Point Lobos Natural Reserve is one out of many places to stop on Highway 1, along the California coast. We picked it because we wanted to get in some paddle boarding time during our coastal drive during Christmas break. Point Lobos is great for paddling, hiking, bird watching, nature viewing, and SCUBA diving.
As we are yet fairly new to the paddle boarding game, we had a lot of “ideas” about where we wanted to paddle board along the coast with very little knowledge of where would be best and how to go about it. We bumped along the California coast, stopping now and then to ask, “does this look good?” Kenon had a list of places he had read about as being good paddle board stops. However, we never saw any other paddle boarders and the ocean waves looked so fierce – thank you, winter weather – that we skipped a lot of the locations. I am sure one day we will return, more skilled and knowledgeable, and take on some of those spots. For this trip, though, we were looking to push our limits without losing our board.
Toward the end of our trip we stopped at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, just a few miles south of Monterey. According to the website, Point Lobos is “outstanding for sightseeing, photography, painting, nature study, picnicking, SCUBA diving, and jogging.” It is beautiful everywhere. There are a lot of people but it does not feel like overwhelming crowds. It is especially popular for SCUBA diving, even though permits are limited.
We wanted to paddle at China Cove, a spot we had read about online. When we arrived at China Cove it quickly became apparent that this was not an option. What gave it away? I’m not sure if it was the large amounts of harbor seals relaxing in the cove, the sign saying “closed” or the bright orange fence blocking the trail. Anyway, we figured we probably shouldn’t go down there.
With very little information to regroup – and a lack of cell reception – we backtracked to the information booth at the main parking lot. The volunteers were out of the loop when it came to paddle boarding to they sent us to the entrance station. At the entrance station we learned that all paddlers and divers, of any kind, need to apply for a permit. Only 15 permits are given a day for SCUBA and only four hand-launched boats are permitted a day (this includes paddle boards). It is a good idea to reserve these ahead of time. You can reserve up to two months in advance. We got lucky and were able to snag that last boat permit for the day. All of the prices and other information is listed on the website.
The next thing you need to know is from WHERE you can launch at Point Lobos. The only allowed entry point is at Whaler’s Cove. This is a busy little spot in the park, with a small parking lot, a bathroom, a picnic area, and a trailhead. However, the actual water is not busy since only 15 permits are given per day.
Whaler’s Cove is also very beautiful and somewhat protected from the elements. The wind still blows in and the water gets choppy, but the big waves break up before entering the cove. From the cove, you can paddle around the shoreline of the park.
The coolest part about this cove is that there are harbor seals just hanging out everywhere. Or, at least there were in December. The harbor seals will not let you get close; really no one should be trying to get close because this is first their habitat and we should honor that. Some times, though, the friendlier more courageous seals will try to swim with the divers.
We had our 4:3 mm wetsuits with us, complete with neoprene socks, paddling shoes, and gloves. I am so glad I did! I took an accidental dip in the water when I lost my balance. It was freezing but I felt pretty toasty. We were there in December; different times of year will require different amounts of insulation.
I would recommend Point Lobos as a spot to stop on the Big Sur Highway 1. It is beautiful, peaceful, and perfect for paddle boarding.