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Branch On A Beach by James B Toy. Click to enlarge or purchase.

The Monterey Peninsula's Best Beaches 

Where to go to get sand in your shoes.

First, a shoreline safety tip:

NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN!

All local beaches, particularly Carmel River Beach, are subject to strong waves that can sweep you off of your feet and carry you out to sea. No kidding. It happens to several people every year, and nearly all of them are tourists from inland areas. They don't realize what the surf can do. Some beaches are relatively safe for wading, but never be deceived. The waves may look calm, but a big tourist snatcher can come up by surprise. Its incoming force can knock you down and the outgoing pull will suck you away before you know what hit you. Entire families have been lost this way. No kidding.

When walking along the beach, it is easiest to walk on the firmer wet sand closest to the water, but keep your eye on the waves. If you see a big one coming, move inland quickly. If you're climbing on rocks and viewing tidepools, don't venture too far out, and always know your escape route. For more information see the State Parks page on Ocean Safety. It includes lifesaving tips on what to do if you get in trouble.

The most dangerous beach hereabouts is the one known locally as Monastery Beach, though formally it is the southernmost portion of Carmel River State Beach. It is located a couple miles south of Carmel along Highway 1, half way between Carmel Meadows and Point Lobos. It is easy to identify by the white tower of the Carmelite Monastery directly across the highway. The majority of local ocean fatalities occur on this one beach, due to the steep drop-off of sand and unpredictable waves. Some folks grimly refer to it as "Mortuary Beach." If you visit this beach, stay on the inland side of the crest of sand, and you'll be much safer. Whatever you do, don't play in the water here and keep an extra close eye on the kids!

Now go have some fun....

Heavy Surf at Carmel River Beach. Photo by James B Toy. Click to enlarge or purchase.

Mr. Toy's Favorite Beach:

Carmel River State Beach

Stewarts Cove Panorama by James B Toy. Click to enlarge.

Extending for a mile south of Carmel Point, Carmel River Beach is the most spectacular beach on the planet. It has a sweeping crescent of sand anchored by rock formations at each end. A backdrop of flawlessly designed hills completes the picture.

Carmel River Beach forms a transition between the modern world of Northern California and the wild untamed lands of the Big Sur coast. It is more than a mere beach. It is more than just a beautiful place. There is something here that invites inward contemplation, something that touches the soul.

It's also a great place for a picnic.

Carmel River Beach Part I

The northern scene of Carmel River Beach begins on the south side of Carmel Point, where multi-million dollar homes overlook Carmel Bay. It begins just below Scenic Road at a place called Stewart's Cove. The road follows the curve of the beach until it reaches the Carmel River Lagoon. This is a wildlife refuge, a wetland, where you may see all kinds of waterfowl, including pelicans, seagulls, several varieties of ducks, egrets, great blue herons, geese, and more.

The lagoon is filled with water that has flowed through Carmel Valley. In the winter the water crosses the beach and the river flows freely to the sea. During this time the beach looks different every day as the river carves an ever changing channel through the sand. Come spring, the river slows down and the ocean overpowers the river's erosion. Waves wash sand back up onto the beach creating, once again, a seamless crescent of sand.

The ocean at Carmel River Beach is definitely not safe for swimming or wading. However, the lagoon is ideal for wading, even for little kids (properly supervised, of course). Even here, though, you need to be careful in the winter and spring when the river is flowing to the sea. The swift current can capture anyone who ventures into it.

The lagoon is also ideal for "pail and shovel" projects. You can easily build a castle at the lagoon's edge with a water-filled moat!

Be advised that during winter storms, the surf here can be extreme. It is common for waves to wash over the entire beach and into the lagoon on the other side. On such days it is best to enjoy the scene from the road or one of the trails described below.

To get there: From downtown Carmel take Ocean Avenue down towards the beach. The last turn-off to the left is Scenic Road, take it and follow the shoreline around Carmel Point to the gated parking lot next to the lagoon.

Overlooking Stewart's Cove at Carmel River Beach. Photo by James B Toy.

Carmel River Beach Part II

Overlooking the lagoon on the south is the Carmel Meadows subdivision. Some wonderful trails wrap around the neighborhood offering some easy hiking and spectacular panoramic vistas. On these trails you'll see lots of wildflowers, smell fragrant shrubbery, and if you get there about an hour before sunset, you'll spy cottontail bunnies scampering about.

One of these trails loops past a large wooden cross that overlooks the beach. This is a replica of a cross that was raised by the Portola expedition 1769. Portola buried a message at its base intended for their supply ship which never materialized. This replica was erected in 1944 by Harry Downie who was in charge of the Carmel Mission restoration. (See The True Meaning of the Cross in our history section for the full story.)

At the southern end of Carmel Meadows, a genuine meadow rises high above the beach offering spectacular views from Point Lobos all the way to Pebble Beach. If you turn your back to the houses, you will view a scene that has almost no sign of human presence. Dominating the view is the jagged north shore of Point Lobos, which inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. It is not difficult to imagine what it must have looked like to the early Spanish explorers, or the Costanoan Indians who once inhabited this coastline.

For easy access to these trails near Carmel Meadows take Highway 1 south to Ribera Road (you'll find it near the crest of the first hill after the Carmel River bridge). Follow it to the end, where the best trails begin. If you want to get to the cross, go part way to the little cul-de-sac called Calle La Cruz. There's a trail there too.

View from the trail at Carmel Meadows. Photo by James B Toy.

More Great Beaches:

Carmel Beach

This is the famous white sand beach that's mentioned in every tour guide. At about one mile long, it covers the entire length of Carmel's western shore from Pebble Beach to Carmel Point. Walking the length of the beach is a popular local activity. So is building sand castles. The texture of the sand is perfect for palace construction. Other popular activities are surfing and evening picnics around a small fire. See the city's Beach Rules for fire regulations and other important information.

Carmel Beach is easily found at the foot of Ocean Avenue, where you'll find a parking lot that is actually shaped like a foot. It's very pretty and very crowded on holidays. Good luck trying to find a place to park on a nice weekend. Additional parking is available on Scenic Road, which follows the shoreline south from Ocean Avenue.

This beach is also dog friendly. It is the only beach on the Monterey Peninsula where dogs are allowed to roam off-leash, provided they are under voice control.

It's easy to walk to this beach from downtown Carmel. Just remember, you'll have to walk back up the hill when you're done as the business district is at least 200 feet higher than the beach.

Carmel Beach photo by James B Toy.
Foggy Day on Carmel Beach by James B Toy. Click to enlarge or purchase.

"Foggy Day On Carmel Beach"

One of Mr. Toy's most popular photographs is available exclusively from Mr. Toy's Photography Gallery and Picture Shop. Hang it on your wall or have it printed on a variety of home decor and gift items. Every purchase, big or small, helps support this website.

ASILOMAR STATE BEACH

Asilomar Beach covers the western edge of Pacific Grove. The southern portion is a broad white sand beach which leads away from Ocean View Boulevard into Pebble Beach property. The visually imposing, but tastefully designed, Inn at Spanish Bay overlooks the beach. You can easily walk into Pebble Beach from here to visit the Inn and beyond.

The northern portion of Asilomar Beach consists of rugged rock outcroppings with a few small beaches between them. This is a great area for viewing tidepools among the rocks, but be careful. Those rocks can be slippery and the waves unpredictable. Don't venture too far out, please!

Everything is connected by a meandering pathway. It runs through a landscape that has been restored with native vegetation after decades of being covered with South African iceplant. It's a great place for walking and is probably the best place on the Peninsula to watch a sunset.

To get there: If you are anywhere in Monterey or Pacific Grove, just find the shoreline and follow it to the west. You'll get there eventually. Asilomar Beach officially starts just after you pass the Point Pinos lighthouse. From Carmel, take Highway 1 north to the Pacific Grove turnoff (the first exit after the freeway starts). Follow the Holman Highway (68) into Pacific Grove. Stay in the left lane and eventually the lane will force you to turn left onto Sunset Drive. When it reaches the shore, you're there. Ample street parking is available.

Asilomar Beach pathway looking towards Spanish Bay. Photo by James B Toy.

Lovers Point

Lovers Point is a popular city park on the north shore of Pacific Grove. You'll find it about a mile west of the aquarium. Tucked into the park's southeast corner is a small cove formed by a concrete pier that once served glass-bottom boats. The result is a mild-mannered beach suitable for a wide variety of family activities.

A rather interesting network of stairways and terraces takes you from street-level to sea-level. There you'll find a sheltered piece of Monterey Bay that is surprisingly calm compared to the pounding surf of the surrounding shoreline. The relative (not to be confused with absolute) safety of this beach makes it a good place for kids to splash their feet in the ocean. Alternatvely, youngsters can get fully wet in the shallow swimming pool conveniently located on a terrace overlooking the beach.

Kayaks and other water sport equipment can be rented here from Adventures By The Sea. They even offer guided tours.

But wait, there's more: On-site food service! Yes, there's no need to pack a picnic basket because there are two, count 'em, two food concessionaires here. One is a modern cafe featuring coffee and sandwiches, the other is a good old-fashioned hamburger stand. Then there's the third option of a sit-down restaurant called the Beach House overlooking the whole shebang.

Yes, Lovers Point has something for everyone!

Lovers Point Beach by James B Toy.

Monterey Beach

Monterey Beach is an urban beach, being located near downtown Monterey. Specifically, it is on the east side of Monterey's Municipal Wharf, also known as Wharf #2. You can get there right off of Del Monte Avenue at Figueroa Street. There is also access east of here along Del Monte Avenue.

Though not as spectacular as the beaches listed above, it has the advantage of being one of the safest. The beach is sheltered from the fiercest ocean waves by the peninsula itself. Shallow sand extends some distance from the water's edge, which makes it good for wading. Still, one must be careful. This isn't a swimming pool, after all.

Monterey Beach photo by James B Toy.