Big Sur is full of beautiful spots to visit, and the semi-hidden Calla Lily Valley is definitely one of them! Just a few minutes walk down from the Pacific Coast Highway, hundreds (thousands?) of bright white calla lilies grow wild in a valley next to Garrapata Beach. A flower field of wild calla lilies – how amazing is that?! There’s no sign for it since it’s not an official attraction, but a wildflower field growing on its own. It’s a quiet peaceful garden in the early morning and a popular (crowded) photography spot during sunset. In this post, I’ll share all the details on how to get to the Calla Lily Valley, the best time to visit, and some important visitor tips.
I’ll also share some photos that my husband Ken and I took and offer a few photography tips.
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Calla Lily Valley Quick Facts
Location: In Big Sur just off of Highway 1 along the amazing California coast. It’s listed as “Calla Lily Valley Garrapata Trail, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA” in Google Maps. Look for a narrow parking area next to Gate 18.
Approximate Distance to the Calla Lily Valley:
Monterey/Pacific Grove/Carmel-by-the-Sea: 20-25 minutes (12-14 miles)
San Francisco: 2-2.5 hours (130 miles)
Los Angeles: 5.5-6 hours (310 miles)
Peak Bloom: mid-February to mid-March (exact timing varies each year)
Admissions Fee: Free!
Where is the Calla Lily Valley Located?
The Calla Lily Valley is located off the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) in Big Sur, about 20 minutes south of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s listed as “Calla Lily Valley Garrapata Trail, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA” on Google Maps. The map below is from my post on The Most Beautiful Spots in Big Sur.
When you get there, you’ll likely see a row of cars parked along a narrow parking shoulder next to HWY 1. If you’re coming from San Francisco or the Monterey area, it’ll be on your right and if you’re coming from the south, it’ll be on your left. There’s no sign there saying “Calla Lily Valley” since it’s a wildflower field not an official attraction – what you’ll see is a small “Gate 18” sign on a gate post, along with a trash receptacle and several signs to be careful. The entrance is directly across from a gate and sign for the Doud Creek Ranch.
If there’s no parking at this location, an alternative is to park at the Garrapata State Beach Parking area just half a mile south and take the Garrapata trail from there. Take the fork to the right and the trail will lead you to the Calla Lily Valley. This path will take a few minutes longer but the trail is so beautiful and scenic!
From the Gate 18 entrance, it’s an easy 3-5 minute walk down a 0.25-mile trail (it’s part of the Garrapata Trail). It’s a pleasant enough walk until you get to a turn, when the entire calla lily field will suddenly come into view below you. So many calla lilies!! It’s like discovering a hidden treasure! There are steps leading down to the valley below where you can explore the flower field – I had to stop several times just to take in the view!
Travel Tip: At least part of the valley will be very wet since calla lilies grow next to a creek called Doud Creek. Be careful where you step as you navigate through these shoulder-height flowers! The back part is usually more wet than the front part. I did unexpectedly step into a section of the creek one time and got my foot soaking wet. I also saw several people running around barefoot(!), but I don’t recommend that since this area is known to have poison oak.
When Do the Calla Lilies Bloom?
The peak bloom time for the calla lilies is usually from mid-February to mid-March. Sometimes it starts earlier and sometimes they last until mid-April – it really depends on the weather and rainfall each year. Like other wildflowers, their peak bloom time is just a few weeks, so go quickly when you find out that they’re blooming! If you live in the Bay Area, you can start checking weekly in mid-February to catch the best blooms.
The Best Time to See the Calla Lilies at the Calla Lily Valley
The best time to see the flowers is either at sunset or early morning during the peak blooming period between mid-February and mid-March. The sunset here is just magnificent with the white flowers in the foreground and the beautiful colors in the background as the sun sinks down the ocean. Just be prepared to share this view with many other visitors! To be honest, it can be quite difficult to get a photo without someone walking right in front of you three seconds later during sunset. There will be less people if you stand closer to the beach, but also less flowers in your photo.
Weekdays are definitely a better time to visit than weekends, when there’s usually a lot more people!
I’ve also seen some very pretty pictures taken during sunrise with lovely sky colors, but I haven’t been there that early yet – it’s always been too cold that early in the morning for me! (in the 30s when I recently visited in March) But I have been there around 8 am and it’s definitely a wonderful time to visit with very few people there. It’s sooo peaceful and beautiful at that time, like a private garden, even if it’s foggy or overcast. By 10 am, there will be a steady stream of people.
Visitor Tips for the Calla Lily Valley
- It can be wet & muddy there, and it’s somewhat rough terrain, so be careful and wear waterproof boots if possible! I wish I had worn my waterproof Timberland boots instead of getting my feet soaking wet!
- Beware of poison oak among the calla lilies and along the path there!
- It’s coastal weather – meaning it can be cold and windy all year round. I usually bring a puffer jacket and a hat.
- Cell reception may not be available at all – make sure to download this area from Google Maps onto your phone before you get there.
- There are no restrooms there, but there’s a portable toilet at the Garrapata State Beach Parking area a few minutes south.
Photography Tips for the Calla Lily Valley
- For beautiful sunset colors against the ocean with stunning flowers in the foreground, make sure to be there during the evening golden hour, which starts an hour before the sun sets. The sunset photos in this post were taken around 6pm in March. Be prepared for crowds during this time!
- For the sunset photo with sun rays, we used a small aperture (f16) with exposure bracketing and performed an HDR merge in Lightroom.
- Evening photos with longer exposures are usually best with a tripod. If you do bring one there, be sure to not harm any of the flowers with it! My favorite is this Manfrotto tripod.
- For photos with much less people, try to be there before 10 am. For golden hour morning photos, you would need to be there right after sunrise. In March, that’s usually around 7 am.
- For sunset, sunrise and golden hour information, make sure to check the weather app for the Monterey area, or use an app such as Sun Surveyor.
- For the photos in this post, we used a Nikon D750 full-frame camera (newer model D850 available at B&H) with both a 50mm lens and a 20mm lens, plus an iPhone.
- For flower photography, my favorite lens is a Nikon 105mm macro. Read all about my favorite lens for flower photography here!
My camera & video gear
bestie tip: You can get a free trial or extend your current subscription of an Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan with the purchase of a Seagate external hard drive!
Most of the photos on this blog through 2022 were taken with a Nikon D750 (latest model D780 shown above).
My favorite lens ever. This Nikon 105mm lens is amazing for portrait & flower photography. An 85mm lens would be great also.
Explore a Secret Rose Garden with Me!
Come explore a secret rose garden with me, full of blooming roses, rose terraces, rose walls, rose pillars, and even a rose-covered pergola straight out of a fairytale! 🌸
It’s my first video for YouTube – I hope you like it! 🙂
California Spring Travel
If you’re looking for more California Spring travel ideas, check out my posts on the Most Beautiful Spots in Big Sur, the Purple Ice Plants of the Monterey Peninsula, the spectacular Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch, and the Poppy Fields of Mt Diablo State Park! All of my California travel posts are available here!
Thank you for stopping by my blog! I hope you found this post useful, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Hi, I’m Pansy!
Hello, thanks for stopping by! I’m Pansy, California-based travel blogger, photographer and lover of ALL the pretty flowers! You may notice that most of my travels, photography & DIY center around flowers and nature! 🌸🌼🌿
I also recently started a YouTube channel where I feature walks through beautiful gardens, parks & flower fields!
If you’d like to contact me, please send me an email or DM me on Instagram!
Thank you, Pansy. Your blog is very informative and the pictures are so beautiful!! I really like your taste!! Northbay also has a lot of parks or open spaces worth exploring, such as Petaluma, and Novato.
Thank you so much Gloria, I really appreciate it!! I would love to explore the North Bay more! Do you have any recommendations? 🙂