It is said that the California coastline is approximately 840 miles long, with much of that area twisting & turning… dipping & rising with the famous Pacific Coast Highway (California State Route 1) carved amongst the coastal range where mountains meet the sea…. (coincidentally, I’ve been collecting these vintage LIFE Nature Library Series books lately!)
Before my 3-year stint in London, I lived in Los Angeles for over 6 years without making the journey up the historic PCH. Any road trips to San Francisco utilized the “quick” route inland up the I-5. Or, a spontaneous detour to the Hearst Castle after a wedding in Paso Robles only got us as far as San Simeon (sadly, also to learn the important lesson to book tour tickets ahead of time). After returning to the “Golden State” a year ago and seeing things through fresh eyes, I began to make a metal (bucket, if you will) list of the things I missed the first time around and needed to see and do. Big Sur was probably at the top of that list!
With an important person in my life coming to visit this past month, I thought it was the perfect time to plan a little adventure for the two of us! Setting out early one morning (with a car full of way too many snacks & sweets) we began the journey up the coast. It’s quite a drive inland through Ventura before you actually hit the coast, but once you do, the drive just keeps getting better and better.
first stop: ELEPHANT SEAL VISTA POINT, just north of San Simeon
It’s both fascinating (and amusing) to see all these animals loafing around the beach like rocks, sunbathing and barely moving except for the occasional flap of a flipper. You could literally watch them do nothing for hours! Finally accepting the fact that there wasn’t going to be much more action, we hopped back into the car and carried on.
There are many vista points marked along the way (some with official names, some without), but chances are it’s marked for a reason. There isn’t a “bad seat in the house” as they say! Stopping at any (or all if you have the time) is sure to bring plenty of breathtaking views and photographic opportunities.
I was particularly fascinated by the details of the rocks at one spot we stopped. Not only is it amazing how the forces of nature arrange rocks from small to large along the shore, but looking at all the pattern & color in the formation of the larger rocks makes me want to head back to Geology class (and yes, I actually took that course in college).
After a quick settle-in to our lodging, it was off to the famous JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK before the sun set. This beach is probably the most recognized Big Sur spot from photos. You know how sometimes things and places look better in a photograph, or even just the same? Well, this is NOT one of those cases. The full sensory experience of this scene is truly amazing, and quite possibly one of my favorite natural settings in the US that i’ve experienced thus far. Once you start down the trail to the view point, you are bombarded with the heavy scent of eucalyptus, pine and salty ocean air. Next you hear the rhythmic crashing of waves… then suddenly the view opens up to this:
I could have taken (and nearly did) a hundred photos or pulled up a chair and sat there for hours taking in the view, but as the sun set and fog began to roll in (so unfortunately no visible sunset), the park was closing and it was time to head out. Thanks Julia, I’ll be back!
Another great place to visit, hike and take in the views is ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK. With the recent rains flooding the main path to the beach, we took the long trail, which ended up being a lovely (although muddy) scenic walk through forests, meadows and finally ending at the beach. After exploring for a while, even more fog started to roll in once again, but this didn’t seem to stop the many surfers we passed on our hike back. It seemed to be a popular spot to catch a wave at this time of day: 5pm (or as we said, it must be “surf o’ clock”).
Although we only spent a quick two days in Big Sur, I enjoyed every minute and sight and was truly inspired. It’s easy to relax and enjoy both nature and some quiet time (as many places here have no TVs, phones or cell service, and wifi is unreliable). Since we were there during “off season”, I can only imagine – and look forward to – visiting again during the summer to enjoy some warm weather activities like horseback riding and maybe a dip in the Big Sur River. Our journey home was an adventure in itself, with a stop and tour at the William Randolph Hearst Castle…. but that – is another story for another post.
Side Note: If you’re up for some cosy, rustic lodging, consider the historic Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. We didn’t stay here, but passing by in the chilly, damp evening we couldn’t help but at least stop in for a drink at their restaurant. It was literally glowing from within by candlelight, smoke billowing from the chimney, and tucked amongst the trees. It was like a fairytale scene come to life!