I am in the parking lot at Monterey's Point Lobos State Reserve, sitting in my car and watching fat raindrops pepper the windshield and wondering how long I should wait before giving up and heading home. I consult with pals Janet and Lee, and we decide to give it a few minutes and drive out to the trailhead, before heading home. Best decision we'll make all day.
By the time we pull into the parking lot on the bay edge, the rain has stopped, the sun is out and the winds have nudged the clouds aside to reveal a wedge of bright blue sky. That's winter along the windswept Monterey coast—pouring one minute, gloriously sunny the next, and always surprising.
I've come for a winter "fitness" hike and there are few more inspiring spots to walk than Point Lobos. Today, volunteer docent Stan Dryden is on hand to show us around on the Cypress Grove Trail (about 1-mile RT). We trek uphill into a grove of cypress, one of just three species of trees here. But it wasn't always this heavily forested, Dryden explains. "This was all grassland," he notes "and around 1900, it was subdivided and about to be developed." It's hard to imagine any spot this beautiful being lost forever to housing. As we pass the Allan Grove, Dryden tells us about A.M. Allan, who helped preserve Pt. Lobos and for whom the grove is named. It's an amazing legacy.
We pause at a rocky point (a good spot for whale watching, Dryden says). Beside cypress trees bent and sculpted by fierce winds, we gaze down at turquoise seas and granite rocks wrapped in white, foamy waves. Across Monterey Bay, we get sea-framed views of the Monterey peninsula.
Now the breeze is picking up, whipping the waves up pretty violently. Janet and Lee take out cameras to capture the drama of the frothy sea. The coastal views are amazing, but so is the quieter world here. I step back from the edge to scan the trees for delicate lace lichen and the granite rock faces for bluff lettuce, a ready-made bouquet of a plant that flows over the rock and clings to nooks. And then, just as I turn to head back, I'm surprised by the sight of a profusion of wild Douglas iris scattered alongside the trail, just ready to burst into bloom in another month or so.
I head back to my lodge—the storied Asilomar Conference Grounds—and warm up in front of the giant fireplace in the main lodge. Founded in 1913 and boasting a host of buildings designed by acclaimed architect Julia Morgan (famed for her work on the iconic Hearst Castle), the center showcases the Arts & Crafts architectural style and seems the perfect fit for its natural surroundings. I join a ranger-led tour and we tramp through cozy loge buildings full of carefully thought out architectural details as well as fun stories from its early YWCA days (like the Stuck-ups Lodge, so named for the sometimes snooty college girls who worked here each summer). I'm surprised to learn there are more Julia Morgan buildings here in a cluster than any other place in the state.
As the day ends, I scan through my snapshots of Julia Morgan's architectural wonders (another legacy) and, at Point Lobos, the incredible sights I had almost given up on because of a few raindrops. I should know better. A winter day in Monterey is always full of surprises.
Point Lobos State Reserve is open 9—5; call 831/624-4909 or click here. Asilomar Conference Grounds has a range of room offerings, including bed, breakfast, and dinner packages starting at $159. My favorite rooms are in the Long View lodge (for the coastal views, of course). For info on packages, call 866/654-2878 or click here.