Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Asilomar State Marine Reserve

Asilomar SMR
Asilomar State Marine Reserve
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

After taking a virtual walk along Monterey Bay’s Coastal Recreation Trail through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s blog series Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas, this article continues the walk to Asilomar State Marine Reserve (SMR). The southernmost of four relatively small marine protected areas (MPAs) stretching along the Monterey Peninsula, Asilomar SMR is encompassed by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and surrounded by early California history and natural beauty.

Asilomar State Marine Reserve map
Asilomar State Marine Reserve (click to enlarge)
CDFW map

Asilomar SMR was established in 2007 to protect the amazing biodiversity found in the intertidal and kelp forest habitats. The SMR was created by designating a portion of the existing Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA as an SMR to offer more protection for local species.

With its many sandy beaches tucked in coves along the rocky shoreline, Asilomar SMR is a great place to relax and enjoy the coast. During low tide, visitors can access many tidepools to watch the amazing sea life. Remember that in a state marine reserve, take of marine resources is not allowed, which means visitors may not pick up any marine life, rocks, or shells. Please be sure to only look at the animals and do not disturb them.

As you carefully walk along the rocks, there are many species to seek out. Red algae, sea lettuce and bladder chain kelp are just a few of the species of seaweed you may find. As you look closer, a variety of snails and crabs can be seen moving among the rocks in search of food and safe places to hide. Colorful anemones are often found in the pools of water, their stinging tentacles reaching out to paralyze crabs or fish hunting for their meals—or, they may be curled up, covered in small shells and pebbles to help prevent them from drying out if they are exposed to the air during a low tide.  

Marine birds like the black oystercatcher with its bright orange-red bill may be seen standing among the rocks or picking through the tidepool as they hunt for food. Beyond the coastal tidepools, whales, dolphins, sea lions, and harbors seals can be seen swimming by in the open ocean.  

Asilomar State Beach, Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve, and the Asilomar Conference Grounds are found just onshore next to Asilomar SMR. Asilomar State Beach is a narrow, 1-mile strip of sandy beach with rocky coves. Just above the state beach is a 1-mile wooden boardwalk that passes through Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve. This trail is wheelchair-accessible and offers great views of the ocean.

walking trail at Asilomar SMR
Walking trail hugs the coast at Asilomar State Marine Reserve
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

The original buildings at the Asilomar Conference Grounds were designed between 1913 and 1929 by Julia Morgan, a pioneer in the field of arts and crafts architecture in California. Originally built for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Asilomar Conference Grounds were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987 for their role in women’s recreation, the development of the YWCA, and the surrounding natural beauty. Today, most of the original buildings are still standing, and are used as a conference center for hire as well as for guest lodging. Located within walking distance of Asilomar SMR, guests staying at the Asilomar Conference Grounds have easy access to all that this MPA has to offer.

Spanish Bay
Spanish Bay
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

At the southernmost point of Asilomar SMR is Spanish Bay Beach, a large sandy beach located just inside the city limits of Pebble Beach. Strong rip currents and cold water coming up from the deep Monterey Canyon make swimming here hazardous, but its consistent waves and offshore winds make it a favorite spot for surfers. During the summer in the early morning, Western snowy plover can be seen running along the shore in search of food.

Asilomar SMR may be a small MPA, but whether you travel north, south, east, or west, you will find all sorts of recreational opportunities. Come out and enjoy this section of coastline, but remember to check current local COVID-19 conditions before you come.

Asilomar State Marine Reserve is one of the 124 MPAs in California’s statewide MPA Network. Please visit CDFW’s MPA website for more information, and sign up to receive updates about the MPA Management Program.

MPA logo

post by Tamara Heitzenrater,
CDFW Associate Governmental Program Analyst

Learn more about MPAs by diving into the
Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!