can make it extremely difficult to get to your feet once you are down. There are no lifeguards and a rescue here is difficult - even rescue attempts are not recommended.
You can have a safe and enjoyable day here if you take the warning signs seriously. Please read them. If you follow simple rules for safety, it is great spot. Staying on dry sand where waves cannot touch you is the most sensible way to enjoy the beach.
Pebble Beach is a prestigious community most famous for the Pebble Beach Golf course and 17-Mile Drive. The scenic drive offers incredible views of the coastline. Attractions include Seal Point, Pescadero Point, and the iconic "Lone Cypress", one of the most photographed natural monuments on the coast, which has withstood wind, weather and time, standing for over 250 years. There are many pullouts that provide views and several picnic areas along the route. A per vehicle entrance fee is charged to enter 17-Mile Drive. From Carmel enter at the toll-booth at San Antonio Avenue.
Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera State Park is a large protected area of mostly undeveloped lands located at the mouth of the Big Sur River about 20 miles south of Carmel on Route 1 (view directions). The park features beaches, camping and 20 miles of trails, many along beaches, on bluff ridges providing spectacular views, and beside the Big Sur River. There is one walk-in camping ground with 24 designated campsites. Dogs are not allowed on trails or in the campground. Horseback riding is very popular, provided by Molera Big Sur Horseback Riding Tours.
Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park is located 7 miles south of Carmel on Route 1 (view directions). The park is marked by one sign on the west side of the highway so is easily missed if you aren't looking for it. With 2 miles of beach front, hiking trails on beaches and in redwood stands, and views of the Pacific, the beach is popular for day hikers, photographers and nature lovers. Sea lions, seals, and sea otters are frequently sighted just off shore and gray whales pass by during their migration.
View the Garrapata State Park brochure (PDF).
Pfeiffer Beach is a day use-beach that is part of the Los Padres National Forest Service. It is not well known to tourists in the area. Visitors hearing of the beach often mistake Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park as the location. Pfeiffer Beach is located on Sycamore Canyon Road off of Highway 1. It is at mile marker 45.64 about a 50 minute drive south of Carmel (view directions). The beach is great place for picnics, beachcombing and surfing. Restrooms are near the parking area.
The beach is known for its unusual purple sand the "keyhole rock" an rock formation just off shore with a several foot wide keyhole through it at the bottom. The rock's color and the keyhole create some very unusual, dramatic light effects at sun up and it is a popular spot for photographers. Camping and fires are not allowed. If you go, go early. Because of limited parking, spots fill up quite quickly and the rangers will turn people away.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Beach
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a day-use park and campground located 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 (view directions). The park features two hike-in campgrounds and beautiful beaches. The park's iconic feature is the saddle-shaped McWay Cove and McWay Falls - an 80-foot waterfall draining McWay Creek onto the beach below. The falls, creek and cove are named after early settler Christopher McWay, and had several owners, the last of which were Congressman Lathrop Brown and Helen Brown, who began acquiring the land in the 1920s. Above the falls are the remnants of their stone home "Waterfall House". In 1961, the property was bequeathed to the State of California for use as a park. The Brown's requested that the home be torn down and all that remains are remnants of the staircase and walls.
In December and January, the Park's overlook is a good place to watch for gray whales on their southward migration. No dogs are allowed in campgrounds or on park trails. Fires are only allowed in the campground fire pits. View the park brochure with map (PDF).
Sand Dollar Beach
Sand Dollar Beach is the longest stretch of sandy beach on the Big Sur coastline. It's a nice day trip from Carmel. To get there, drive 60 miles south on Highway 1 (view directions). The beach is north of the Plasket Creek Campground. The area is popular for picnics, surfing, hiking and beachcombing. Swimming is dangerous here because of rip tides and surf. There is a day-use fee and camping is not allowed although the Plaskett Creek Campground is very near. At Jade Cove, divers and beachcombers hunt for nephrite jade - not recommended for the inexperienced because the surf and rip tide can be dangerous. Restrooms are located near the parking area. No fires are allowed on the beach and dogs must be on leash.
View Sand Dollar Beach and Sand Dollar Beach Trail in a larger map
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos derives its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos (Point of the Sea Wolves) where the barks and yelps of sea lions can be heard. Visitors to the park enjoy amazing ocean views, picnics, hiking and scuba diving. Fires are prohibited and picnicking is allowed only in designated areas. Off-trail hiking is prohibited.
Marine life is in abundance at Point Lobos, and although sea lions are plentiful, visitors sometimes see whales, dolphins, and seals. On land, you may see dear, coyote, and bobcat. Mountain lions are infrequent visitors to the reserve - occasionally coming down from the hills in the early morning hours. For bird lovers, Point Lobos is home to herons, gulls, cormorants, woodpecker and song birds. For detailed information about the many features of the park, visit the Point Lobos Foundation.