If you’re an avid golfer, you’ll probably plan your entire trip up the California coast around a visit to Pebble Beach. The resort, residential community, and of course, four golf courses take up a huge chunk of the Monterey Peninsula. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful settings for a round of golf, anywhere on earth. Even if you don’t get to play a few holes here, you’ll want to visit, just to tell your golfing buddies that you made the pilgrimage.
Pebble Beach is also tempting for non-golfers. Its famous 17 Mile Drive offers a scenic tour of the coastline, including a view of the iconic “Lone Cypress”, which serves as Pebble Beach’s corporate logo.
I arrived in the Monterey area about 90 minutes before sunset, and I figured that the perfect way to finish the day would be to take the 17 Mile Drive. But Pebble Beach has a tough act to follow, if it wants to impress anyone who has just finished the drive through Big Sur. I had just spent the entire day gazing at one breathtaking coastal scene after another, and I did it all for free. Then, Pebble Beach asked me for $9.25 to drive another 17 miles. Subconsciously, I suppose I was expecting to see something even more remarkable, and that’s probably why I finished the day, just slightly disappointed.
Stop 5 – Spanish Bay
Only about 5 miles of the 17 Mile Drive is actually on the coast. The rest of it curves through residential neighborhoods and past restaurants, stores, and other facilities related to the golf courses. There are numerous stop signs and turns — the 17 Mile Drive is not one continuous highway, but rather an assemblage of smaller roads.
Upon entry (at one of four gates), you receive a map that points out attractions, but only some of these will be interesting to the casual non-golfer visitor. I entered at the Carmel-By-The-Sea gate and traveled counter-clockwise, so it took me quite a long time to reach the coastline. The beach you see above, at stop #5 on the map (Spanish Bay), was appropriately covered with pebbles.
Sure, it’s a nice beach, but the scenery wasn’t nearly as dramatic or impressive as what I had seen earlier in the day, further down the coast.
Stop 6: Restless Sea
After Spanish Bay, the 17 Mile Drive stayed close to the Pacific Ocean for a while. At Stop #6, the sea was indeed restless, as waves crashed into…
Stop 7: Point Joe
Stop 6 and Stop 7 look pretty similar, don’t they? They’re right next to each other, and basically provide the same view of the same spot: Point Joe. The rocks here often proved dangerous for early visitors, who mistook the rocky outcropping for the entrance to Monterey Bay, and then crashed their boats into the rocks.
The road continues south, past Stop #8, China Rock and Stop #9, the Bird Rock Hunt Course (I didn’t stop at either place).
Stop 10: Bird Rock
Just offshore at Stop #10, there’s a big rock that provides a home for seabirds, as well as some harbor seals and sea lions.
I was more intrigued by the line-up of telescopes.
Stop #11, the Seal Rock picnic area, is right next to stop #10. Next comes Spyglass Hill Golf Course (Stop #12) and Fanshell Overlook (Stop #13), another place to spot harbor seals. The beach is off limits during pupping season, April 1 through June 1.
Stop 14: Cypress Point Lookout
Cypress Point requires a slight detour off the 17 Mile Drive, but it’s worth the effort, to see this view of the coastline. As the name suggests, it’s a good place to spot cypress trees…
… as well as some seals on the beach below the viewpoint. Unfortunately, all of it is behind a high fence, so if you want pictures, you’ll have to shoot through or over it.
Stop 16: Lone Cypress
Lone Cypress is, of course, the highlight of the 17 Mile Drive. This wind-battered, solitary cypress tree is likely 250 years old. And as it turns out…
… it’s not as lonely as you’ve been led to believe. There are other cypress trees on the rocks leading out to their more famous sibling. No, you can’t walk out to the tree, but at this point you are close enough to notice the Lone Cypress has been “reinforced” somewhat, with cables supporting the branches, and a stone wall around its base.
I had hoped for a sunny breakthrough just moments before the end of the day, which would have brilliantly illuminated the Lone Cypress. It didn’t happen, and all the pictures I took of the tree look a little flat.
Stops 17 & 18: Ghost Tree and Pescadero Point
A little further down 17 Mile Drive, the last stop on the coast is at Ghost Tree and Pescadero Point. There are plenty of ghostly skeletons of trees scattered around this rocky point. Trails take you away from the road, amongst the rocks, where you can find a few good pictures.
The sun was about to set, but it was still behind a lot of clouds.
Still, the rocks at Pescadero Point were nicely illuminated.
Back to Stop 10: Bird Rock
After the sun disappeared, but just before all the light was gone from the sky, I decided to backtrack up the coast, to find a good spot for the final pictures of the day. I ended up back at Bird Rock, where once again, those pay-per-view monoculars made an appearance in my viewfinder.
And so did Bird Rock itself. A lonely bird posed atop the rock for one of the final pictures of the day.
After finding my way out of Pebble Beach, I spent the night in Monterey. Day 4 would take me inland, and I wouldn’t be back to the coast again until Day 9, in San Diego.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive around Pebble Beach, on the scenic 17 Mile Drive: