How do we see the forest for the (redwood) trees? Monterey edition
February 19, 2022 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Ms. Pie and I are planning a short vacation in March – the first one in years – driving up the California coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey. We're staying a few nights in Monterey then driving back down. We'd especially like to walk/lightly hike in wooded areas with redwood trees, but we know recent fires have affected some of the parks in the area. What are our best options at this time?

On this trip, we'd like to see (if possible) marine life, birds, and forests. We'll spend some time in Monterey itself (aquarium, restaurants, other sights) but plan on doing day excursions to Point Lobos, probably also Elkhorn Slough, and whatever people recommend as good redwoods locations. We'd prefer if destinations were within an hour's drive from Monterey, to avoid spending too much time driving. We're too old and out of shape for serious hiking but can do light hikes. We might bring our (electric) bicycles with us, in case that opens up more options.
posted by StrawberryPie to Travel & Transportation around Monterey County, CA (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In Sept and Oct 2020 during an awful season of smoke and heat (but after the Big Basin Fire), we did short redwood walks in both Henry Cowell Redwoods near Santa Cruz and in Purisima Creek Open Space near Half Moon Bay. Both totally recommended light walks we did with our 5 year old. Henry Cowell will be closer by, it gets a lot of visitors (we were there Labor Day weekend I think) but it’s still pretty majestic.
posted by vunder at 5:17 PM on February 19

Santa Cruz is about as far south as I'd expect them, so if that's about as far north as you'd want to go, I would also suggest Big Basin and Cowell. Muir Woods would be the next furthest, then probably Calaveras? Not sure how that works for you, but a big trapezoid path returning down 99 and west from Bakersfield is probably the shortest way to do that. Lotta driving though, so hopefully the Santa Cruz/HMB options are workable!
posted by rhizome at 5:40 PM on February 19

Best answer: Seconding Henry Cowell. Nice boarded loop and easy to walk off piste. It's not that far from Monterey. Look out for banana slugs.

I've cycled up and down Monterey Bay and there's some windswept Monterey cypress in the area that are underrated when compared to redwoods. An electric bike might limit you a little in your routes (I have a hybrid with slightly bigger tyres than road bikes and it was helpful for the more coastal bits) but there are paved paths around. While ice plants are invasive and we frown upon them they make quite a weird landscape in some of the dunes.

And since you didn't mention it, plan a day at Monterey Aquarium if you can spare the time. I like the shorebird exhibit, but the guides at the binoculars are good at pointing out what's about in the bay (sea otters and whales if you're lucky, and judging by what I saw today I'd say seals, pelicans and cormorants are in plentiful supply).
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 1:37 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]

Nngh, you did mention it. Well, now you have a plan when you go.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 1:44 AM on February 20

Lime kiln State Park is a bit more than an hour out of Monterey, but it’s at least on the way to/from Santa Barbara and it is one of my favorite places to see redwoods.
posted by phoenixy at 7:29 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, I would do Henry Cowell! The Redwood The Redwood Grove Loop trail is less than a mile and totally flat, and you can easily add on more distance or difficulty. I've spent hours there that way!

I second the recommendation to check out some cypress while you're in Monterey. A nice way to do that is go down 17 mile drive.
posted by assenav at 9:42 AM on February 20

Best answer: I was in Big Sur just a couple weeks ago. The only lingering effect of the most recent fire (the one called the Colorado Fire that happened in the Palo Colorado area) at the time were that there were still a few emergency vehicles slowing traffic for a couple miles in the immediate area. I assume that's cleared up by now.

For marine life and general beauty-of-nature, I strongly recommend Pfeiffer Beach--it's right around an hour south of Monterey. I had somehow not known about it before, even after nearly two decades of living in the Bay Area and spending every free moment on the coast. The sand is streaked with PURPLE from garnet deposits washing down from the hills. There are rocky tidepools with lots of marine life (some easier to get to, some that might require more scrambling than it sounds like you want). There's a lovely keyhole rock that's stunning at sunset. Go!

Getting there is going to feel weird--it's an easy-to-miss turn off Hwy 1, then about 2 miles down a mostly-dirt road that's also mostly one lane (there are plenty of turnouts to pull over to let people pass). But then there's a nice big parking lot and bathrooms and a short path to the beach.

One of the largest redwood trees in the Big Sur area is on a path along the Big Sur river that you can reach from the Big Sur Roadhouse, which is just a few minutes north of the Pfeiffer Beach.

The Big Sur Bakery is worth a stop, maybe two--honestly some of the best food I'd had in a long time, both dinner (reservations encouraged) and pastries and breakfast in the garden the next morning. Go to a cafe and art gallery called Coast for excellent snacks and coffee and a lovely view. Stop at Nepenthe for hearty food and a stunning view. (All of these places have outdoor dining options, too).

The 17-Mile Drive is also very lovely and has some nice places to stop and do light walks, but when I was there there were signs up saying it was closed to tourist traffic, so check first if you're thinking of doing that.

Also +1 to your existing plans of Point Lobos and Elkhorn Slough.

Have the best time!
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:12 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I visited Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in 2014, and it is a gem. Stunning sycamore and live oak trees right in the campground, and the sea stacks and caves on Pfeiffer Beach are rightfully famous. I made a reservation to hike through the redwood trees at Mill Creek Preserve near there, but was unable to make good on it. Now I see that the website says the trail is inaccessible due to fire damage.

Pt Lobos is of course the most beautiful place on the planet, but beware--my experience in 2014 was that the crowds were overwhelming compared to in the past. Maybe aim to arrive as early as possible?
posted by polecat at 9:26 PM on February 20

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