The Central Coast of California is world-famous for its unique natural beauty: dramatic oceanside cliffs, golden rolling hills, pristine redwood forests and a diverse marine sanctuary that encompasses gigantic kelp forests, 34 species of marine mammals and at least 525 species of fish. It’s also a place Carmel High students can call their backyard. Here are some local outdoors phenomena that could be worth a visit in the near future:
Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Preserve
At the mouth of the Carmel River—best accessed through the Carmel River State Beach—you can find a bird sanctuary unlike any other.
With the ocean crashing in the distance and a soft breeze flowing through tall tule reeds, you can slowly kayak through the clear lagoon in search of great blue herons, Virginia rails, brown pelicans, greater yellowlegs, downy woodpeckers and multiple breeds of vireos and warblers. Definitely make some time to spot threatened and protected species, like the steelhead trout and California red-legged frog.
Monterey Bay Natural Marine Sanctuary
That big blue expanse found off the coast’s sandy white beaches and rugged cliffs isn’t just pretty to look at—it boasts the nation’s largest kelp forests and one of North America’s deepest underwater canyons.
Whales and dolphins are commonly found in areas with an abundance of krill, fish and squid—such waters are often found in canyons near shore. Some species come seasonally, like grays, humpbacks and blue whales, while others, such as minke and killer whales, can be found year round. One of the most commonly spotted marine mammals is the Risso’s dolphin, which is usually found in pods of 10-30 near the ocean’s surface. They can be seen breaching, flipper-slapping, lobtailing and spyhopping—that is to say, treading water and floating about.
Frog Pond Wetland Preserve
Warblers, bushtits, blackbirds and flycatchers are a common sight for bird lovers at the Frog Pond Preserve in Del Rey Oaks. This pedestrian-friendly 17-acre pond even contains the titular Pacific tree frog! Trees include the coast live oak, arroyo willow, Monterey pine and big leaf periwinkle.
Garrapata State Park
A well-known morning weekend getaway for Central Coast locals, Garrapata State Park’s Rocky Ridge and Soberanes Canyon Trail are well worth the steep ascents. A bench at 1,400 feet overlooks rugged chaparral cliffs and a vast expanse of the churning Pacific. The fairly flat Doud Peak, which towers at around 1,800 feet, hosts a blazing orange carpet of California poppies in the spring.
The crumbling descent into a redwood forest is 0.3 miles with an average gradient of 14 percent, followed by 0.4 miles with an average gradient of 32 percent. The scrub vegetation includes flora such as the lizard tail, mock heather and dune buckwheat, coyote brush, California sagebrush and sticky monkey-flower.
On the rockier inland slopes, you can smell fresh California sagebrush and black sage. The coastal habitat is also home to the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly. Chaparral plants include the manzanita, blue blossom and chamise. The sensitive California horned lizard can be found lurking in rocky parts of the chaparral habitat .
Garland Ranch Regional Park
Once used for cattle-grazing, the easily accessible open grassland of Garland Park lies on a floodplain that provides beautiful trails for running or walking. The flat meadow covers about 20 hectares and even has remnants of a previously existing forest. Some ancient trees are still visible, including the cottonwood, willow and sycamore. You can also find the Scattered coyote bush (Baccharis spp.) on land, while the riparian environment hosts birds like the great blue heron, common merganser, belted kingfisher and mallard.
Technical information courtesy of Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.