Big Sur is a place, a region, a destination, a mindset, a way of life.
Big Sur is Highway 1, the Santa Lucia Mountains, hairpin road turns and crumbling rocky hillsides where cliffs drop to the sea; sometimes taking the road pavement in the process.
Heavy rains in winter months tend to wash rocks into road portions along Pacific Coast Highway 1 between Cambria and Carmel.
Big Sur is coastal redwoods, wild flowers, mountain lions and condors, sea birds, sea lions and sea otters, cormorants, gulls, hawks, elephant seals and harbor seals, and whales in winter months in blue, white and gray sea.
Elephant Seal Beach near San Simeon. April and May are molting season months when hundreds of female seals lie on the beach while their winter hair and skin sloughs off in the sand in an abrupt catastrophic molt.
Big Sur is self-help, self-reliance, help thy neighbor, planned and spontaneous concerts and entertainment, cliff top restaurants and bars, rural high spender retreats, luxury hotels and backpacker campgrounds.
Nepenthe Restaurant Big Sur sits 800 ft above the Pacific Ocean.
Big Sur burns with fire at times.
Big Sur is ranchers, writers, skilled artisans, mechanics, waiters and outdoor caretakers of this vast rugged space on California’s Central Coast.
Cattle Ranching in San Luis Obispo County on the southern portion of the Big Sur coast drive.
Big Sur is running away, finding yourself, a place for solitude, a place to embrace nature and humanity.
Big Sur is a place where you meet the unexpected pleasures of life on the Central Coast of California.
Where is Big Sur?
Big Sur loosely refers to the 135 miles of California Highway 1 coastal road on the western side of the Santa Lucia Mountains winding along the Pacific’s edge from San Luis Obispo to Monterey.
The town of Big Sur sits in a forested valley of redwood trees about 30 miles south of Carmel, and consists of some small markets, restaurants, a few small hotels, several campgrounds and state parks. The population runs around 1,000 year-round residents for an area of several square miles and tourists seem to outnumber the sparsely populated locals most of the time.
Big Sur River valley forest canopy.
Big Sur village is the largest concentration of people along the 100 miles of Highway 1 from Cambria (population 6,000) and Morro Bay (pop. 10,000) in the south to Carmel (pop. 4,000) in the north where the Monterey Peninsula towns offer all services to a local population of about 100,000 residents in the several towns along the southern Monterey Bay coastal area.
Lucia (52 miles south of Carmel), Gorda (60 miles south of Carmel), Ragged Point (75 miles south of Carmel) and San Simeon (90 miles south of Carmel) are other locations with gas stations and a small amount of lodging along the 100 miles of Highway 1 between Carmel and Cambria. These are blink-your-eyes and pass-them-by locations and you find only road, mountains and sea between these blips of service towns on the 70 mile stretch of Highway 1 from Cambria to Big Sur village.
San Luis Obispo (population 45,000) where Highway 1 merges with Highway 101 going south is a university city with shopping malls and all services.
A tourist driving the California central coast along Highway 1 from Monterey to San Luis Obispo basically commits to driving 3 hours and generally longer if you stop for anything like a walk or photos or eating along the rugged coast once you head south past Carmel in Monterey County or north past Cambria in San Luis Obispo County. This 100 mile stretch of road has only a few places with services and there is only one paved road, Nacimiento-Fergusson Road crossing west-east into the Santa Lucia Mountains coast range from Highway 1.
[This post originally stated there are no paved roads across the Santa Lucia Mountains. I did not realize Nacimiento-Fergusson Road about four miles south of Lucia is a paved road going to Highway 101. I have never driven the road. I think I need another road trip.]
Morro Rock at Morro Bay, California.
Loyalty Traveler note: I drove Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo home to Monterey, California on April 27, 2012. The drive was a wonderful experience and four hours was not near enough time to do anything but drive and snap some photos.
A trip to Hearst Castle, dining at an ocean view restaurant, hiking in a redwood forest and swimming in a mountain stream are all enjoyable activities along the way. The Big Sur coastal drive is a place to spend the day or days exploring this stretch of road along the rural central coast of California in San Luis Obispo County and Monterey County.
Update April 30: I added about 300 photos from my Ventura to Big Sur drive on Loyalty Traveler Facebook.
Ventura to Highway 1 Big Sur coast drive Part 1 shows Four Points by Sheraton Ventura, some Santa Barbara County landscapes and Highway 1 Morro Bay to San Simeon. These include photos of elephant seals.
Pacific Coast Highway 1 Big Sur shows landscape photos from Monterey County line north to Big Sur and Garrapata Creek.
Facebook seems much easier to use when you dump all your photos in one album. The tools are less useful when it comes to editing or deleting album photos. Therefore these are larger albums with most of my photos from the drive. Some day I might weed out some of the duplicates and less photogenic pictures.