Why: Smashing waves, hanging fog, beguiling rocks, sea creatures, birds, birders, hikers, painters, photographers and haunting trees — all flourish here. And the Old Veteran might be the most haunting tree of all.
What: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, three miles south of Carmel, covers just under 400 acres. Within a few years of the Gold Rush of 1849, dozens of Chinese immigrant fishing families arrived to gather abalone, urchin and other species. Whalers made this a base camp. Japanese and Portuguese immigrants too.
An abalone cannery operated until 1928. And believe it or not, there was also coal mining nearby. But since 1933, it’s been a state-owned reserve.
As for the Old Veteran — it stands along the 1.4-mile North Shore Trail between Whalers Cove and Sea Lion Point, clinging to a cliff top, its trunk bleached, roots and branches reaching every which way — is it a Monterey cypress or a wayward Vincent Van Gogh hallucination?
Add to this the wave-lashed inlets, the strangely shaped tidepools that so inspired photographer Edward Weston, and the old whalers’ shack that’s now a little Whaling Station Museum and you get a singular meeting of land and sea.
“Come in the winter when it’s stormy and no one’s out here,” Edward Weston’s grandson, photographer Kim Weston, told me a few years ago. “It’s an amazing piece of land.”
Where: 62 California Highway 1, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 325 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: $10 per car. It opens at 8 a.m. daily and closes at 7 p.m. If the parking lot’s 150 spaces fill up, which happens often, you can park with care along the shoulder of the highway and walk in to the reserve. It’s more trouble, but you save $10.