CA, Monterey Bay Area: Asilomar State Beach

Known for its distinctive white sand, Asilomar State Beach, in Pacific Grove, is about a mile long, with Sunset Drive and the California Coastal Trail behind it. This stretch of the Coastal Trail is composed of, intermittently, a boardwalk, firmly packed material, and soft sand. It offers some wheelchair access, although blowing sand and severe cross-slopes in some places along the boardwalk can be a hindrance. It’s well worth a visit, to take in the great views from an accessible deck with benches, to listen and watch waves leaping and crashing over rocks, and perhaps spot some harbor seals, California sea lions, and sea otters. Guided nature walks are offered by State Parks, free of charge. Check for times at the registration building (Social Hall) on the conference grounds. You can also rent bicycles and borrow a beach wheelchair (reservations required) at the store inside the registration building, and pick up a leaflet describing dune plants.

Asilomar Conference Grounds, at the northeast end of the beach, is part of the state beach. The conference center was designed by architect Julia Morgan and built between 1919 and 1928. Eleven of her original buildings remain, the largest collection of Morgan’s architecture in one location. The grounds, restrooms, restaurant, and gift shop are open to the public. An accessible boardwalk travels from the conference grounds to the beach and over sand dunes, offering a rare close-up glimpse of a dune restoration project.

Conference Grounds Dune Boardwalk
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: The most level entrance within the conference grounds is between the chapel and barbecue/picnic area.
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle
Terrain: Hard
Although the boardwalk is a hard surface, the segment through the dunes has ripples and is quite bumpy.


The name Asilomar is derived from the Spanish words for refuge (asilo) and sea (mar). After you take a tranquil stroll through the dunes, you will agree that the name fits. Along the way, you’ll find an ongoing dune restoration project and also get a glimpse of what the Monterey Bay area was like prior to development. From the conference grounds, follow the boardwalk to the first right. Continue straight a few hundred feet to the ocean, or turn right to meander a short distance through the dunes, where sand verbena was plentiful on my visit in June. At the next junction, turn right to climb gently uphill, where the trail overlooks the dunes, then leads back to a different entry point on the conference grounds. If you turn left at the junction, you will shortly be presented with two options: Go left and slightly uphill to a dead end with a viewing area and benches, or turn right to leave the trail by the native plant greenhouse. The route back to the registration building from here has some steep sections.  

Coast Trail
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: Jewel Avenue at Sunset Avenue
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Mostly level or gentle
Terrain: Firm
Obstacles: Some transitions from hard-packed material to boardwalk may have a lip greater than 2 inches. Assistance may be needed in areas with deep sand and severe cross-slopes.


Several trail access points are along Sunset Avenue. To enjoy the longest accessible stretch (under .5 mile), start at Jewell Avenue. If you go north from Jewell you will soon come to a lovely covered overlook with benches, where you can spend hours watching marine animals playing in the ocean. The trail continues a little farther, then curves back to Sunset Avenue. Traveling south from Jewell, you pass through dunes where lupine and sea aster bloom in spring, and an occasional wind-sculpted Monterey pine graces the landscape. At points the trail hugs the shoreline and you can almost feel the mist from the waves crashing against the rocks. On high gear in my motorized wheelchair I was able to navigate several short stretches of deep sand, but manual wheelchair riders may need to backtrack to one of the exits at the accessible parking locations and use the bike lane along Sunset Drive to continue south. Traffic is light and speeds are slow. 

Accessibility Details
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Beach Wheelchair: Yes
Pick up at the registration building (Phoebe Hearst Social Hall). It may be used on site or taken to other local beaches if you are able to transport it. Reservations: 831-372-8016.
Accessible ParkingYes
Spaces are along Sunset Drive at Jewell, Arena, and Pico Avenues. However, space for deploying a wheelchair lift is tight. One parking space is next to the registration building on the conference grounds. Park here if you are borrowing the beach wheelchair. With a disabled parking placard, you can disregard the 10-minute limit.
Accessible Restroom: Yes
In the conference center registration building (Phoebe Hearst Social Hall) 
Accessible Picnic TablesYes
Next to registration building

Additional Information
Hours: Trails and beach always open
Map: See here.
Fees: None
Dogs: On a leash but no pets in conference center buildings.
Public Transportation: Monterey Salinas Transit 

Avatar photo Bonnie Lewkowicz (59 Posts)

I has worked for more than 30 years advocating for, and educating about access to outdoor recreation and tourism for people with disabilities. I hold a degree in Recreation Therapy and was a travel agent specializing in accessible travel for many years. In this capacity, and now as Associate Director at Wheelchair Traveling, I consult with the travel industry about accessibility, conducts disability awareness trainings and writes about travel and outdoor recreation. I also authored a book titled, A Wheelchair Rider's Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast, about accessible trails and has produced several access guides to San Francisco. My most current project is a website of accessible trails along the entire California Coast ( My extensive experience as a wheelchair rider combined with her professional experience has provided me with in-depth knowledge about inclusive tourism and outdoor recreation.

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