Big Sur

  • A Karen Brown Recommendation

Believe everything you ever read about the beauties of the Big Sur Coastline: it is truly sensational. However, hope for clear weather, because on foggy or rainy days an endless picture of stunning seascapes becomes a tortuous drive around precipitous cliff roads. (In poor weather, you may wish to take the inland route to Cambria by following the picturesque Carmel Valley Road east to Hwy 101 where you then head south. When you come to Hwy 46, turn west. The road intersects with coastal Hwy 1 just south of Cambria.) As you drive south on Hwy 1, you have an indication that you are approaching Big Sur when you see the road sign “Hill Curves—63 miles,” which is exactly what the road does as it clings precipitously to the edge of the cliff. While the road is quite narrow, there are plenty of turnouts and opportunities for taking photos. If you have plenty of time, you might want to consider a very scenic 10-mile detour east off Hwy 1 following the Old Coast Road through beautiful redwood groves and country ranchland. To access the Old Coast Road, turn left just before crossing the dramatic span of Bixby Creek Bridge. You’ll be on your own for most of the journey and the road will deposit you back on Hwy 1, across from the entrance to the wonderful Andrew Molera State Park. Allow approximately one hour for the adventure, and be aware that the road is not passable after heavy rains. If you opt to remain on scenic Hwy 1, you will find its passage dramatic over the much-photographed, long concrete span of Bixby Creek Bridge. A few miles later, the rocky volcanic outcrop topped by the Point Sur lighthouse appears. About 40 miles south of Carmel is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with its camping facilities and many miles of hiking trails among coastal redwood groves. (831-667-2315) If you choose only one place to stop along the Big Sur drive, make it Nepenthe, about 3 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Nepenthe is a casual restaurant, with a ’60s-style decor, perched on a cliff high above the ocean offering unsurpassed views (on a clear day) of the coast to the south (831-667-2345). Below Nepenthe, The Phoenix Shop has a wonderful selection of clothes, artwork, books, and gifts (831-667-2347). Interestingly, at the heart of the complex is a cottage that Orson Welles bought for his then wife, Rita Hayworth. Another stop along the way where you can gain a closer view of this magnificent coastline is at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The parking area is to the left of the road. Leave your car and take the short walk leading under the highway and round the face of the cliff, which overlooks a superb small cove with emerald-green water and a white-sand beach. From the rocky bluff a waterfall drops directly into the ocean and the restless sea beats against a craggy point. After the Ragged Point Inn, the bends become less frequent, and as the cliffs give way to the coastal plain, the driving becomes less arduous.



Big Sur
Highway 1
Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California
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