They bark, they bathe and they’re fun to watch – sea lions are the stars here at Punta de los Lobos Marinos (Point of the Sea Wolves), almost 4 miles south of Carmel, where a dramatically rocky coastline offers excellent tide-pooling. The full perimeter hike is 6 miles, but shorter walks take in wild scenery too, including Bird Island, shady cypress groves, the historical Whaler’s Cabin and the Devil’s Cauldron, a whirlpool that gets splashy at high tide.
The kelp forest at Whalers Cove is popular with snorkelers and scuba divers; without donning a wetsuit, you can still get an idea of the underwater terrain with a 3D model located by the parking lot. Reserve snorkeling, scuba-diving, kayaking and SUP permits ($10 to $30) up to two months in advance online.
Arrive early on weekends; parking is limited. Don't skip paying the entry fee by parking outside the park gates on the highway shoulder – California's state parks are chronically underfunded and need your help.