What is the one picture perfect postcard from Big Sur? Without a doubt, McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park [52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920]. Park along the side of the road for free and take the short, yet thoroughly breathtaking trail.
It’s a one way, no way to get lost. The reason this waterfall is so special is that it falls into the ocean, known as a tidefall. Steep jagged cliffs, turquoise water, and a coastal waterfall – this is a treasured overlook.
Don’t let the big view overtake you, remember to stop and smell the morning glories.
Saying goodbye to that coast would be hard, if we weren’t hiking right across the street. A much more challenging hike awaits, Ewoldsen Loop.
This path is 4.5 miles with a 1600 foot gain in elevation. Big Sur fog decided to roll in as we entered the woods creating an eerie scene.
Sometimes it was so dense, whatever was out in front of us simply disappeared. If you take the hike, fill me in.
When we reached the summit the fog lifted and revealed a far reaching view of the ocean, now turned silver.
Extraordinary how the day changes by the minute in this place.
Of all the pinnipeds in California, it was the elephant seal I most yearned to see. So naturally, Elephant Seal Boardwalk [250 San Simeon Ave, San Simeon, CA 93452] was the place to be.
With just a bit of dusky light, as fate would have it this was an exceptional time to visit. Swaths of seals lined the beach, snoring and barking and beating each other (it was mating season) – it was such an active night!
The half mile boardwalk was filled with the creatures to my delight. Learn more about the animal by reading all of the informational plaques like I did…did you know that adult males can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and measure 16 feet?! Massively incredible beasts! If you are an animal lover you can’t miss a quick free visit to this wonder.
There aren’t too many places to grab a bite on the road, but even if the road wasn’t so beautiful – I’d still make my way to Big Sur Bakery [47540 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920].
They were about to close shop for the day and we snuck in a last order – whatever they had, and it was all delicious! A bacon bowtie was a tiny protein boost with a seriously big yum factor.
The bacon was cooked perfectly and the bakers are pastry gods. This may be one of the best bacon infused pastries I have ever eaten. Then to even it out, two fruity pastries. One strawberry and one plum! They were both delectable, but you don’t often find plum pastries, so the rarity made it even more special.
Ahh, coupled with the lush green view and fresh air – what could be better? Refuel and enrich your trip to Big Sur with a truly tasty snack.
The draw of Big Sur is simple natural beauty. There is no major attraction, no big city, just the road and its surrounding hikes.
California Highway 1 is a dramatic ride filled with hairpin turns along plunging bluffs and crashing waves down below.
The drive is a full experience in its own right, a true American treasure. The journey is the destination, oblige the pull-offs that grab your eye.
As you are driving down the coast you’ll cross Bixby Bridge, connecting cliffs over a 260-foot canyon – imagine just what it took to build this iconic piece of infrastructure in 1932.
This is one of the most dazzling spots on the 90-mile-long stretch of this pristine setting. Keep your eyes peeled for the Point Sur Lighthouse, no doubt another essential addition to scene to help sailors find their way through the dense fog that blankets the coast.
Don’t miss sunset, surely amongst the most spectacular anywhere in the world. From silver,
and even rose gold,
settling into a pink-purple post-sunset fog.
I’ve never seen one quite like this, the best things in life are free.
Big Sur beauty is personified in Point Lobos State Reserve [62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923].
In under two miles you can see more than a lifetimes worth of stunning natural scenes. I suggest taking the Cypress Grove trail not only for its loveliness, but also for its rarity. The trail contains one out of two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees on Earth and it’s less than a mile.
The gnarled trees are filled with personality, but if they don’t intrigue you the fearsome turquoise water and jagged rocks will certainly take your breath away.
Sure, that’s amazing and the rugged coastline is gorgeous…but sometimes you think you’ve seen it all. Then you see the wildflowers sitting atop the bluff lettuce in the cracks of the granite.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it. What is the majesty? And then a jumble of lichen climbing up the warped branches, intermingled fire and ice.
The rusty lichen is called Trentepohlia and it contains carotene.
This trail is filled with absolutely wondrous sights. Right across the parking lot is another phenomenal walk, the Sea Lion Point trail at just over half a mile long. More extraordinary vistas especially out to the tumultuous Devil’s Cauldron
and of course Sea Lion Point. Here you may see sea lions, seals, and sometimes otters.
I would very much like to return to explore the rest of the trails in this park. Tip: if you don’t mind extra walking, park just outside the preserve along the road and you can save on the entrance fee.
A morning drive down a country road led us to something quite unexpected. Pinnacles National Park [5000 Hwy 146 Paicines, CA 95043] is another lesser known spot, but nevertheless breathtaking and adventure filled. Entering the park you’ll notice the namesake bumbling pinnacles, unique and obscure.
While Pinnacles has over 30 miels of trails, with just a short amount of time to explore we decided to take the premiere Moses Spring Trail. The rock formations are simply stunning – you can’t beat this scenery.
The park is known for its talus caves and this trail meanders through the Bear Gulch cave. Be sure to have a flashlight or better yet, headlamp – it gets dark inside.
You won’t find totally darkness inside however, there are cracks that let the light in.
At under two and a half miles, this was an exceptional warm up trail to start the day with. Be sure to check the National Parks website, as caves can close due to storms and seasonally. The park is also popular with rock climbers.
Big Sur in one day? No way! It can be done if you’re on a time limit – and these are some of your top spots!
+Pinnacles National Park – a bit out of the way off the coast, but worth it for a national parks enthusiast
+Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – don’t miss this place of epic beauty
+Bixby Canyon Bridge – you can’t possibly miss it if you’re driving down the coast
+Big Sur Bakery – the spot to grab a tasty bite on the road
+McWay Falls – iconic water-fall-ing into the sea vista
+ Elephant Seals at San Simeon – witness some wildlife action
If I had more time?
+Afternoon tea at the Steinbeck House
+Explore town of Monterey
+Visit Point Sur Lighthouse
+Hit the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
+Dine at Nepenthe
+Soak in the moonlight at the Esalen Hot Springs
+Hike the Salmon Creek Falls trail
But hey, I know this is a place I want to visit again so I have a whole additional day planned!
No matter what, just enjoy your time driving down one of America’s most scenic roads, California’s Highway 1.
More detailed accounts coming up this week, stay tuned!