China Cove and Gibson Beach are in the southern most area of Point Lobos State Park. Here are some tips on enjoying your visit to China Cove and Gibson Beach.
1. Dogs not allowed (what? this is Carmel!) , and bicyclists allowed only on paved roads leading to the parking lots, not on any of the trails. No RVs allowed in the park.
2. Pack a picnic lunch, as no food sold on the premises. I've seen people with sandwiches from the Subway from the crossroads shopping center 3 miles north alongside highway 1 on the Carmel Valley side of the highway. I bring at least several juice containers , apples, and granola bars.
3. Get there early in the day. The Point Lobos Park is open 8am to sunset. If you go through the Point Lobos entrance, there is a $10 per vehicle fee, or $9 for seniors 62+. Get there too late in the morning, and you will have to wait in line, where one car enters only after one car leaves.
4. You can park alongside highway 1 outside the park at designated areas at least 100 yards from the highway entrance. It can be risky to parallel park alongside a 55mph single lane highway in each direction, with narrow shoulders, no sidewalk and no emergency lane on either side.
5. Once in the park you can drive to within a quarter of a mile of China Cove, by driving 0.7 miles west from the entrance to Sea Lion parking lot , and then turning left and driving south until it deadends at the South Plateau parking lot.
6. From the parking lot there a staired pathway to the Cove. Alternatively they have constructed in 2012 a wheel chair accessible path with no stairs, but a long shallow incline to the Cove.
7. If you parked on highway 1, and walked into the park, first stop by the bathrooms at the entrance, and then take the south plateau trail on your immediate left.
8. It is a 17 minute walk along the south plateau trail to China Cove. This runs parallel and overlooking highway 1, through masses of spanish moss trees and pine trees with an abundance of poison ivy alongside. The trail runs along a ride parallel to the highway.
This can be a hot, sweaty hike, as there is no breeze from the ocean on this trail.
9. From the south plateau parking lot, you can access a nearby restroom, complete with nearby picnic tables.
10. Once approaching China Cove from the parking lot, you will see the Cove surrounded by high rocky cliffs on three sides, like a boxed canyon. The water is frequently a brilliant green here in the shallow inlet. A photographer's paradise.
11. Look closely at the cliffs, and you will see an open ended cave at the base of the southern cliff, with water rushing through the opening, with each incoming surf.
12. Check out with binoculars the seals abounding on the rocks near the shores, and you will occasionally see a rare sea otter on its back among the floating masses of kelp. Often the only way to take pictures of the sea otters is with a tripod mounting a high telescopic lens on a camera.
13. On the far side of the Cove you will see a long length of wooden stairs running down the walls to the white sand beach below. When we were there the stairs were closed due to repairs.
14. Walk past the Cove and you will run into the Bird Island path. This is where the south plateau walking trail ends. They constructed a metal bridge walkway leading to the trail.
15. From the bridge vantage point, you can see the Gibson beach to the south. This is a good panoramic view of a white sandy pristine beach surrounded by cliffs on all three sides.
16. Access to Gibson beach is only by way of a pathway and then steep stairs leading from the top of the cliffs to the beach below. The beach is very wide, and perhaps a quarter mile long, with terrific wave action this day.
17. Gibson beach is very secluded due to the difficulty of accessing the beach. It is perhaps a quarter mile walk and a lot of downhill climbing on the steep stairs to reach the edge of the beach from the south plateau parking lot.
18. Very few people on the beach, and no dogs allowed in the Park, so I don't see any dogs on the beach. No lifeguards on duty, and signs warning of dangerous riptides.
19. Looking toward Gibson beach from the approaches to Bird Island and you will see a rectangular hole through the cliff rocks, where the unending crashing waves have created a tunnel in the rocks. I've seen this in Hawaii at the Craters At the end of the World road, and also on the Black sand beach at Hana on Maui. Pretty good company.
20. Between Gibson beach and China cove is Bird Island. This is an island approachable with a circular trail on the mainland, with Gibson beach to the south, and China Cove to the north.
21. At the right time of the year Bird Island will be covered with thousands of black birds. Here is December it is empty, with only the white droppings on a mound of dirt and rock between you and the Pacific Ocean.
22. Spectacular scenery with brown and orange plants on the faces of the rocky inlets of China cove. The coloring is surreal, and very memorable. During the wet season these plants are orange, and now during the dry season they are more brownish.
We lucked on having a brillant sunny day in late December, during an very temperate string of days unheard of in the middle of winter.