Treasure Island’s Inspiration

“I have never seen the sea quiet round Treasure Island. I scarcely believe there is one spot on the island where a man would be out of earshot of its noise.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Did you know that one of California’s most beautiful nature reserves is the setting for one of the greatest pirate stories of all time?

Robert Louis Stevenson visited the Point Lobos area on California’s central coast and it is said that he was so entranced by its rugged beauty that he used Point Lobos as the setting for his novel Treasure Island, a story of adventure, treachery and blatant skullduggery.

Later, when film director Victor Fleming needed a setting for his 1933 movie version of Treasure Island, he knew the perfect spot: Point Lobos, of course!  Hollywood has made more than 50 movies here, including Jack London’s Valley of the Moon, (the first in 1914), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca in 1940, and A Summer Place in 1959 featuring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. 

Spanish Discovery

Spanish sailors named the area in the 1600s. When the sailors reached the headland and heard the barks of resident sea lions, they were reminded of the howls of wolves and called the area Punta de los Lobos Marinos (Point of the Sea Wolves).

The area today includes Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Point Lobos State Marine Reserve and Point Lobos State Marine Conservation Area. It is home to seals, sea otters, black tailed deer, migrating gray whales (from December to May), monarch butterflies (October to December) and thousands of seabirds, such as kestrels, hawks, pelicans, egrets and herons. 

And that’s just above water! Below water are lingcod, cabezon, rockfish, California sea cucumbers, sponges and more—all swirling through 70-foot-high kelp forests in a magical, brilliant world only divers get to see. 

Point Lobos is three miles south of Carmel and is easily reached by following U.S. 101.We camped at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA at La Selva Beach because we like its expansive grounds and convenient services, and it’s an easy drive to Monterey, Carmel and Point Lobos.

Grasses and wildflowers are found along the Carmelo Meadow Trail.No Crowds
We pulled into Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is part of the state park system, in our 24-foot Chinook motorhome.  Vehicles longer than 20 feet are not admitted during the summer or on weekends, but our visit was on a weekday in the fall, and the place was almost deserted. We grabbed a brochure and followed the signs to the Sea Lion Point parking area and the Cypress Grove Trail.

As we walked on a sun-dappled loop trail we breathed the pungent scent of the sea, and heard the cacophony of the crashing surf mixed with the call of sea lions. We walked through one of only two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on earth, a tree so rare that the state reserve was originally conceived to protect it.

When we finished the loop, we swung through our parking area and found the start of the Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Trail. The upper portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible with prime views of the sea lion rocks offshore. On this stretch, we saw sea otters playing in the kelp and harbor seals basking on the beach. We took the rocky staircase leading down to the lower part of the trail and were treated to the pounding, whirling ocean in an area called The Devil’s Cauldron.

Next, we drove over to Whaler’s Cove, an important part of Point Lobos’ history.  Many industries have been centered at Whaler’s Cove: abalone harvesting, rock quarrying, whale processing and coal mining.  There were secret military operations here during World War II. Whaler’s Cabin, built in the cove in the 1850s to house fishermen, now houses extensive information about whaling and moviemaking at Point Lobos.

The Cypress Grove Trail leads to spectacular ocean views.Saved for Posterity

One of the area’s industries, coal mining, started a chain of events that led to the long-term environmental protection of Point Lobos. For 20 years, starting in the mid-1870s, the Carmel Coal Company, which owned many acres in Point Lobos, took coal from the surrounding hills, hauled it to Whaler’s Cove and used the deep water of the cove to load their steamships.

But when the coal began to run low, the company subdivided its acreage into a housing community called Carmelito. A thousand prime residential lots went on the sales block.

This alarmed many people, including an eastern architect, Alexander Allan, and his wife, Sadie. They loved the area and wanted it preserved so they began buying the land. First, they bought 640 acres from the coal company and later bought back lots that had been sold to the public. The couple couldn’t let such beauty and diversity be buried under a dense housing tract.

Thanks to the Allans, when you travel to modern day Point Lobos, you’ll see the Monterey cypress trees and the monarch butterflies; hear the sea lions and the sound of the ocean surf as it batters the cliff walls; survey the old fishermen’s home turned into a museum, and if you’re a diver, you’ll swim through kelp forests 70 feet high!

Melanie Martin is a writer who lives in Palm Springs, California.


Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is open daily from 8 a.m. until a half-hour after sunset. The area’s museums are open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Admission is $10 per vehicle ($9 if the vehicle includes a senior citizen and $5 with a disabled discount card).

Vehicles longer than 20 feet may enter the reserve when traffic is light, but not on weekends, school vacations or holidays or between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Trailers and motorhomes that are towing vehicles are prohibited.
Activities include kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, diving and photography. 

For information on the reserve, visit or call (831) 624-4909.  The website includes a list of public and private campgrounds from Santa Cruz to Big Sur.

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