Asilomar State Marine Reserve, and Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area

a gray marine layer creates separation from the bright blue ocean, a few boats dot the horizon, closer to shore, kelp patties barely crest the surface, a unique rock structure with striated formations create an arch just above the bright blue water

Overview

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) and Asilomar State Marine Reserve (SMR) are two of four marine protected areas (MPAs) located along the Monterey Peninsula. The SMCA spans almost 1½ miles of coastline between Lovers Point and Point Pinos. Although less than one square mile in total area, this MPA is popular for rocky beaches, beautiful ocean vistas, tidepools, and kelp forest habitat. 

Spanning roughly two miles of shoreline from Point Joe to Point Pinos, Asilomar SMR encompasses about 1½ square miles of sandy beaches, rocky intertidal shores, surfgrass beds, kelp forests, and sandy and rocky seafloor habitats to depths of more than 170 feet.

While exposure to the open ocean creates hazardous conditions for kayaking, diving on calm days is popular. A coastal walking path offers expansive views of the Monterey Peninsula, and tidepooling at low tide reveals an abundance of intertidal species like sea stars, anemones, sculpins, bat stars, crabs, limpets and nudibranchs. The vibrant kelp forests offshore offer refuge for many small invertebrates and fish. Marine mammals like sea lions and harbor seals can be seen sprawling across the rocky shores and harbor porpoises move gracefully through the cold, nutrient-rich offshore waters. 

Regulations

Asilomar SMR

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(78)(opens in new tab)

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, EXCEPT: 

Recreational take of finfish is allowed. Commercial take of giant kelp and bull kelp by hand is allowed.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(77)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

Asilomar SMR

MPA size: 1.51 square miles

Shoreline span: 2.3 miles

Depth range: 0 to 172 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 0.55 square miles
  • Rock: 2.32 square miles

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA

MPA size: 0.98 square miles

Shoreline span: 1.3 miles

Depth range: 0 to 151 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 0.32 square miles
  • Rock: 1.49 square miles

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area


California's MPA Network

About Asilomar State Marine Reserve, and Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area

Natural History

small blue waves crest over rocks coated in brown and green algae, in the foreground two whimbrels sit on a visually similar rock, these birds are slim with brown and white mottling, a long black curved beak is their specialization
Whimbrels in Asilomar SMR. photo © N. Siemers, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Monterey Canyon is located near both of these MPAs. This deep, submarine canyon reaches nearly 12,000 feet at its deepest point, almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Upwelling causes cold, nutrient-rich waters to rise from the depths of the canyon into the MPAs and the surrounding area, creating a remarkably productive ecosystem. These nutrient rich waters teem with krill at certain times of the year, with phytoplankton and zooplankton serving as the base of the food chain. Schools of northern anchovies seasonally feast on the plankton, as do other important baitfish that are prey items for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

These MPAs feature extensive tidepools that host crabs, anemones, mussels, urchins, and sea stars, while harbor seals give birth and nurture their pups on the sandy beaches. Just offshore, the sandy shores transition to surfgrass beds, rocky boulders, and kelp forests that provide shelter for a diverse array of organisms including sea otters, sea lions and many fish species like lingcod, surfperch, cabezon, and blue rockfish. The rocky cliffs that line the coast offer great vantage points for whale watching: blue, gray, and humpback whales are commonly seen along with orcas and the occasional ocean sunfish. Marine mammals often spend long periods of time in Monterey Bay, though pods of orcas, dolphins, and migrating whales use the area as a travel corridor. 

Cultural History

intense blue skies with white pastel clouds meet cypress trees leading up to a lighthouse, a few small trees create a perimeter with a white picket fence, the lighthouse has a symmetrical layout with the light tower jutting out of the middle of the roof, the lighthouse has white walls and green trim with some lichen on the roof
Point Pinos Lighthouse near Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA. photo © P. Lesage, CC BY-NC 2.0

For centuries, Native American Tribes in California have relied on marine and coastal resources. Many Native American Tribes in California continue to regularly harvest marine resources within their ancestral territories and maintain relationships with the coast for ongoing customary uses. The Monterey Peninsula has a long history of human residence, with the Ohlone peoples occupying the area for thousands of years. The Ohlone traditional diet consists of abalone, urchins, limpets, and seaweeds found in rocky intertidal areas.

The first European visitor was the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who named the area Bahia de Monterey after anchoring his fleet in the calm waters near Lovers Point. In the period following Vizcaino’s brief visit, Monterey remained free from significant European influence until the Portola Expedition of 1769, which signified the beginning of California’s Mission era. The construction of Mission Carmel on the southern side of the Monterey Peninsula occurred one year later in 1770. Following the Mexican-American War, Congress ordered the building of Point Pinos Lighthouse, which opened in 1855. It remains the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast, with the original lens still in use.

A few decades later, the City of Pacific Grove was founded in 1875, becoming a thriving fishing hub in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants played a large role in expanding fishing with the harvest of abalone, rockfish, flatfish, sardines, and squid. Between 1915 and 1950, 235,000 tons of sardine were fished from the bay every year, until the fishery collapsed in the 1950s. Similar collapses of other fish stocks resulted in more stringent regulations and the eventual implementation of MPAs. As fishing waned, conservation efforts gained momentum, leading to the creation of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. As protection efforts continued, the Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA and Asilomar SMR were established in 2007 and are two of 29 MPAs adopted during the first phase of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

Recreation

a few dozen blue rockfish drift in deep black sea, these fish have straight indigo lines around the eyes with similarly colored speckles along the body, these fish have a light blue green base coloration
Blue rockfish in Asilomar SMR. CDFW/MARE photo

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA and Asilomar SMR are more exposed to ocean waves than other Monterey area MPAs. While less ideal for kayaking, tidepooling at low tide reveals the wealth of sea life along this coast. The SMCA also provides rewarding diving during calm conditions. Recreational anglers are allowed to take finfish as long as all other regulations (seasons, size limits, bag limits, etc.) are followed. The Asilomar Coast Trail offers stunning views of the SMR. Parking is available along Sunset Drive and Spanish Bay Road, or in local parking lots.

Asilomar State Beach, a stunning sandy beach stretching for one mile and interspersed with rocky tidepools, sits adjacent to Asilomar SMR. Asilomar State Beach is a great place for watching wildlife, kayaking, and surfing. Fishing is not allowed, but curious visitors can peer into tidepools teeming with colorful sea stars, sea anemones, limpets, and barnacles. With its location in the heart of Pacific Grove and the bustling city of Monterey to the east, restaurants, lodging, and other amenities, including the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium are within easy reach.

Coordinates

Asilomar SMR

This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

36° 38.226' N. lat. 121° 56.159' W. long.;
36° 38.314' N. lat. 121° 56.292' W. long.;
36° 38.900' N. lat. 121° 56.600' W. long.; and
36° 36.554' N. lat. 121° 57.518' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(78)

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA

This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

36° 37.600′ N. lat. 121° 54.919′ W. long.;
36° 37.600′ N. lat. 121° 54.750′ W. long.;
36° 38.700′ N. lat. 121° 55.400′ W. long.;
36° 38.900′ N. lat. 121° 56.600′ W. long.;
36° 38.314′ N. lat. 121° 56.292′ W. long.; and
36° 38.226′ N. lat. 121° 56.159′ W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(77)

Asilomar State Marine Reserve

Map

Map of Asilomar State Marine Reserve - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet

Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area

Map

Map of Pacific Grove Marine Gardens State Marine Conservation Area - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet