The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is a link in the 1,200-mile Coastal Trail that is planned to run the length of California. This section traverses some 18 miles of coastal beauty (there are some inland portions) from Castroville south to Pacific Grove’s Lovers Point, and a trip along this paved trail is a great way to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Monterey Bay.
Following a former Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, you can enjoy gorgeous views of the bay and shoreline. You pass tall sand dunes and white sandy beaches, as well as a small eucalyptus forest, and can easily veer off the trail to visit Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey State Historic Park, and other attractions. Interpretive signs alongside the trail tell of the city’s early history and of the abundant marine life of Monterey Bay. This popular bicycle and pedestrian trail was created piece by piece, in collaboration among several public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and local citizens. A long-range goal is to extend it upcoast to Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz County.
Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (Seaside to Lovers Point)
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: North: Houghton parking lot at the foot of Sand Dunes Drive in Seaside. South: Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove. You can also access the trail at numerous other locations along its route.
Length: Over 4 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Level
The first several hundred yards of the trail are on a slope greater than 1:12 (standard ramp). Street crossings in Cannery Row have steep curb cuts. Otherwise the trail is level.
For the most accessible, continuous five-mile stretch, start in Seaside and head south past Monterey to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. While this is the busier, more urban segment, it offers easy access to some of Monterey’s most popular attractions and can provide a good workout. Immediately past Lovers Point, the trail continues but becomes too narrow and sandy to travel by wheelchair. About one mile north of Seaside State Beach, the trail is interrupted at Tioga Street, and to reconnect to it you must travel in the road, because the sidewalk has no curb cuts here. The road generally has little traffic, but it’s steep. At Metz Road, travel behind the big-box stores to pick up the trail again at the foot of Playa Avenue. It continues for several more miles on the ocean side of Highway 1 to Marina; along the way is an entry into Fort Ord Dunes State Park. Thereafter the trail travels inland; often sharing the road with cars on a dedicated bike lane.
From the Houghton parking lot, follow the wide paved trail downcoast for about half a mile as it makes a long, somewhat steep (it was easy in a motorized chair) climb through the dunes, leaving the beach behind. At the crest of the hill, be sure to look back at the unspoiled, sweeping ocean view. The long switchbacked descent is exhilarating, but watch for fast-moving cyclists. For the next three-plus miles the trail is more congested and noisy, until you pass the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Divided lanes help to control traffic, which can include joggers, strollers, and distracted tourists. For the first three-quarters of a mile you travel away from the bay on a broad lighted path along busy Del Monte Boulevard. You pass through a small eucalyptus grove across from the Naval Post Graduate Academy. Within a quarter of a mile, as you approach Monterey State Beach, you begin to smell, hear, and eventually see the bay—a welcome reprieve from the constant car noise. Just beyond is Monterey City Beach, with sand volleyball, lawns, and a small beach. You’ll find level access to both beaches.
If you’re traveling with children, take a side trip to El Estero Park, across Del Monte Boulevard from Monterey City Beach at Camino el Estero. Here you will see mature willows, the Dennis the Menace Playground (on Pearl Street), an accessible fishing pier, and an accessible hard-packed dirt path that wends most of the way around El Estero Lake.
After El Estero Park, the trail skirts the perimeter of the Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot, where you can watch fisherman unload their catch at the commercial pier or, just beyond the marina, shop for trinkets and grab a fresh seafood lunch at one of the many dining venues and snack bars that line this less-bumpy recreational pier. Immediately inland from Fisherman’s Wharf is Monterey Bay State Historic Park, a recommended stop for anyone interested in California history. A sensory and memory garden behind the historic park’s Pacific House offers a retreat from the crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Continue past Fisherman’s Shoreline Park, a small linear park with good views of the marina, another half-mile to pristine San Carlos Beach Park, which is down a gentle slope from the trail. Here you can see the curve of the bay and follow the route you’ve taken thus far. Linger on the bluff and listen to the barking seals. A steep concrete ramp leads onto the small beach below, but on my visit it was buried in sand. From here you can choose to return to the trail or continue along Cannery Row Way, through Cannery Row—the bustling tourist section of Monterey—to the aquarium. The only other access to Cannery Row from the trail requires negotiating a steep descent and several street crossings with steep curb cuts.
The trail’s last mile, from the Aquarium to Lovers Point Park, is a bit less noisy; here you’re traveling below the road through a mostly residential area, where traffic is lighter. About halfway to the park is a mural depicting early inhabitants. As you approach the park, look for harbor seals draped across the rocky outcrops—look closely, for they are well-camouflaged. The activity level picks up again at Lovers Point Park (there are no plaques about the origin of its name, but you can use your imagination), a popular four-acre park frequented by both residents and tourists for its charm and beauty. The park has a small pocket beach with an extremely steep concrete ramp and a grassy picnic area graced with windswept cypress, but its biggest draw may be the large rocks at the point, which people climb for views of Monterey Bay and to watch the crashing waves. The park’s location on the Monterey peninsula allows you to look eastward across Monterey Bay, and if you arrive early in the morning you might be lucky enough to see the sun rise over the sea—a rarity along the West Coast. Upon leaving Lovers Point Park, the trail becomes too narrow and sandy to continue in a wheelchair.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Accessible Visitor Center: Yes
Monterey State Historic Park is a collection of historic houses and buildings scattered throughout Old Monterey. Many are inaccessible, but the first floors of the Custom House (the oldest government building in California) and Pacific House museums are accessible and easily reached from the trail at Fisherman’s Wharf. Both offer insights into early California. Exhibits recount the history of Monterey as the capital of Spanish and Mexican California.
Beach Wheelchair: Yes
Available from Monterey Bay Kayaks: (800) 649-5357 or (831) 373-5357. Can be reserved and used overnight, and taken to nearby beaches if you have a secure method of transport.Open daily except for Christmas and New Year’s Day: winter, 9 am-5 pm, summer, 9 am-7 pm.
Accessible Parking: Yes
At Houghton parking lot at the foot of Sand Dunes Drive, just beyond the hotel entrance in Seaside, and at Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove. Additional spaces are at Seaside State Beach, throughout Fisherman’s Wharf (free with disabled placard in the metered area; you must pay in fee lot), in the lot on Del Monte Boulevard across from the Graduate Naval Academy, and at San Carlos Beach Park and Monterey Bay Park. One space is on Ocean View Boulevard at 9th Street in Pacific Grove.
Accessible Restroom: Yes
Numerous restrooms with varying degrees of accessibility are along the route, but the most accessible are at San Carlos Beach Park, at the foot of the recreational pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, at Dennis the Menace playground at El Estero Park, adjacent to the Maritime Museum, and at the green building in between Monterey City Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. The entrance to the women’s restroom at Lovers Point Park has a tight 90-degree turn, but is otherwise accessible, as is the men’s.
Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes
At San Carlos Beach Park and Fisherman’s Shoreline Park
Hours: Trail always open. Monterey State Historic Park, Custom House and Pacific House Museums: weekends and holidays, 10 am-4 pm
Map: See here.
Dogs: On a leash
Public Transportation: Monterey-Salinas Transit