Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Monterey Bay: A walk on a fog day afternoon

Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a beach wilderness park established in 2009 on the shore of Monterey Bay, a couple of miles north of the city of Monterey. The Fort Ord Dunes park encompasses almost 1,000 acres of shoreline west of Highway 1. These dunes in the former Fort Ord military base had beach rifle ranges during the 1970s when I was a teenager living in Marina, the adjacent town north of Fort Ord.

Here is a photo walk of my stomping grounds around Monterey as I walked north from Sand City to Fort Ord Dunes State Park a couple of weeks ago.

View of mountains beyond mountains from Edgewater Shopping Center, Sand City, CA

Edgewater Shopping Center in Sand City is one of the biggest changes in the Monterey area since 1980. This is where the local Costco is located.

Many California cities are unrecognizable after the past thirty years of growth with population doubling, tripling, and even more since 1980. This is what happened a dozen miles inland from Monterey Bay in Salinas, California.

The towns of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Seaside and Marina along the shores of Monterey Bay have basically not increased population at all. Monterey actually had a population decline in the past decade.

This area is beautiful with forests of Monterey pines and Cypress trees up to the shoreline.  Beauty comes with a high price. There are few job opportunities and a high cost of living. This is a place where the Highway 1 traffic jams result from workers driving in the morning to the Monterey Peninsula cities for restaurant, hotel and tourism jobs and leaving in the afternoon to go home to places where they can afford to live.

View of Monterey Peninsula from Sand City.

Sand City beach path looking south to Monterey. (Best Western Monterey Beach hotel is located directly on beach.)

Fort Ord is where I was born. The army base was the largest military base in the country to be closed at the time it officially shut down in September 1994. The closure impacted my family when my parents relocated to another area to be near military medical facilities.

Highway 1 Mileage Marker near Seaside High School.

Sand dunes are the prominent coastal feature between Monterey and the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing in the center of the Monterey Bay crescent. I spent hours upon hours walking through the sand dunes north of Fort Ord between Marina and Castroville when I was a student at Seaside High School in the 70s.

The 1970s were an environmentally destructive time for beach dunes outside the military base too in those years. Beach parties were a regular event in the Marina dunes and the popular entertainment was partying around bonfires while watching people try to drive trucks to the top of steep sand dunes.

Marina Beach was designated a state park in the 1980s. Large portions of the sand dunes areas are off-limits to allow plant restoration and reduce erosion.

View from Sand City north along Monterey Bay.

Monterey Bay sign: Danger – unstable cliffs.

Only in the last couple of years did I learn that our prominent sand dunes and landscaping feature called “iceplant”, abundant around Monterey Bay, is a non-native invasive species primarily native to South Africa and Chile. I don’t know why it is called iceplant, but if you have ever driven on it, you might realize why it has the name. There are hundreds of species and at certain times of the year they produce colorful flowers.

Flowering iceplant on Santa Cruz shoreline

I have stunning pictures of vibrant purple iceplant flowers in Pacific Grove, but I couldn’t locate them for this post. I noticed the other day I have 120,000 photos on my portable hard drive. I need hundreds of hours to catalog all those photos.

Monterey Bay from Marina to Sand City is a popular place for hang-gliding. The winds blow steadily here much of the year. Fog is common and the summer months tend to be the foggiest months. October to April is our best weather in between rain storms blowing in from the Pacific. When I look back over years of photos I am always struck by the clarity of the air in January.

Tip for photographers is come to Monterey Bay and Big Sur in winter as long as you come in between the Pacific winter storms. This is central coast California and sometimes the daytime temperature in winter even hits the 80s. September and October tend to be the warmest months, when the fog isn’t present. Our warm weather streak in 2011 was three days in the 80s the week after I took this beach dunes walk.

bike path in Sand City

Portions of the bike path through Sand City are regularly bulldozed to remove sand covering the path after strong winds.

Keep out of fragile beach dunes to allow plant restoration.

It had been some time since I had the kind of alone time I found in Fort Ord Beach Dunes.

Restored dune plants in Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

Shared bike and walking path through Fort Ord Dunes State Park.

Fort Ord Dunes State Park

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. Awesome pictures. I used to be a DJ at KIDD radio in Monterey in the late ’70s-early ’80s and count those years as the best in my life. I’d consider myself the luckiest guy on earth if I can return to live there. Thanks for the memories.

  2. @Ron – one of my great disappointments was being offered a radio show on KAZU to play punk tunes in 1980. I received the offer the week before I had planned to move to Vermont.

    Vermont was awesome though for the year I lived there.

    After 17 years living away from the Monterey Peninsula my wife and I decided this really is our home.

  3. Great pics! I’ve been living here in Monterey for about 18 months now and I absolutely love it!

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