Smoke from fires set by Native Americans, hunting game on the hillsides overlooking San Pedro Bay, inspired Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to name this natural harbor Bahia de los Fumos or “Bay of Smokes.”
On October 8, 1542, when Cabrillo noted in his log that the bay “is an excellent harbor and the country is good with many plains and groves of trees,” this indented coastline was little more than swampy marshland. Though the expedition did not go on land during their brief visit, they did speak with a group of Gabrielinos in a canoe, who told them there were other white men in the interior (probably survivors of the ill-fated Coronado expedition). Over the next century, other European explorers infrequently skirted Palos Verdes shores, leading natives to tell tales of the ominous “great houses on the sea.”
The Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County, is probably one of the most scenic places that I’ll always remember. Its green terraced hills are dotted with exotic stately mansions, and the bluff topped seashore feels more like Europe than the pedestrian beaches that surround it. The Peninsula’s rich geographic beauty and abundant resources have caused it to be rediscovered, time and time again, over the centuries by colonists from all over the world.
Around 1810, a man named Juan Jose Sepulveda was granted the right to run cattle on a portion of the Rancho. This land eventually became the 31,629-acre Rancho Palos Verdes (Ranch of the Green Sticks), which was formally granted to his heirs in 1846.
In the 1850s, the bend became one of eleven whaling outposts on the California Coast under the direction of Captain C.M. Scammon. Most of the friendly, hard-living sailors were Portuguese, and the bend was eventually named in their honor.
I decided to check out Abalone Cove Shoreline Park during my visit to the gem known as Palos Verdes. It was like a never-ending roller coaster driving the road toward the park. Some parts were actually kind of scary. I found myself worrying about sudden landslides. (Especially since the Sunken City is very close to the location. That’s a whole other story.)
This 64-acre reserve is a state ecological preserve. There is something for everyone here, whether you want to relax and lie out on the beach, or be adventurous and swim across channels to see the sea caves. The large parking area is very easy to find, but costs $5 per car. (I parked free up the road, near the Lloyd’ Wright’s serene Wayfarers Chapel)
There are a wide variety of trails to choose from, an abundance of tide pools full of sea life and scenic bluff-top viewing areas. The sight of the cave, even from the bluffs 200’ up, is available only to walkers/hikers and CANNOT be seen while driving. The ocean water washes through the cave quite dramatically, especially at higher tides. At low tides you can walk around the cave (not through it) to get to tide pool areas.
Regular shoes are fine for the walk to the bluff-top viewing area, but if you’re wearing hiking boots you may wish to use one of the several trails descending to the sea cave to see it up close. (See photo below) Although a small part of the beach here is sandy, it is mostly very rocky.
If you dream of traveling to Big Sur, but don’t want to load the mileage on your car, here’s your consolation prize: a local getaway to sweeping ocean vistas, towering craggy cliffs, and churning teal seas via a six-mile round trip from the top of Palos Verdes’ Portuguese Bend Reserve
The only free/legal parking areas are both about 1.1 miles away so you will need to walk. It is a scenic walk along Palos Verdes Drive South, and you probably needed the exercise anyway.
This was a great park, and if you live in the area, it’s definitely worth checking out. It was cool to see how close Catalina Island seemed. It almost looked like you could swim there.