Nature & Wildlife

Nature & Wildlife

Enjoy and Preserve Our Habitats

Enjoy and Preserve Our Habitats

The Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, the Monterey Peninsula, and the Monterey Bay are home to a wide variety of plant and animal life that live in the forests; in rivers, marshes, lagoons, and sloughs; along the sea shore, in the bay and harbors, and, of course, in the Pacific Ocean.

Today, many of these important habitats are being protected, restored, and preserved as healthy and natural environments for wildlife. The dunes restoration here at Asilomar is a great example of these efforts.

Nature Preservation Rules

  • Keep a safe distance from all wild animals, no matter how tame they may appear to be.
  • At Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, laws prohibit the feeding of wild animals.
  • Please heed any signs requesting that you not enter areas that are sensitive and protected.
  • While on the Asilomar Conference Grounds, please remain on paved pathways and roadways at all times.

Following these rules will ensure that you - and generations to come - may continue to marvel at all the beauty we have worked so hard to preserve. Do not take anything such as seashells or pinecones. But do feel free to take lots of great photos, bring back a lot of memories, and perhaps purchase a memento or two at the Park Store.

Monterey Pines

Asilomar’s unique character is largely due to its Monterey pine forest ecology. It is a system of native plants and wildlife that have adapted to a relatively, damp, mild climate and sandy soils.

Today, Asilomar’s forest ecosystem struggles to survive due, in part, to the pine’s natural span of 90 to 100 years, forest fragmentation, loss of habitat, and fire suppression. These stress factors on the pines have made them more susceptible to disease. Since 1992, an introduced fungal disease called pine pitch canker has killed thousands of pines at Asilomar.

California State Park staff is using a multi-strategy approach to restore Asilomar’s native Monterey pine forest”

  • Grow pine seedlings and treat them for natural resistance to the pine pitch canker disease.
  • Spread wood chips with Monterey pine seeds in areas where pines are sparse.
  • Remove non-native plants and oaks that inhibit the growth of pines.
  • Protect young pines from deer with shelters and cages.

Coast Live Oaks

The coast live oaks at Asilomar represent the climax stage in plant succession in the pine forest. Starting with herbaceous shrubs, then Monterey pines, and in the absence of a wildfire or other forest-clearing disturbance, the pine forest will eventually be replaced by oaks. Unlike many species of oaks that produce very strong wood used for furniture, cabinets and floors, the coast live oak is prone to cracking and twisting.

Some coast live oaks at Asilomar have distorted trunks and twisted branches. This growth pattern is the result of growing in a windy location, salt spray, and the persistent browsing by deer. In this section of the forest, oaks grow upright with straight, thick trunks because the effects of wind and salt spray are less severe. Most of the oaks at Asilomar are 50 to 100 years old. Acorns are an important food source for wildlife.

Forest Understory

The understory of the forest is made up of grasses, shrubs, wildflowers, and tree seedlings. A dense forest canopy can create ideal conditions for the understory by increasing soil nutrients, shade, and moisture retention.

State Park forest management plans to guide staff on what vegetation should be removed, planted, and maintained. These management practices will help restore the balance to Asilomar’s forest ecosystem.

The Swamp

The swamp was once a pond, one a series of nine small ponds that existed along Asilomar Avenue nearly 100 years ago. Today, the pond is filled with sediment and plant life. The soil remains moist year round from a high water table. Monterey pine, blackberry, poison oak, and giant ryegrass are a few of the native plants that grow here.

Poison Oak

Poison oak is one of California’s most common native plants. It is recognized by its leaves, which are divided into three leaflets. One of the best-known sayings is, “Leaves of three, let them be.” Touching any part of the plant may cause an allergic reaction from the colorless oil, urushiol, in the plant’s sap. It causes severe itching and a red, blistery skin rash.

Poison oak can grow as a shrub or as a vine. In spring, new leaves are generally bright green. White flowers develop and form in to berries. By summer, leaves turn yellow-green and shades of red; by late fall, most of the leaves have shed and cover the forest floor. Poison oak is ideal for stabilizing soil. The dense vegetation provides shelter and protection for birds and small mammals. Stems, leaves, berries, and seeds all provide food for these animals.


Historically this area was designated the “circle” on Julia Morgan’s architectural drawings. It is actually a “back dune swale,” a low area between the back dune ridge where many of the conference buildings stand and mid-dunes where the boardwalk traverses its way to the beach.

Like other swales in our dune system where nutrients and moisture content are high, the vegetation consists mostly of sedge grass and woody shrubs like coyote brush. Monterey pines can survive because the area is far enough away from salt-laden winds off the ocean. Generally broader and shorter in height, the pines and cypress tree form the leading edge of the “forest front” of Asilomar’s interior forest.

The meadow provides habitat for various small mammals and birds. Deer use the meadow as a corridor from the dunes into the forest. Portions of the meadow are fenced off periodically to protect one of the world’s rarest plants – Pacific Grove clover. This tiny clover grows only in a few isolated places on the central coast. This meadow is the only place it is found at Asilomar; therefore, this meadow is vital to the clover’s survival. During wet years, the clover may be abundant, but in dry years only a few plants may be found.

An Underground World

A sandy stretch of beach that seems devoid of life may conceal an underground world of marine organisms. Worms, crabs and tiny invertebrates dwell in the first six to eight inches beneath the surface. Some of these organisms are so small they can live in the tiny spaces between the grains of sand. When seawater washes over the quartz sand, it percolates into the sand, carrying with it the plankton and the dissolved oxygen that nourishes these beach creatures.

Shell Middens

Rumsien Indians used the coastal areas of Monterey Bay for camping and hunting sites prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Monterey Bay area in the 1700’s. They fished, gathered shellfish, and hunted marine and land mammals. Remnants of these old campsites “middens” can be seen in the bluff face. The dark soil with bits of broken shell and rocks from their middens provide archaeologists with information about their diet and technology and these changed through time.

Rock of Ages

Santa Lucia granodiorite, the rock forming coastal shoreline, is more than 100 million years old. Formed from a molten mass deep in the earth, this dense, hard rock is comprised of large rectangular crystals of orthoclase feldspar, gray translucent quartz, creamy plagioclase feldspar, and black biotite mica. It was exposed through massive uplifts and transported here by the action of plate tectonics. This movement most likely caused the fissures you see in the rocks. These cracks weaken the integrity of the rock, making it more vulnerable to erosion.

Seals and Sea Lions

Sea lions and seals, a group of marine mammals collectively known as pinnipeds (feathered feet), make their homes in these coastal waters. The most frequently observed pinnipeds seen resting on the rocks or feeding in the near-shore waters are California sea lions and harbor seals.

Protected Marine Tide Pools

Approximately every 12 hours the tide advances and retreats over the rocky fringe of the coast, covering, then uncovering, a group of plants and animals that have adapted to the intertidal zone. Survival in this narrow strand is accomplished by those marine species that can find and hold their places amid the rocks. They must be able to survive crashing waves, submersion during high tides, and exposure to drying wind and sun during low tides.

  • California mussels grow in large clumps amid the rocks. Like other mussels, this mollusk holds itself up on end by means of tough byssus threads that anchor it against the force of the crashing surf.
  • Hermit crabs live in discarded shells, most often snail shells. The shell protects its soft body. When the hermit crab grows too big for its shell, it finds a larger one. Its role in the food web is that of garbage collector, cleaning up plant and animal debris.
  • Aggregating anemones cover their soft soggy bodies with bits of shells and pebbles for disguise and to protect themselves from the sun. When covered with water, they use a crown of stinging tentacles to stun and engulf their prey.

*When exploring the tide pools, please do not disturb or remove any rocks, plants, or animals. This is a protected marine reserve.

Cornell Lab Bird Tracking

In partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you can now get the inside scoop on which birds you might see during your next visit!