• A.H. Plotts

Carmel River State Beach

Is it on a river or is it on the coast? It's both!

A view of the lagoon on the river side of Carmel River State Beach.


This week, Operation Beachcomber took us south. Ash and smoke from the wildfires burning around us have made parts of the coast almost unfit for man, woman, or beast. We can see the build-up on plants, cars and buildings and it’s been eerie weather outside. The skies have been brown-to-gray and cold for this time of year. Smoke and fog hangs in the morning and sometimes burns off by the afternoon, then we get a peek of blue off the coast. It’s tragic to know that people’s homes and the wildlife that we value so much in California are being destroyed, brought home for the first time I looked closely at the tiniest piece of ash that landed on the tip of my finger. Before it disintegrated and blew away into nothing I saw that it was clearly in the shape of a leaf.


So, south we went, hoping to avoid the worst of the smoke that was being produced by fires closer to Santa Cruz. Our original destination had been Point Lobos State Park, for a morning hike with spectacular views, but Point Lobos was closed. We decided to try our luck at one of the beaches we had yet to visit for the record: Carmel River State Beach.


A view of the peninsula from the ocean side of the beach.


Carmel River State Beach is a gem in the area. It is one of the few places along the peninsula where one can enjoy both river/lagoon swimming and tumultuous ocean surf. It’s not the safest beach for ocean swimming – there’s signage that warns of a steep drop off that will suck you under if you’re not paying attention. Swimmers are better off in the nearby lagoon made up of Carmel’s river on it’s way to the ocean, blocked off by a berm of sand. This makes for great swimming for people as well as many beautiful seabirds that visit our coast. But be forewarned . . .

“Those swimmers better wipe their feet when they get out,” my hubby and Operation Beachcomber partner noted while we were watching the kids and the birds frolicking together. It was as if we were witnessing the early days in the Garden of Eden.

“Why’s that?” I innocently enquired.

“Because of the bird poop. Tons of it, built up on the bottom.”

I’d suggest wiping down or showering one’s whole body. The lagoon is the natural fishing, resting and bathing place for multiple species of birds, including some that we had not seen before or as closely. Standing on a high place along a trail that crested along the lagoon, we could have stayed for hours watching and listening to the continual splish-splash of seagulls, ducks and pelicans bathing. It’s a soothing sound and there’s nothing happier than watching a bird enjoying its morning oblations – except watching MANY birds bathing at the same time!

The trails along this beach and lagoon are short and an easy walk. At the highest point of the trail stands a tall, wooden cross. At the foot of the path leading to this cross is a stone marker that tells the story of the Portola Crespi expedition from Mexico that originally built the cross in 1769 to signal their overdue supply ship, the San Jose. The marker explains how the expedition returned to San Diego without knowing that the San Jose had been lost at sea.


The marker that tells the fate of the expedition

and the supply ship that never arrived.







The cross on the hill.


Carmel River State Beach is an excellent walking beach, especially if you get there early in the day. We rarely saw or entered the same space as other beach goers so social distancing is easily achieved. It is also an excellent beach for quality bird watching. We were thrilled to see Elegant Terns, Brown Pelicans, Seagulls – both white and gray; what we think were three plovers of some sort (tiny little birds that ran on short legs and froze in place when they caught us watching), Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and ducks. We even saw one Cormorant that was fishing in the lagoon and didn’t seem to mind that we were watching. The lagoon is probably the best spot for bird watching but we did see many birds of different species flocking together on the ocean side of the beach as well.



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