The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box

Walking & Hiking on the
Monterey Peninsula

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"Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking"
-Antonio Machado

This is a terrific place for walking. It is a favorite local pastime. If all you want is a leisurely stroll, just pick a place at random and go. Or you could try one of Mr. Toy's favorite places:

Downtown Carmel

Left: A little summer fog accompanies walkers in downtown Carmel.

This may seem obvious, but you need to look around here for secret passageways. Some just lead to where people keep their garbage, but many lead to other parts of town, or to hidden shops and galleries.

For guided walking tours of Carmel, check out Carmel Walks.

Carmel Map

Carmel Point

Carmel Point Left: Carmel Point  and the famous Butterfly House

Carmel Point can be found just outside the southwest corner of Carmel's city limit. Its rugged shoreline separates Carmel city beach from Carmel River State Beach. If you only have time for one easy walk, this is where you should go. Some of the Monterey Peninsula's most dramatic scenery, from Pebble Beach to Point Lobos, can be surveyed from this one small meeting of land and sea. It is so stunningly spectacular in any weather that you may be surprised to find the locals out soaking it in during a winter storm!  

Walk along Scenic Road which follows the shoreline. You can also drive it (one-way southbound only) if you prefer, but you'll miss a lot of details. There are no sidewalks, so watch for cars and try not to block their way. As you take in the sights, the sounds, and sea the smell air, don't forget to notice the local architecture. There are a number of famous houses out here with fascinating stories behind their walls.

On the point's north side, marking the south end of Carmel city beach, is a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright known as the Walker House. Its copper roof and Carmel Stone prow looks like a ship emerging from the rocks heading out into Carmel Bay. Look across the bay and you'll spot the Lodge at Pebble Beach behind the emerald carpet of the famous golf course.
Frank Lloyd Wright house The Kuster House on Ocean View Avenue
Frank Lloyd Wright's "Walker House" The Kuster House

Just around the bend take a peek up Ocean View Ave into a tunnel of trees. You'll spy a white stone house which seems as if it is always in the sunshine, even on the foggiest of days. Glance to the left side of Ocean View and you'll see an even bigger stone house. It was built by Ted Kuster, founder of Carmel's Golden Bough Theater. He built it in a failed effort to lure back his wife Una, who had run off with the famous poet Robinson Jeffers.

Jeffers, you see, had earlier built another magnificent stone house, known as Tor House, just one block south. You'll see it and the adjacent Hawk Tower, which Jeffers built as a retreat for Una, just before you get to Stewarts Way. And while you're here, notice the canopy of Monterey Cypress trees that blankets the neighborhood. Jeffers planted most of 'em. Before he came here Carmel Point was a meadow!

Next, turning back to the ocean side of the street you'll see the 1950s era "Butterfly House" so named for its inverted roof. Finally, at the southwest corner of Carmel Point, at the sharp turn, behind a nondescript wooden fence, lies the home of the Hollywood actress Jean Arthur (Clarissa in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), where she lived for several decades until her passing in 1991. From this corner you will no doubt notice a spectacular panoramic view stretching from Carmel Valley out to Point Lobos.

Of course, we're assuming that you're walking southbound. Should you decide to walk northbound you'll need to read the previous paragraphs backwards. Anyway, once you've made it from one beach to the other, you can either double back along the shore, or take a shortcut through the neighborhood. Maybe you can spot the Inspiration Avenue home of the late General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell, commander of the China India Burma Theater during WWII. If you can't find it don't feel bad. Mr. Toy hasn't figured out which house it is, either!

To learn about Carmel Point's adjacent beaches, see The Monterey Peninsula's Best Beaches.

Carmel Point Map 

Mission Trail Park

Left: The main path in the upper areas of Mission Trail Park

This is a small canyon that runs from a point just east of downtown Carmel to the Carmel Mission. Few people know it is there. To find it go to the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Junipero. Look for Mountain View Avenue, the street that goes up diagonally from the intersection. Take it a few blocks to the end. The park begins there with a footbridge. The southern entrance to the park is on Rio Road across from the Carmel Mission. There is another well-hidden entrance half-way between, but you'll never find it without being taken by the hand, so we won't bother giving directions.

A wide, well maintained path connects the park's endpoints. A similar path to the west parallels the main path in the southern areas of the park. A network of more rugged footpaths runs along the eastern side. These will take you up towards the old Flanders Mansion and to the adjacent arboretum. Some of these trails offer views of the Carmel Mission and Carmel Bay beyond. Here in the forest it is not uncommon to see (or at least hear) redheaded woodpeckers practicing their craft.

The only drawback is that there is virtually no parking at either end of the park, so you'll have to walk a bit just to get there. Moreover, Rio Road is difficult to cross safely, so be cautious.

Mission Trail Park Map

Hatton Canyon

Hatton Canyon

Left: Photo of Hatton Canyon looking south from the central meadow.

Hatton Canyon runs parallel to Highway 1 behind the Carmel High School. For over 40 years it was threatened by Caltrans whose engineers wanted to fill it in and build a freeway bypass. During the summer of 2001 Governor Gray Davis signed bill to turn the land over to California State Parks, ending a bitter and divisive controversy.

Hatton Canyon contains a rich diversity of habitats over its two-mile length. The upper region is a steep V-shaped gorge in a dense Monterey Pine forest. A little farther down, the east hillside of the canyon opens up into a broad grassland. The middle of the canyon features a fair sized meadow, bordered on the north by a grove of oaks. Farther down is a lush Monterey Pine forest with a perennial stream. As it approaches Carmel Valley, there are cottonwoods and a thick grove of willows concealing a bulrush marsh. 

This is a great area for birdwatching. At various times Mr. Toy has spotted hawks, owls, quail, woodpeckers, and many others too numerous to mention.

If Caltrans had its way, everything along the main trail would have been buried 25-60 feet below the roadway. The hillsides in the upper canyon, in clear view of the existing highway, were to be carved beyond recognition. We can now rest assured that this diverse ecosystem will be preserved for all time.

The lower two-thirds of the canyon are easily accessible. To get to the middle areas of the canyon go to Carmel High School, at Ocean Avenue and Highway 1. From the school parking lot drive one block north along the frontage road parallel to the highway. Turn right onto Flanders Drive. Follow it down and around to the first street that turns off to the left, Canyon Drive. Take the short road that goes down to the left, not the one that goes up to the right. Begin your walk at the gate.

Another way to enter the canyon is from Carmel Valley Road. Park at the Carmel Rancho shopping center and carefully cross Carmel Valley Road. The entrance to the canyon is halfway between the highway and the Carmel Rancho stoplight. The largest wetlands in the canyon are adjacent to this entrance.

Hatton Canyon, Canyon Drive entrance map
Hatton Canyon, Carmel Valley entrance map

Cypress Grove Trail at Point Lobos

Point Lobos State Reserve

China Cove at Point Lobos

Left: China Cove at
Point Lobos

Located just a few miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, Point Lobos is loaded with trails and picnic areas. They're all pretty, but the most spectacular trails are the North Shore Trail, and the Cypress Grove Trail. China Cove, located just past the last parking lot, is another favorite spot. Point Lobos was a favorite hangout for pioneering photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, who, as you know, had good taste. There is an admission fee. Mr. Toy is not sure what it is this week, but the official Point Lobos site will tell you.

Point Lobos map

Soberanes Point, Garrapata State Park

Soberanes Point

Left: Soberanes Point as seen from a turnout on Highway 1

Located just a few miles farther south from Point Lobos. Look for a dramatic ridgeline that plunges into the sea. That's Soberanes Point. There are trails around the edge of the point (easy). There's a trail inland up the canyon (moderate). There's a trail that goes high up into the hills (hard climbing). The best part is it's all free.

Soberanes Point  map

For more Big Sur hiking adventures, see Jon Iverson's extensive guide to Hiking in Big Sur

Love Bridge entrance to Garland Park in Carmel Valley

Garland Ranch Regional Park

Right: An old barn in Garland Park.

Barn at Garland Park

Garland Park is located about seven or eight miles east of Highway 1 on Carmel Valley Road. If wide-open acreage is what you like, this is the place to go. This park is over four miles long and roughly two miles wide.

There are some easy trails along the flood plain, and trails ranging from moderate to very steep in the hills. Hardy hikers can make a full day of it and walk to the ridgeline which reaches an elevation of almost 2,000 feet! They also have equestrian trails for horsie rides. Caution: on hot days or long hikes be sure to carry water with you.

Garland Park has no admission fee. Hooray!

Garland Park map

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Toy Box

Jacks Peak County Park

Way up high in the Monterey Pines is Jacks Peak. It was named after former mega-landowner David Jacks. The park straddles the ridgeline between Monterey and Carmel Valley. Two words sum it up: panoramic views. Trails range from moderate to pretty hard. There are equestrian trails here too. For first-time visitors, there's a self-guided nature trail that has all the best views on a relatively short loop.

To get there take Highway 68 from Monterey east towards Salinas. Go to Olmsted Road, which is across from the entrance to the airport. Turn right on Olmsted. Go to Jacks Peak Drive and turn left. When you reach the guard-house you need to pay a few dollars. Have exact change, because it's a self-serve system.

Once inside turn right and go to the parking lot at the end of the road. The self guided nature trail is right off of the parking lot. They've got pretty decent rest rooms here, too.

If you don't have time for a walk, there's a great place to park and view Monterey Bay partway up the road just before the guard house.

Jacks Peak map

Shoreline Recreation Trail

Shoreline Recreation Trail

Above: The Recreation Trail alongside Monterey's harbor.

A combo bike/walk recreation trail extends along the northern shoreline of the Peninsula. The segment you'll most likely use begins at Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and runs more or less northwest two miles out to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.  It follows a former railroad right-of-way past Monterey Harbor, through Cannery Row (where you'll pass a few historic railroad artifacts), past the aquarium, and alongside Pacific Grove's beautifully rugged shoreline. The Pacific Grove portion separates bicyclists from walkers. Bicycles use the paved surface, while walkers can take the earthen path, which takes you closer to the water. The segments that run between the wharf and Cannery Row, and between the aquarium and Lover's Point are great places to watch sea otters and sea lions. Take your binoculars.

The less traveled path runs east from Fisherman's Wharf. The trail gradually curves northward, following Del Monte Avenue. The first major attraction is a park known as "Window-on-the-Bay" with nice manicured lawns on one side and a broad sandy beach on the other. The trail then works its way past the Naval Postgraduate School entering a dense and fragrant eucyalyptus grove after which it emerges in a local industrial neighborhood. Near the freeway overpass the trail splits. One route continues on level ground alongside Del Monte Avenue and passes by Roberts Lake just before it terminates at Canyon Del Rey Boulevard (near the Embassy Suites Hotel). The other route winds up and over the sand dunes offering panoramic bay views at the summit. From there it drops down to Del Monte Beach and the Monterey Beach Hotel.

The northernmost segment of the trail can be found in Sand City starting at the west end of Playa Avenue. To find it take Del Monte Avenue north through Seaside to Playa and turn left. Go to the end and you'll see the trail entrance. Ample parking for trail users is available behind Orchard Supply Hardware adjacent to the trail entrance. A short walk under the freeway reveals spectacular panoramic view of the bay and peninsula. A moderate ten minute climb will take you up the sand dunes for more espansive views. If you bring your bicycle, you can ride the trail through the former Fort Ord and all the way to the city of Marina.

Safety tips: Treat the trail like a road. It has a dashed yellow line down the middle to make it easy. Since it is used by both bikers and pedestrians, you must look both ways before crossing it, or you may step into the path of a bike. Likewise, whether pedaling or walking you should look over your shoulder before you change lanes. As noted above there are separate paths for bicyclists and pedestrians in the Pacific Grove segment between the aquarium and Lovers Point. It's a good idea to know which is which (bikes on the pavement, shoes on the earthen surface).

See a portion of the trail on a map

Rip Van Winkle Open Space Park

On the border between Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove is Rip Van Winkle Park. It's the perfect place to walk through an unspoiled Monterey Pine forest. A network of paths lead through the forest, some of which emerge at 17 Mile Drive near the Inn at Spanish Bay.

To get there take Forest Avenue in Pacific Grove to Sunset Drive. Turn west (the only possible direction), and go to the 4-way stop at Congress. Turn left on Congress. The park is on the right side of the street. It's not marked very well. Just pull off where you see a little dirt parking area.

Rip Van Winkle Park map

Monterey's Path of History

Left: Hidden gardens such as this one at the Cooper-Molera Adobe are among the highlights of the Path of History.

Downtown Monterey is loaded with historic buildings, probably due to the fact that it is the second oldest city on the west coast and was the center of California's government before it was a state. There's a self-guided tour you can take to see these sites, called the Path of History

Among the highlights is Colton Hall, which locals affectionately (though somewhat erroneously) call California's first capitol building. The state constitution was ratified there in 1850. Another treasure is the San Carlos Cathedral (a.k.a. the Royal Presidio Chapel) which is California's oldest church, having been in continuous operation since it was built in 1794. The Cooper-Molera Adobe at the south end of Alvarado Street has a lovely hidden garden. At the other end of Alvarado, at the Custom House Plaza near Fisherman's Wharf, you'll find the old Custom House and Pacific House, the latter having another hidden garden. Immediately west of Fisherman's Wharf, tucked into an office complex called Heritage Harbor, you'll find yet another garden behind the Old Whaling Station and the city's First Brick House.

The brochure showing the route can be found in most hotel lobbies or from the historic adobes operated by the state parks people. Or you can just follow the yellow ceramic dots in the sidewalk and fake your way along. You can easily identify a historic site. There'll be a sign out front that's shaped like a loaf of bread with a hat. When you see that you'll know you're at a Genuine Historic Building.

For an in-depth guided tour of Monterey's historic sites, sign up with Monterey Walking Tours.

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