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Why visit Monterey and Hyatt Carmel Highlands in December?

December is my favorite month around Monterey, California.  Winter on the Central Coast of California between rainy season storms typically has air so clear that my eyes are amazed by the crisp definition of color in sea and sand and rocky coast.  The lines of mountain ridges visible all around reveal mountains beyond mountains set back from the water’s edge.

Walking around the coast the past few days has been like seeing the Monterey Peninsula in high-definition. Winter is when there are the least days with fog in this area which most summer visitors associate with Monterey. Over the years I am always amazed how clear the landscape features appear in my winter photographs.

a rocky coastline with waves crashing on the rocks
Pacific Grove view across Monterey Bay to Fremont Peak.

Donate to Passports with Purpose for a chance to win 110,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points.

This post is not really about Hyatt Carmel Highlands and Highlands Inn. I have several posts featuring the Highlands Inn hotel with numerous photos that I will link to at the bottom of this post.

I mention Hyatt since they are sponsoring Loyalty Traveler with a 110,000 points raffle prize for the 2011 Passports with Purpose fundraiser (Loyalty Traveler post Nov 30). The Passports with Purpose travel blog charitable event has the goal of raising US$80,000 to build two lbraries in Zambia. Your $10 donation contributes to a grass-roots humanitarian effort and enters you into the raffle for 110,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points. Enter through December 16, 2011 for your chance to win this prize or one of many other prizes being offered. Passports with Purpose donation page lists about 100 travel prizes.

My two local Hyatt Hotels

Hyatt has two hotels in the Monterey Peninsula area. Hyatt Regency Monterey is close to my home. Tiger Woods could probably hit my roof in three out-of-bounds golf swings from the hotel’s location on the Del Monte Golf Course. The Hyatt Monterey property is a Hyatt Gold Passport category 4 hotel reward at 15,000 points per night. Here is a Loyalty Traveler hotel review from February 2010 with links to Picasa photo albums containing hundreds of hotel photos. I see I used the same Tiger Woods distance metaphor back then.

Hyatt Highlands Inn is eight miles south of my home on Highway 1 and is one of 13 Hyatt Gold Passport category 6 hotels in the U.S. for 22,000 points per night.

Win the Passports with Purpose raffle for 110,000 Hyatt points and you could come to this area of California for 5 to 7 nights.

Loyalty Traveler hotel reviews

In the Heart of the Carmel Hyatt Highlands Inn (Jan 5, 2009)

(Feb 21, 2010) This post about Hyatt elite status has photos of Point Lobos Suite at Hyatt Carmel Highlands.


The Clarity of Winter

Hyatt Highlands Inn is eight miles south of my home on Highway 1. Locals around here do not refer to Highway 1 as PCH or Pacific Coast Highway. That is Southern California nomenclature for their section of the coast highway. The signpost name around here is actually Cabrillo Highway, but nearly everyone just says “Highway 1”.

Say “PCH” and we know you are not a local.

a sign on the side of a road
Highway 1 south of Big Sur, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is about one mile north of Hyatt Carmel Highlands.  This park was established in 1933 and protects one of only two native Monterey cypress groves remaining in the area. Yesterday I needed out of the house and I drove south on Highway 1 ten minutes to hike around Point Lobos.

a sign on the side of the road

Cars are a $5 fee to enter the park. Walkers and bicyclists can enter free. The park has walking trails off the paved road. There are portable toilets in some car parking locations and fixed structure restrooms at the picnic grounds. The park is walkable, but around the coastline, especially at Allan Memorial Cypress Grove, the trails are more rugged with rocks and require basic agility. In other words, you are not getting a wheelchair through most of the native and endangered cypress grove path along the coast. There are currently two wheelchair accessible paths in the park and a third under construction.

Point Lobos trails offer a good day outing with trails along the coastline and in the woods for two to four hours exploring in a leisurely day in the park. A quick car tour can be done in less than an hour with a hike around Allan Memorial Cypress Grove Trail and Pacific Ocean coastline photo opportunities from several other locations.

The Monterey Cypress is rare in nature with only two remaining natural groves, Point Lobos and Cypress Point, Pebble Beach about five miles north across Carmel Bay from Point Lobos. The trees are often said to be among the oldest living trees on the planet, but that is not correct. The old trees here are about 200 to 300 years old. They just look so much older due to the harsh effects of wind and sea.

a close-up of a tree
Wind shaped Monterey cypress in Allan Memorial Grove, Point Lobos State Reserve.

Pebble Beach, California a few miles to the north claims the Lone Cypress as a copyrighted image. Point Lobos has some of its own lone cypresses and this one does not even require cable supports like its famous 17-mile drive moneymaker Monterey cypress relative in Pebble Beach.

a tree on a rocky shore
Point Lobos cable-free lone cypress on the rocks.

Good news this year in December is the whales have yet to pass Monterey Bay in their large numbers heading south. Point Lobos is a good viewing location for sighting whales from the coast along with Cypress Point, Pebble Beach. On a good day with binoculars you can spot dozens of gray whales as they surface and blow spray. I consider a day with any whale sighting a special day. [Update Dec 7: This YouTube video shows humpback whales in Monterey Bay at time I wrote this post.]

a view of the ocean from a tree
Viewing Cypress Point,  Pebble Beach across Carmel Bay from Point Lobos.

Point Lobos also has a nice beach, though there was a bit of seaweed on the sand yesterday. Even yesterday in the 58 degree sun there were two sunbathers on the southern exposure beach. The temperature is more like 70 when up against the cliffs in white sand on a sunny day.

a beach with a wooden railing
Point Lobos sandy beach cove at southern edge of park.


December and the winter months are a great time to visit Monterey. Dungeness crab season is full on. I paid $15 for 3.5# for fresh dungeness crab at Safeway in Carmel yesterday.

a rocky beach with water and rocks
Point Lobos sandy beach, south of China Cove.

Best of all reasons for visiting Monterey-Carmel-Big Sur in winter is the hotel rates locally are among the lowest rates of the year. Visitors come in August and pay $500+ per night for Hyatt Carmel Highlands. The hotel is under $300 per night most weeknights in December ($251 AAA rate December 14). If you are within driving distance, then come to this area last-minute when you know there will be clear California good weather. We really do get hammered by some Pacific storms during the rainy season and that might keep you confined by the fireplace at the Hyatt Highlands Inn for your stay.

Life is tough here at times. Life is gorgeous here today.

a rocky coastline with mountains in the background
View from Point Lobos south along Big Sur Coast. Hyatt Carmel Highlands is visible from this vantage point, but not too much so.




  • Jenny December 6, 2011

    Great post, thanks!!

  • Scottrick December 6, 2011

    One of my favorite parks. I try to visit at least every other year, but it’s a good three hour drive from my home.

  • SEE December 6, 2011

    Great post! Point Lobos is a favorite of mine as well. I love going in the spring when the ice plants are in full bloom.

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