Located in the Los Padres National Forest just 20 miles south of Carmel on California’s Highway 1, Andrew Molera State Park preserves nearly 5,000 acres of beautiful parkland at the north end of Big Sur. With magnificent sandy stretches, views of the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean, and trails through meadows and redwood forests, across coastal bluffs, and along the Big Sur River, this state park is still relatively undeveloped and offers visitors great hiking and a fairly deserted beach.
Situated at the mouth of the Big Sur River, the Andrew Molera State Park property was originally part of the Rancho El Sur land grant, and later owned by the Cooper-Molera ranching family. The park is named in commemoration of Andrew Molera, who popularized the artichoke in California in 1922. His sister Frances Molera made the name a condition when she sold the property to The Nature Conservancy in 1965.
Hiking At Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera State Park has more than 20 miles of hiking trails, with trails that follow the shore, pass through grassy meadows, run along the Big Sur River, and climb to ridges with panoramic views of the gorgeous Big Sur coast. The trails are in pretty good shape, but not labeled well. There are several trail junctions with no signage or direction, and the state park brochure map isn’t clear either.
Also, Andrew Molera State Park has the most poison oak of any state park in the Big Sur area. Poison Oak grows in tall bushes along both sides of the trails, and in some places in a canopy over the trail! With the amount of Poison Oak we encountered, I am surprised none of us got Poison Oak on our trip.
We wanted to do the two mile loop hike taking the Beach Trail to the Creamery Row Trail, but the Beach Trail was closed due to recent rains and the temporary seasonal footbridge was still removed. (The bridge is managed by the Department of Fish and Game and is usually installed mid-June through mid-October.)
Instead we took an alternate trail to Molera Point and Molera Beach. At the north end of the main parking area, we found the trailhead for the Trail Camp Beach Trail that would take us through old pasture land to reach Molera Beach.
- After about 1/3 mile, we reached the walk-in trail camp that was in a large, wide-open, grassy meadow.
- Just past the trail camp, through the eucalyptus trees we discovered the Cooper Cabin. Built around 1861, the Cooper Cabin is the oldest log structure in California’s southern coast.
- After visiting Cooper Cabin, we continued to follow the trail along the Big Sur River for about 2/3 mile, when we reached Molera Beach, where the Big Sur River spills into the Pacific Ocean.
Molera Beach is gorgeous. It is a pristine stretch of beach with sparkling sand, piles of driftwood, and crashing surf.
I had read about the special purple sand found on Molera Beach, created by dissolving almandine garnets in the bluffs above the beach, so we were looking forward to exploring the beach, but to reach Molera Beach, you must wade across the mouth of the Big Sur River. Again, because of the rainstorms that swept the coast the week before we arrived, the Big Sur River was deeper and rushing faster than normal, and we were unable to cross the river safely with the kids. So instead, we spent time skipping rocks across the lagoon formed by the Big Sur River pouring into the ocean.
We then backtracked a bit up the trail to the junction with the Headlands Trail and hiked the Headlands Trail up to the top of the ridge to Molera Point, overlooking the stunning Molera Beach in one direction and the Monterey coastline in another. This section of trail was flanked in beautiful wildflowers, which attracted lots of butterflies in a variety of colors.
While we could have continued hiking along the bluffs, making our hike a loop hike, but it was past dinner time, we were all tired from the long day, and we wanted burritos from the Big Sur River Inn Burrito Bar! So we made it an out and back hike, following the Headlands Trail Back to the Trail Camp Beach Trail that took us back to the parking lot.
Andrew Molera State Park hiking trails are available for people at all levels of fitness and hiking experience. We were hiking with kids, had just finished two days of hiking trails through Pinnacles National Park, and were on our first day of hiking trails through Big Sur, so we stuck with the easier, more family friendly trails.
The trails we hiked are the:
- Trail Camp Beach Trail, 2 miles loop
This easy trail passes through the Trail Camp, past the historic Cooper Cabin, to the mouth of the Big Sur River, where there is a small sandy area. Molera Beach on the other side of the river is only accessible by wading across the river here, which can be deep and swift. Use extreme caution.
- Headlands Trail, 0.5 mile loop
A spur off the Trail Camp Beach Trail, this loop trail leads to Molera Point and beautiful headlands with panoramic views. Hikers only.
The Trails we wanted to hike that were closed are the:
- Creamery Meadow Trail, 2 mile loop
This easy trail is one of two options to get to the ocean beach. To get to the trail, you must cross the Big Sur River from the parking lot. A seasonal footbridge is put in place around June 15 and removed around October 31. Use extreme caution when wading across the river.
- Beach Trail, 2 mile loop
This easy trail is the most popular route to the beach. To get to the trail, you must cross the Big Sur River from the parking lot. A seasonal footbridge is put in place around June 15 and removed around October 31. Use extreme caution when wading across the river.
Camping At Andrew Molera State Park
There is only one campground in Andrew Molera State Park and it is a 24-site walk-in campground on the Trail Camp Beach Trail.
- Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.
- No dogs are allowed on the trails or campground.
- The hike to the campground is about 1/3 mile and is relatively flat.
- There is a maximum of four people allowed at each site.
- Off-season weekends fill up early Friday morning. During peak summer season, it is full every day. If you would like a site for the weekend, it is best to arrive on Wednesday for the best chance at securing a spot.
Cooper Cabin (Big Sur Cabin)
On our hike to Molera Beach and Molera Point, just past the eucalyptus trees wind break at Andrew Molera State Park, we discovered the Cooper Cabin, a Big Sur pioneer cabin, and after learning more about its history, I am so happy we did!
The three-room cabin was built of hand-hewn redwood logs with lap-jointed and pegged corners, and roofed with hand-split redwood shingles. While the cabin is not the oldest log building in the state of California, it is the oldest surviving log structure on California’s southern coast.
The old log cabin is on land that was once part of the El Sur land grant, which was made in 1834 by Governor Jose Figueroa to Juan Bautista Alvarado for about 8,880 acres of land. Soon after the grant was made, the property was acquired by Captain J.B.R. Cooper, Alvarado’s uncle by marriage. Although no official transfer was made until 1840, it is believed that Cooper was directly involved in the management of the ranch as early as 1834.
Other Activities At Andrew Molera State Park
If you’re planning on visiting Andrew Molera State Park with your family, I definitely suggest you plan time for a hike to Molera Beach and Molera Point, as well as a picnic in the shaded picnic area near the parking area and Big Sur River.
If you visit on the weekend, I’d also recommend checking out the Molera Ranch House Museum and the California Condor Discovery Center.
- Find out what it was like to live in Big Sur 100 years ago at the Molera Ranch House Museum, open for visitors Saturday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm when a volunteer is available.
- Learn about the magnificent California condors and the reintroduction program run by the Ventana Wildlife Society at the California Condor Discovery Center, open Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Know Before You Go
- The state park is located at 45500 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, near mile marker 51.2 on Highway 1.
- Paying for day use access into one California state park ($10/car per day) will get you into all California state parks, including Big Sur state parks like Andrew Molera State Park, Garrapata State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Limekiln State Park.
- Dogs are not allowed on any State Park trails or in the Trail Camp, but they are allowed in the parking area and on the paved roads in the park. Dogs must be on a leash at all times.
Other Nearby Big Sur Attractions
If you love the outdoors, you’re going to love adventuring with your family in Big Sur. From short, easy trails, to long, strenuous trails, there are opportunities for everyone interested in hiking, no matter how old you are or what physical shape you’re in. We spent three days with our kids on a family road trip vacation hiking through Big Sur and had a blast!
When traveling south on Highway 1 from Andrew Molera State Park, it is approximately:
- 2 miles to the Big Sur River Inn
- 5 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- 6 miles to the Pfeiffer Beach turnouff (Sycamore Canyon Road)
- 15 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- 30 miles to Limekiln State Park
- 37 miles to Jade Cove
- 38 miles to Sand Dollar Beach
- 40 miles to Willow Creek Picnic Area And Beach
- 49 miles to the Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead
- 53 miles to Ragged Point Inn & Resort
- 70 miles to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
- 70 miles to Hearst Castle
When traveling north on Highway 1 from Andrew Molera State Park, it is approximately: