It’s been called the greatest meeting of land and water in the world. Point Lobos State Reserve, just 2 miles south of Carmel, marks the unofficial start of Big Sur. And what a start it is! Rough and tumble headlands, huge jagged rocks amidst rollicking waves, quiet beach enclaves, and tranquil turquoise coves make this old whaling station an explorer’s paradise. Wildlife includes seals and their pups, birds of all feathers (cormorants and oystercatchers, to name a few), and charming sea otters. Most visitors make Point Lobos a park ‘n’ picnic destination, but they’re missing out on the full Lobos. To really experience the reserve, do a 5-mile grand tour loop. Walk the cypress-lined coastal trail, observing multiple tide pools swirling with the ocean’s ebb and flow; to get the full flavor of the area, take small detours to untrammeled coves like “The Pit” (pictured) and rugged promontories. Point well taken.
OUTDOOR EATS: The fact that Clint Eastwood owns Mission Ranch in Carmel may be its claim to fame, but this ruggedly stylish 22-acre resort has way more than just Hollywood good looks. Enjoy fresh American fare on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. It’s got some of Carmel’s best coastal views, with meadows and wetlands and Carmel River Beach as scene-stealers. In the foreground, a white picket fence frames a pasture with grazing sheep. (Note: The restaurant is open Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)
TIP: Mission Ranch’s sprawling, down to earth grounds make a relaxing place for an overnight escape. The resort has 31 charming and unfussy rooms, some in a restored historic farmhouse and others as private cottages on the grounds.
Point Lobos State Reserve: Visit their website for directions. Pay $10 at the entrance station and continue past the first big parking area to the final parking area. Park there. Take the Bird Island Trail south toward China Cove. Then turn left (north) onto the South Plateau Trail back to the entrance station; cross the reserve road and continue on Carmelo Meadow Trail. Go right at Granite Point Trail to make a side-trip to The Pit and Granite Point before continuing west on Granite Point Trail toward the old Whalers Cabin. Continue on the North Shore and South Shore Trail with optional side-trips to Allan Memorial Grove and Sea Lion Point. No dogs. Mission Ranch, 26270 Dolores St., Carmel; 831-624-6436. Rooms start at $120.