When we think about California road trips, the first one that comes to mind is the Big Sur Coastline. No place in the state is as effective at filling us with overwhelming awe and fantastic excitement than the dramatic cliff edges, jagged rock outcroppings, crystal blue water and sky high redwood groves contained within this awesome section of coastline. The air smells fresh and crisp, the waves cast their thunderous soundtrack on the cliff walls, enchanting mist filled Redwood groves provide miles of hiking and urban sprawl is left far behind. We are free to forget everything and just enjoy this must see California adventure.
Elephant Seal Vista
Since we are coming from southern california our trip always begins with a visit to the Elephant seals in San Simeon. Massively Grotesque fowl smelling sloths slogging their way up and down the beach, belching their hideous cries at one another. When they are not fighting each other, “kerchacking”(insert comic book sound effect) one another with one of their teeth, mouths agape in dispute over their prized selection of vuluptous lady friends they are sleeping in massive piles and generally annoying one another and the surrounding sea lions. The elephant seals can be seen year round peaking from November to January. All joking aside seeing the elephant seals in their natural habitat behaving as they would is a beautiful thing. Dont forget to say hello to the abundant and curious squirrels inhabiting the area, looking to make friends with any passerby willing to take their picture!
Continuing north on HWY 1 the coastline undergoes a dramatic change as the highway climbs and twists along the cliff edge. Take advantage of any pullout you see. We spend all day pulling over at each turnout or dirt patch offering enough room for a vehicle for a chance to step out of the car and soak in the ubelievably large views. There is no rush! Things move slower up here, enjoy it. Big Sur boasts the title of the fastest rising coastline on the pacific seashore. This is immediately apparent in the vertigo inducing drops causing your knees to weaken as you approach the edge for that perfect photo, or for your passenger, as you pilot your vehicle around that next blind bend in the highway hugging the cliff edge without a guardrail providing a false sense of security from the churning pacific far below. Bring your binoculars; We have spotted pods of hundreds of dolphins spanning for miles feeding and frolicking off the coast. Blue, Grey, and Humpback(the one species we have yet to see) Whales making their migrations and feeding runs, sea otters nursing their young, and the California Condor soaring along the cliff edges.
For a seldom used hike that you will have all to yourself turn east at Nacimiento-Fergusson road just across from Kirks Creek campground. Wind your way up the hairpin turns gaining elevation and increasingly epic views of the ocean dropping further and further below. A large dirt parking area will appear on the left side of the road after a major hairpin turn. The trail, marked by a trailhead sign begins on the east side of the road just at the apex of the turn. You passed it as you turned into the parking area. The Mill Creek trail is shaded in its entirety by a variety of maple, sycamore and towering redwoods trees. Low lying redwood sorrel (think clovers) covers the ground creating an endless sea of green, framing the trail which crosses Mill and Lion creek a few times before terminating after about 1.5 miles. Camping is allowed in the Ventana wilderness provided you have a permit. Contact the Big Sur Station for permit information.
Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park – McWay Falls
No visit to big sur is complete without visiting McWay falls. Although this is likely the single most popular viewpoint along the Big Sur coastline, you owe it to yourself to view the falls in person. Just before the entrance for Julia Pfeiffer burns state park pull over on the side of the road. Gain access to the trail on the west side of the highway and follow north approximately .5 of a mile. Mcway falls pours directly onto the sand and when the tide is right will rain down upon the waves racing up the small beach below. While this may classify as a “tourist” location, It is a stunning sight to see the water launch itself over 80 feet off of lands end and plunge its way into the pacific ocean…not to be missed.
Pfeiffer Big Sur state park – Pfeiffer Falls
A short way up the road from McWay falls sits Pfeiffer Big Sur state park, not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park, and an easy/inviting walk through the redwoods. Pay the day use fee at the park entrance (which grants you access to any of the parks in the area), continue to your first stop sign and make a left. The trailhead parking will be on your right, a few hundred feet up the road. The trail leaves from the top of the parking area near a large crossection displaying the age of an ancient fallen redwood. The trail immediately passes through a fantastic redwood grove and a bridge spanning the deeply cut Pfeiffer redwood creek before beginning its uphill climb to a junction splitting the Valley View and Pfeiffer Falls trails. Take the trail to the right and continue a short climb before a decending into another beautiful redwood grove. Pfeiffer falls lies just a short easy climb up to a viewing plateau. Round trip the walk is just over 1.5 miles.
Camping at Kirks Creek
Our favorite campground, Kirks Creek sits on the western side of the highway 8 miles north of Gorda while heading north, or 8 miles south of Lucia while driving south. With pleanty of room for your tent or trailer, there is not a single site on the grounds that does not have a sprawling ocean view. Sites are reasonably spaced apart and trail provides access to a rocky cove during low tide at the ocean below.
Big Sur River Inn
While it certainly isnt cheap, the Big Sur river Inn is a great place to spend the night. Relax in the alpine chairs placed directly in the Big Sur river, read a book, or flip through your camera which will undoubtably hold a memory card filled to capacity with breathtaking coastal views. For the evening, the restaurant serves excellent food and a pub a few doors down offers beer on tap. We prefer the general store on site to purchase your favorite wine or beer with which to spend the night at the chilly rivers edge since the rooms most excellently lack a tv.
If it were up to us, we would live here fulltime. We spent a romantic long weekend relaxing in a yurt at the Treebones resort. Full review coming soon!. The short of it? Treebones gets it right; Organic garden, excellent food, awesome sushi bar, pool and hot tub, spectacularly maintained grounds, Yurts featuring sweaping ocean or towering mountain views, they even have a nest that you could spend the night in. We fell asleep to the sound of rain pattering the canvas roof of our yurt and awoke to seals barking on the cliff edges far below. All conscerns drifted away leaving us only to ponder how and where we would begin our life anew living in our very own yurt!
Contact Go Outside with any questions you may have. Have you enjoyed this trip? Got a different trip in mind to recommend? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments section below!