The 4,800-acre park is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast

Photo by nwrabinowitz, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by nwrabinowitz, Flickr Creative Commons

HIGHLIGHTS: The drive on California Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast is indisputably one for the bucket list. When you’re ready to stretch your legs, pull over at Andrew Molera State Park, 20 miles south of Carmel. Twenty miles of hiking trails wend around redwood groves, meadows and overlooks. Watch for California condors and migrating whales.

ACTIVITIES: Hiking, birding, surfing, picnicking and beachcombing. Bicycling on designated trails. Horseback riding on designated trails. Molera Horseback Tours (external link) provides guided trips.

VISITOR CENTER: The Ventana Wildlife Society’s Discovery Center (external link) serves as the park’s visitor center. Exhibits highlight the area’s native plants and animals, including the endangered California condor and efforts underway to reintroduce North America’s largest bird to the wild. Naturalists offer guided hikes. The Center is free and open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

CAMPING: A first-come, first-served walk-in campground about one half-mile from the parking area has 24 campsites. Each site is equipped with a picnic table, a fire pit with a grill and a food locker. The campground has drinking water, flush toilets and sinks, but no showers. Firewood and trail maps are available from the park kiosk, open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

TRAILS: 20 miles of trails. The level, one-mile Beach Trail ends at a cove at the mouth of the Big Sur River—a birding hot spot! From there, the Headlands Trail to Molera Point is a short climb. Benches along the way allow you catch your breath and take in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, kelp forests and hidden beaches.

MUST SEE: Creamery Meadow is a short walk from the parking area and a good place to see wildlife—particularly at night when owls, coyotes and mountain lions are on the hunt. The Molera Ranch House Museum showcases Big Sur history with displays and artifacts about artists, authors, pioneers and indigenous peoples.

HIDDEN GEMS: The park is named for Andrew Molera, a descendant of an early California family. The redwood Cooper Cabin, built in 1861 by Molera’s grandfather, is the oldest structure in Big Sur. Molera Beach, stretching 2.5 miles to Cooper Point, is a great place to watch for whales, dolphins and sea otters. East Molera Trail, best hiked in morning or evening, skirts the ridge for 2.5 miles to a grove of giant redwoods where California condors sometimes roost.

SEASONAL HIGHLIGHTS: Migrating monarch butterflies rest in the park’s eucalyptus trees in winter. California gray whales pass by in spring and fall. Birders flock to the park to look for rare birds in winter. Dangle your feet in the Big Sur River in summer.

FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Restrooms, picnic areas.

RVs: Not recommended because of tight turnarounds.

DOGS: Except for service animals, dogs are not allowed in Trail Camp, on trails, or at the beach.

ENTRANCE FEE: $10 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit Andrew Molera State Park or the Ventana Wildlife Society Discovery Center or call the park at (831) 667-2315.


Trip Ideas from Our Staff and Friends

EAT: Christine Aralia, Land Project Manager, suggests the Big Sur Bakery (external link) for to-go treats and Nepenthe (external link) for drinks and dinner! Nepenthe, a restaurant, café and gift shop on the Big Sur Coast south of Andrew Molera Park, has been a family enterprise since 1949. Enjoy a meal, snack or drink on the deck high above the Pacific.

Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, suggests a stop in at Fernwood Tavern (external link) for live music and a good beer.

STOP: Regan recommends trying Esalen’s hot springs (external link). Esalen only opens their hot springs to the public from 1 am – 3 am for a fee. The fee is well worth it since the hot springs are located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where you can sit and listen to the waves under the stars!

DON’T MISS: The Point Sur Lighthouse, built in 1889, is a National Historic Landmark. The light station still serves as beacon for ships. Tours are available, visit www.pointsur.org.

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Park Details

Acres Protected by the League: 17

Getting There: Driving Directions, Public Transportation

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