Despite its tranquil name, Carmel-By-The-Sea's Monastery Beach is anything but calm. On the surface, it appears to be like any other California beach with waves that are typical of the Pacific surf. However, dangers lurk beneath the surface as extraordinarily strong rip currents and sleeper waves are often responsible for dragging swimmers out to sea. For this reason, visitors to Monastery Beach are not advised to swim in its waters, or even get close enough for a picture with its scenic oceanfront as the background.
With that being said, Monastery Beach is still incredibly scenic - and there's plenty to do along this shoreline that does not include risking one's life to swim. When visiting Carmel-by-the-Sea, this picturesque beach is a must-stop, and visitors can remain on its shores by doing these things there.
What Makes Monastery Beach So Dangerous For Swimming?
Unbeknownst to most visitors, Monastery Beach is considered to be a 'steep' beach. This means that a trough exists just past where the waves appear to break, leaving swimmers unaware of the dangers it poses. As swimmers make their way down the berm into the water, they're often unaware that they are gradually descending into the water, down into the trough, where waves create hazardous backwash that causes an extraordinarily strong pull as the waves wash back from the beach. This undertow is stronger than that of a typical wave undertow and has been responsible for dragging many people out to sea, completely unsuspecting of its power.
To add to the dangerous conditions of this beach, it's also surrounded by a rocky shoreline and the sand itself does not provide a solid footing for swimmers. It's easy enough to get swept away by a rip current toward its rocky outcrops, or lose one's footing by slipping on the rockier pebbles that line the beach.
Because of these dangers, it's forbidden for visitors to swim at Monastery Beach.
Because visitors have lost their lives attempting to swim at Monastery Beach, it has also earned the tragic nickname of 'Mortuary Beach.'
So, What Can You Do At Monastery Beach?
It might seem like Monastery Beach isn't even worth visiting due to its off-limits swimming, but to avoid visiting this beach would be to miss out on one of the prettiest in California. While visitors can't take advantage of its waters, they can absolutely take advantage of its sands and the surrounding area.
Sunbathing & Beachcombing
Those who come to California and, particularly, Carmel-By-The-Sea for the sun will be happy to know that there's plenty of it on this beach. Since it is devoid of swimmers, there's room to sprawl out and soak up the sun's rays, with an incredible oceanfront view, to boot. With easy parking along the highway near the Monastery entrance, those looking to work on their tan and get some vitamin D will be happy with its swim-free policy.
Just because it's not known for swimming doesn't mean that Monastery Beach isn't known for nature photography. This is still a great haven for marine life, and the color of the water is often hailed as one of the prettiest hues in all of California. The unique rock outcroppings that frame the beach make it a photographer's paradise, just as long as they don't get too close to the water. With many vantage points from which to capture the beach's most scenic views, it's a hotspot for those behind a camera lens.
To the north of Monastery Beach, avid hikers can find the Carmel Meadows Trail. This trail offers views of Point Lobos, Monastery Beach, Carmel Point, and Pebble Beach. The trail is fairly easy-going and allows for incredible views of Monastery Beach's mountainous background, which is a big draw of the hike. The easy terrain varies from dirt to gravel and stretches for just over half a mile for hikers who complete the loop.
Just because swimming is a no-go at Monastery Beach doesn't mean it should be skipped. Being anywhere close to these powerful waves may pose a threat to potential visitors, but there's plenty to take advantage of on and around the beach that is safe.
Under no circumstances should anyone attempt the surf at Monastery Beach. With many fatalities and a poor track record for rescues, there is no guarantee that help will arrive as fast as one might need it after being swept out to sea. The above activities are at one's own risk but are considered generally safe as long as visitors stay far from the wave breaks on the beach.