Hiking the trails at the Vicente Bluff Reserve is a fantastic excursion for all ages and fitness abilities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. An easy, well-maintained hike with free parking, these trails offer stunning cliff side ocean views as well as educational opportunities. The Vicente Bluff Reserve includes the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a Native Plant education garden, as well as a fantastic spot to watch grey whales from December through April. While it’s suitable for all seasons, it’s likely most exciting to visit in late winter or early spring – ideally after a good rain to see the native plants in full bloom as well as watch for the grey whale migration. We hiked along the California Coastal trail, specifically the Seascape Trail and Golden Cove Trail. The trails we took are not a loop, we hiked to end of the Golden Cove Trail (which ended at Palos Verdes Boulevard) and then turned around to head back to parking. Check out the trail map and choose your route, everything is well marked and it’s impossible to get lost. There are also clean well attended restrooms next to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center.
The Vicente Bluff Reserve is well marked and there is plenty of free parking offered either in the dirt lot by the Point Vicente Lighthouse, or in the paved lot near the Point Vicente Interpretive Center (all parking areas are connected, so you’ll have options once you pull into the Reserve off the road). Begin walking from the parking lot toward the cliff/water’s edge. Adjacent to the parking lot is a great place to pack a picnic there is a manicured park with picnic tables and tall shade trees.
From the picnic area you’ll be able to enjoy water views as well as great views of the Point Vicente Lighthouse. During our summer hike visit there was some coastal fog present, but we could still see the lighthouse.
From the park make a right to enter the Vicente Bluff Reserve. You’ll quickly arrive at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. Outside the center is a fantastic Native Plant garden. During our visit we were looking for the tiny endangered El Segundo Blue butterfly which lives amongst the Seacliff buckwheat native plants. We were lucky to see a couple of these lovely small butterflies, but not quick enough to catch a photograph.
In the Native Plant Garden check out the Bladder Pod plants carefully, they are home to some tiny but beautiful insects, the Harlequin bug.
The Native Garden in Summer is completely different than the Native Garden in Spring after a good rain. These unique plants have adapted to the harsh coastal Mediterranean climate, and go dormant in summer or dry times, returning to full bloom when conditions allow.
After you explore the Native plant garden head up onto the patio above and find the stone grey whale, which is actually life size. On this patio from December through April you will see volunteers with binoculars tracking and monitoring the Grey whale migration. Stop and ask them some questions.
The Seascape trail takes you along the cliff edge where you’ll find easy hiking without much ascent or descent. There are occasional benches to stop and enjoy the views. Check out the cliffs, native plants and sea kelp forest below.
You’ll see some native plants that indigenous peoples like the Chumash and Tongva readily used along the way such as lemonade berry. When in bloom these small bed berries were used to flavor water.
Amongst the surrounding plants you will see stalks of buckwheat, which was used for flour, weaving and as tools for hunting.
Off the cliffs you’ll notice in the cove below (especially if you go at low tide) some unique circular and linear rock formations, which are remnants from volcanic ocean vents. The entire area was once deep below water rising upwards due to tectonic activity.
Hiking in Vicente Bluff Reserve is easy physically and a great opportunity to learn about the geology and plants of the area. Without a big elevation change this trail is safe for all types of walking shoes, although we always prefer traction for added safety. The trail is good for walking, jogging and dog friendly but you won’t be able to bike or go horse back riding. The Vicente Bluff Reserve even offers some stations with bags to pick up after your dog if needed.