Big Sur, California

Highway 1 vista, Big Sur California

Big Sur is a region of coastal central California. Originally named by the Spanish, it translates as “the big south,” and anyone exploring it experiences the vastness.

 

It is an endless pleasure to live relatively close to Big Sur. We take road trips every few years, visit favorite spots, and try new ones, too.

Highway 1, California

It is a popular tourist destination. The only road, Highway 1, winds through the mountains along the jagged Pacific Coast, taking Big Sur visitors past sparkling ocean vistas and miles of protected, undeveloped land.

 

Although opinions differ about what exactly is Big Sur, it is generally thought of as the  Highway 1 area between Monterey and San Simeon, an expanse of about 80-100 miles (129-161 km). There are forests and parks inland too.

 

The Big Sur coast is the “longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the [contiguous] United States.” (Wikipedia). More Big Sur info here.

 

For centuries this area remained undeveloped. The rugged Santa Lucia Mountains rendered the coast inaccessible, isolated.

Black-crowned Night-Heron foraging in kelp. Point Lobos, CA

But eventually the highway was built among the precarious, ever-moving mountains; completed in 1937. Convicts built it.

 

Some part of the highway is almost always closed, due to rock or mud slides. There is a section closed now, a result of recent storms. The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge collapsed. (See photos at the end.) If you are planning a trip, look up road closures here.

 

McWay Falls, Big Sur

 

Northern Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas

 

Pebble Beach Golf Course, 6th hole. Photo: B. Gagnon. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Some of the frequently visited spots include coastal towns like Monterey and Carmel, and the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

 

Golfers take to Pebble Beach, and families descend on Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Map of Big Sur

May of Hwy 1, Big Sur. Courtesy Wikipedia.

In between these human places lie pristine beaches loaded with elephant seals;  migrating whales cruise by, and the cool, coastal waters are abundant with marine mammals.

 

There are also many bird species including the critically endangered California Condor.

California Condor, Calif.

Wild iris

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite place to go is Point Lobos. It is a state nature reserve with trails, wildlife, an underwater marine sanctuary, and dynamic tide pools.

 

Point Lobos, California

Here’s a post I wrote about Point Lobos.

 

We often spend about two days exploring Point Lobos and then we’re back on the road again, heading south down the coast. I’ve enjoyed many boat rides on the Monterey Bay, too.

 

Harbor Seals

Each day is usually a long one, with many different adventures. The wind off the Pacific can be strong, and there’s often fog.

 

Cambria coast, California

Whatever we did that day, at the end of it, when I finally close my eyes and the sea sounds start to fade, I find I’m giddy about what the new day will bring.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

Rock slide on Hwy 1, 1994. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on Highway 1 has been closed and condemned due to damage from storms in Big Sur, Calif. on Wednesday, March, 8, 2017. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on Highway 1. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

 

The third and final span of the condemned Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge came down Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Caltrans)

Hwy. 1, Big Sur. March, 2017. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge taken down after collapse. Photo The Mercury News. mercurynews.com

 

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90 thoughts on “Big Sur, California

    • The beauties of this section of the California coast are so many, it is hard to narrow it down just to Big Sur. I like hearing your take on south of San Simeon, Cindy. And different times of the year bring different migrations, always a joy~~

  1. It sounds and looks like a wonderful place Jet. Every time the name comes up I immediately think of the writer Richard Brautigan whose books I read way back in my younger years. In particular “A Confederate General from Big Sur” – not his most popular book but in my opinion, just as good as his others. Do you know his work?

    • Richard Brautigan made his home in San Francisco, so he is well regarded here. I read Trout Fishing in America a long time ago, and was sad when he had mental problems. Never having read Confederate General, I did not think of it in regard to Big Sur. So I’m glad to have that connection surface in your comment, Alastair. I know you have so many beautiful coastal vistas in Wales, but if you are ever in this area, I think you will like it.

  2. Interesting narration, beautiful photos, and a delight, as always, to share an adventure with you and Athena. Have a good weekend, J.

    • Thanks so much for your warm comments, Nan. Although you and I have visited parts of the Calif. coast together, I am reminded by this post to take you down to Big Sur next time you visit.

  3. The Big Sur has to be one of my favourite places, certainly in the States and possibly the world….I skyped with my daughter, Christie yesterday and she will be at a conference in Monterey in about a weeks time….after which she will be driving to Santa Barbara to stay with her Aunt and Uncle and then onto San Diego to see more cousins. She will of course be driving the Big Sur, which I know she is really looking forward to. I am talking with her about my possibly coming to the States next year…and if I do…I will be heading in that direction. The only reason I haven’t been travelling to the States more of late is that my work is mostly in Europe and of course it’s much easier for me to move around in Europe…and now I am 71 my insurance for the States does go up considerably, but next year is definitely penciled in the diary. Thank you for this wonderful feast of images – a great way to begin my weekend…and I do hope yours is wonderful….janet 🙂

    • I thought you would have probably been to Big Sur, Janet, I’m glad to know you have. Lucky Christie at a conference in Monterey next week. If you ever do come to California, please do email me before you do. In the meantime, I am happy to have brought Big Sur to you in Europe today, especially now that I know it is one of your favorite places in the world. My best wishes and thanks, dear Janet~~

  4. I am so happy to read this, Jet. It’s on my bucket list 😉 and I am anxious to go. Is it possible that there is a local tour group in SF that takes you through Highway 1? (I probably should google it myself 😉
    Have a wonderful day.

    • How wonderful that you’ve been thinking about a Big Sur trip, Helen. Yes, there are many different kinds of tour groups that go from SF down Highway 1 to Big Sur; camping, day trip only, bus trip; depending on what your specific desires are. From SF it is about a 2-2.5 hour drive to Monterey; so another option is to take a bus from SF to Monterey, and book a tour out of Monterey. I hope you do!

    • Yes, I love being so close to this marvelous part of the world, Joanne. There’s always something new to explore, and it is so well protected that there is a lot of wildlife too. My thanks, Joanne~~

  5. So good to see one of my favorite spots in California. When I arrived in San Francisco in 1968, I was lucky enough to make friends with someone who knew the local, old time families living in Big Sur. I was privileged to spend a great deal of time exploring this area. It is truly magnificent.

    Sadly this wild and wooly coast also presents quite a few challenges. The recent drought made for a horrific fire season last summer which, in turn, created a lot of unstable areas along the coast highway. Last I heard sections of the highway still remain closed. I can’t imagine living there with all the hardships involved. It takes some rugged folks to deal with the stuff that mother nature (and tourists) throw at them. It certainly qualifies as one of the spots that are in danger of being loved to death.

  6. I’ve done the coastal Hwy in the north down to & over to Yosemite but never further south.I’ll defiantly have to travel down this way one day Jet! I’d be looking for the wildlife of course!
    thanks

    • What a delight to share some tidbits of Big Sur with you, Sarah. We worked hard to see those condors, and it took several years, but finally one day when we were driving on Hwy 1 near Pfeiffer park two flew overhead. I was bent like a pretzel scanning with binoculars through the windshield; we pulled over a little radically, but presto! We found them! :O

      • It was especially great seeing the condors because they are a bird that technically went extinct in the wild, so to see them flying free in the wild was indeed a great thrill. Thanks for your comments, Sarah, a fun exchange.

      • Oh I know, they are another back-from-the-brink miracle 😀 I have seen a number of documentaries about them. I have a real love for birds of prey so any successes around the world always delight me 🙂 Our red kites were technically extinct in England with just a very small population in Wales but over the last twenty years, conservation and reintroduction has them thriving again 😀 They’re impressive birds but I would love to see the wingspan of the condor with my own eyes!

      • That was my wish for years, and it finally came true…and it was as awesome as I had imagined. 🙂 Great story about the red kites, too, Sarah.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed Athena’s photos, Jan. And now you have me wondering what the other place in CA is, and I am guessing Yosemite. And I would agree on both counts. Many thanks~~

  7. Beautiful photos (thanks Athena!) and info (thanks Jet!) of Big Sur and Highway 1. I’ve not researched this area enough to understand that Hwy 1 cannot be counted on as a throughway to keep heading north along the Pacific Coast with its possible mudslides, fog, and bridge collapses. We have on our bucket list to drive along the Pacific Coast from southern California to Washington in our motorhome, but I’m guessing now Hwy 1 might be too tricky for us through the Big Sur area. Looks like we’ll have to stick to inland roads and campgrounds and take day trips with our car to explore. That’s okay, I’m game! I’m keeping your links aside as info if/when the day comes to explore the west coast Thanks again Jet!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the vicarious visit to Big Sur, Donna, and I hope you do get to see this coastal highway some day. I know you are an intrepid traveler, and have no doubts you will enjoy yourself in this corner of the world. Hwy 1 can be precarious, this is for certain, and winters are the worst. Going from southern Calif. to Washington may require a few inland detours because even if the roads are open, they are very slow-going. It is definitely the proverbial “scenic route.” Many thanks for your thoughts and comments, it’s always a pleasure to “see” you. I hope you are feeling better.

  8. Wonderful words and photographs about a section of coast we’ll get to visit one day! We’ve driven down the coast from Oregon into California and always run out of steam and dollars by the time we get to SF. We will go – maybe an early trip in early retirement…
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • It is easy to imagine you and Mrs. pc adventuring this coastal highway, pc. The whole Pacific coast from OR to CA has some spectacular sites, which I’m glad you have experienced, and one day you’ll get to explore from SF south, and I know you will enjoy it. My thanks for your visit here, it is always a joy, pc.

  9. Lovely post and photographs of such a beautiful place. I love road trips along the water and I’m hoping to one day make the trip down Highway 1. I’ve always found a feeling of peace and relaxation being by the water and your words and Athena’s photos conveyed that feeling today.

    • I, too, always find a feeling of peace by being near water, ACI. I relish your kind words and acknowledgment here. There is a fair amount of people along this stretch, and the highway can be a bit unnerving at times, but the water, the vistas, and the wilderness is bigger, and embracing. My thanks for your thoughtful comment today and every day.

  10. thank you for sharing this colorful
    Big Sur, hwy 1 adventure, Jet!
    Last rode through, car camping
    along the way a year and a half ago.
    when the road is again open
    i’ll go down again. 🙂

    • I had the feeling you had probably adventured this area before, David, and it turns out it was recent, and you’ll return, too. When you enjoy the outdoors and live in California, it just keeps drawing us back. I love knowing you have been here, my friend. Thank you, as always, for your pleasant comments.

  11. Jet: Beautiful photos of such a delightful spot in California. Thanks. Our favorite spot around the Big Sur is the view from san Simeon! It’s an outstanding panoramic view from high above sea level . Years ago we drove from why 101 to reach hwy one through an oak tree forest and grassland. A very rugged and narrow dirt road high above the fog that covered the ocean that day; It prevented us a view of the ocean. The road was clinging to the very steep coastal mountain side with only room enough for one car! Sure enough, we saw in the distance a jeep heading in our direction! We slowly eased ourselves around the other vehicle, on the mtn side of the road. At the time of our venture Ft Ord was still in the hands of the military so we were in wild undeveloped country all by ourselves.

    • Great to see your comment and visit, SWI; and I really enjoyed hearing about your drive on the treacherous mountain side. Your description of the thick fog is apt too, sometimes there is no view at all. I’m happy you have had the pleasure of this place in the world.

  12. I liked the bridges, birds and history, Jet. Your post had a lot of gold nuggets to read and contemplate. Hope you had a serene Sunday.
    The heron and wild iris were gorgeous! xo

  13. Wonderful tour of the famous highway, Jet! The rugged mountains and the sparking ocean with abundant life are fascinating. Thank you for the information and the beautiful pictures!

  14. The elephant seals must be a real treat to see for real. I”m glad the mountains make it difficult to travel there. Next thing it’s over populated and the seals lose their spot.
    It’s an absolutely gorgeous place on earth! Have you been to San Simeon Hearst Castle?

    • Hi Resa, Oh, yes, those elephant seals are a total thrill. We were there when the mating season was over, so they weren’t as rambunctious as I’ve heard they can be. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to be so close to these huge, lumbering mammals, hearing them, watching them flop about. Yes, I have been to Hearst Castle, and it is a beautiful and interesting place. Julie Morgan, the architect, was a gifted artist and I love seeing her work. At the Hearst Castle my favorite room was the Roman Pool. Wonderful to have you visit, Resa, thank you~~

      • California is a true earth’s gem! I have been there several times, mostly to LA on business. I love it there!!!
        I was in San Francisco many years ago. Fabulous!

  15. So beautiful. I can’t get over Pfeiffer canyon. Attended school in Germany for a while, and it was a relatively popular family name. Just feels weird to see a German name there. Dunno if that makes sense.

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