Carmel Highlands is a small, unincorporated, wealthy community five miles south of Carmel. It is notable for its stunning scenery, luxurious accommodations, proximity to Point Lobos, and as a gateway to Big Sur.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Early-20th-century painter Francis McComas called Point Lobos “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world,” and he may be right. Jutting out into the sea three miles south of Carmel, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (Hwy. 1 and Point Lobos St., 831/624-4909, 8am-sunset daily, $10) is filled with ragged cliffs, hidden coves, rich marine ecosystems, lovely meadows, and dense pine and cypress forests.
Hiking trails crisscross the reserve, the most spectacular of which hug the coastline, including the North Shore Trail (0.75 mile), which rises dramatically above the crashing sea, and the Cypress Grove Trail (2.4 miles), a loop that passes through one of only two wild groves of Monterey cypress. South Shore Trail (1 mile) runs along the southern edge of the point. Take it to Bird Island Trail (0.8 mile) where you will get a view of not only a loud and messy bird colony, but also China Cove, one of the most splendid sites at Point Lobos. A popular stroll, particularly if you walk into the park, is the Granite Point Trail (0.5 mile, easy) along Whalers Cove. Not only will you get a taste of the diverse landscape and wildlife, but you can also visit the Whalers Cabin Museum (9am-5pm daily), which shows off the history of Point Lobos with artifacts from Native Americans and Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese whalers and fishers, along with whale bones.
Point Lobos might be even more famous for what lies beneath the water than above it, which is nearly half the preserve’s total acreage. The protected areas lie just south of the deep Carmel Submarine Canyon, making them home to a diverse marine ecosystem that includes 70-foot high kelp forests, wolf eels, rockfish, crabs, abalone, and giant sunflower stars, along with seals, sea otters, and the occasional shark. Add in the incredible underwater topography and the amazingly clear waters, and it’s easy to see why Point Lobos is a divers’ paradise. Diving is permitted at Whalers Cove and Blue Fish Cove, but permits (831/624-8413) are required. These can be obtained at the front gate, but reservations are strongly recommended, as only a limited number of divers are allowed per day. It’s best to call or make a reservation online. Kayaking and boating are also allowed, and there is a boat launch at Whalers Cove, an easy entrance.
Where to Stay
Despite its name, the cliff-top Tickle Pink Inn (155 Highlands Dr., 831/624-1244, $314) offers tasteful luxury. Each room has a view of the ocean, an array of high-end furniture and linens, and all the top-end amenities you’d expect from a distinctive Carmel hostelry. For a special treat, shell out for the spa bath suite and watch the ocean while you soak in the tub with your sweetie.
The Hyatt Carmel Highlands (120 Highlands Dr., 831/620-1234, from $499) is an all-inclusive resort. Take a yoga class, swim in the heated pool, book a massage and spa treatment, or stay tucked away in your stylish, modern room with breathtaking views from a private porch. For food, choose from the upscale Pacific’s Edge (831/622-5445, 5:30pm-9pm daily, $24-65) and the more casual California Market (831/622-5450, 7am-3pm daily, $15-30), where breakfast and lunch are served on an expansive patio, or sip cocktails in the glassed-in Sunset Lounge (831/622-5445, 3:30pm-close daily). Reservations are recommended for Pacific’s Edge, but all are open to non-guests.