Travel Through Big Sur and Pacific Coast Highway in California
The Big Sur is a region of California parallel to the Pacific Ocean, which is of great beauty, and which links San Francisco with Los Angeles. It is about 700 kilometers along one of the most picturesque roads on the West Coast. The rugged stretch of California between San Simeon and Carmel always seems to have been created to keep it away from intruders and civilization. Undoubtedly, one could say that Times Square is to New York as the Big Sur is to California.
So, taking advantage of a trip to Silicon Valley, we came to discover the nature of this wild region of California. One of the great challenges in this type of travel is not to take too long in certain places to arrive on time in the city in which you have committed to return the car.
At the beginning of the journey, many doubted that we would be able to arrive in the expected time to Seattle, where we had to return the vehicle. When we finally fulfilled our word and abandoned the beloved lady at Tacoma airport, the odometer did not lie. We had covered a total of 14,000 kilometers, from Chicago to Seattle. From there, we flew to New York where we spent our last week of travel.
This tedious introduction has no other purpose than to explain that when we crossed the Big Sur, the famous Californian region of steep cliffs, home of beatniks and other extravagant characters, we did it with the sword of Damocles hanging on the head with the date of the end of the trip marked in red on the calendar.
We had no choice but to snake the winding Highway 1 and wind through the rest of the West Coast in record time. We did not have time to savor those 150 kilometers of the road as we would have liked and now we regret that hurried zigzag.
We dedicate a day to tour the Big Sur. We traveled from Los Angeles, the city of the Lakers and the Hollywood stars to San Francisco. The previous day we had wanted to visit Santa Barbara. So before starting our Big Sur tour, we made a little visit to this beautiful Californian town, where the colonial past of the city is present.
Hwy 1: Big Sur and much more
With jet lag, we got up very early. Like every day, the first thing we did was to wake up and go near the window of the room. The reasons why we did that every morning was to see the time and to see that the trip was not over yet. Shortly before 8 in the morning, we were already on the street. As the day had dawned a little cloudy the first thing that we did was to find a place to have a good coffee.
After breakfast, we begin the walk on State Street, which is the main shopping street of Santa Barbara. In this street, we see the houses of colonial style and of Victorian style. Our first stop was at the Stearns Wharf, the pier of Santa Barbara.
We got back in the car, and we went to the next point to the Santa Barbara Presidio, which was still closed. It is a military fortification. From there, we went to the Santa Barbara Courthouse, which was built in Spanish colonial style. But since it was early, it was not open yet. So we settle for seeing it on the outside.
We ride again in the car and go to the Santa Barbara Mission, one of the main tourist enclaves of the city. After the visit to the mission, we headed towards the Big Sur. Although first, we turned aside to visit Solvang, which is a city founded by the Danes in 1911. Its style is quite peculiar because its buildings with its Nordic architecture could well be a city of northern Europe.
It even has some windmills. Due to lack of time, we did not get close, but the area where Solvang is located is a very important wine area of the Santa Ynez Valley. Also in Solvang is the Santa Ynez mission, but having already visited that of Santa Barbara, we did not visit it.
We stopped in San Luis Obispo to eat a burrito and some sandwiches at a restaurant recommended by our Lonely Planet guide. In this town, we took the Scenic Highway 1 or also called Pacific Coast Highway to begin to see some of the main points of the coast. Curve after curve we discover cliffs landscapes, beaches, and meadows bathed in a soft mist.
We continued to Morro Bay. It was past noon and the GPS indicated that there were only a few kilometers to reach the town of San Simeon. Very close to this beach was another of the attractions of Hwy 1, the Hearst Castle. As the Hearst Castle was closed we left and headed to another point of interest that we had marked in our itinerary.
Before arriving at the Piedras Blancas beach, we lived one of the most amazing moments of the day. I looked at the ocean through the window of the car and saw something far away that shone and suddenly there is a jet of water. There dive the whales. We looked for a place to stop and so we could photograph and see them more closely.
It was a huge group and we would look where we could see the jets of water. After the experience with the whales we started again and we did not stop until we reached the Piedras Blancas beach. Our first stop was at Piedras Blancas to visit the Elephant Seal Rookery. The cliffs had been left behind and the route now passed along easily accessible sandy beaches.
We drove impatiently looking for the signal that the lighthouse showed us when we spotted the first elephant seals. We restrained our impatience and obeyed the numerous signs planted in the ditch that prohibited the stop. We waited until we came to a small siding. We got out of bounds, jumped out of the car and trotted along the path that led to the beach.
We reached the top of the embankment that descended to the sand. We held our breath and opened our eyes to see more than a hundred animals lay lazily. They are indifferent to our arrival and throw sand on its backs to protect from the sun. This tranquility was a momentary mirage. Although it seemed that everyone was half asleep, the slightest touch with the neighbor produced a chain effect.
It ended with a violent explosion of threatening and dented screams that spread like wildfire all over the beach. Watching this show we feel transported to a National Geographic documentary. After the first contact, we returned to the car and drove a few more kilometers until we reached the Piedras Blancas colony.
Here we see one of the largest concentrations of elephant seals in the United States. Thanks to their large size, these have hardly any predators except for other giants of the sea such as the white shark or the orca. However, between the 18th and 19th century, they were on the verge of extinction due to indiscriminate hunting. Their incredible reserves of fat turned them into an unbeatable source of oil.
When we arrived at these beaches it was January, one of the busiest times for these animals. By this time almost all the females have reached the beach and have been integrated into the harems of the alpha males. Seagulls and vultures fly over the beach constantly. We took a last look at the beach and rode the car satisfied to have enjoyed some scenes that seemed like a documentary.
The next stop on the route was to see Pfeiffer Beach, which is a beautiful beach that is located in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We decided to wait and after 40 minutes we were able to pass. We expected to find a crowded beach, but it was not like that at all. It was almost empty and it was a joy to walk by it.
It is a white sand beach surrounded by vegetation with large rocks on the shore. What struck me most is that there were no people bathing or sunbathing despite the good weather. What makes Pfeiffer Beach special is the McWay Falls that fall on the sand. We for lack of time just limited ourselves to taking some pictures of the beach with the waterfall.
As soon as we left there we saw the sign that told us that the Big Sur was not too far away. We entered the old Hwy 1 and a few kilometers later we started to see the first cliffs and the first viewpoints. The landscape was simply spectacular. The color of the sea look incredible blue, but the Big Sur is not just landscapes.
We were even more surprised with the multitude of animal species that we saw in its natural habitat (comparable to Yosemite). We arrived at a viewpoint that was at the foot of one of those bridges that cross the Big Sur cliffs. We eat some burgers, which we had bought, while we watched the Pacific Ocean.
The last stop we make this day is to photograph Bixby Creek Bridge, an impressive stone bridge that rises about 80 meters above the sea. It is qualified as a historic bridge. They say it is one of the most photographed bridges on the California coast.
In spite of the overcrowding of the route, we stopped at various sidings to see the spectacular landscape. The point we liked most was Garrapata Bay, in the Garrapata State Park, where we could walk to a beautiful beach framed by rock walls.
After visiting the shops we enjoyed the nice Californian sun on the terrace of a bowling alley. We then went to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small coastal town next to the Pebble Beach golf course. Many tourist brochures describe it as a city of artists and bohemians. Art galleries and luxury restaurants occupy some houses that look like they were taken from a story by the Grimm brothers.
With these stops, the night was on us. We reach Monterey, a city that in other times was the capital of the province of Alta California. It is home of the Lone Cypress, what they say is the most photographed tree in North America. Before leaving Monterey, we partially filled the deposit. This was an error that we soon regret because in this stretch of the route the price of fuel grows exponentially.
One hour after leaving Monterey we arrive at Santa Cruz. We parked near the Boardwalk. We go past the Pigeon Point lighthouse that with its 35 meters is the highest of the west coast of the United States. When we approached the area of the Half Moon Bay, the traffic stopped. We began to enjoy a little more of the driving although in this section the road no longer run so close to the sea.
Although we are a bit afraid to drive here, we have no problem getting to our hotel. We leave our rental car in a nearby car park. We check in and although we are quite tired we do a small exploration of the neighborhood. Fear! That's my first impression and I did not think it was Halloween night! There is not a soul in the street and I think the only ones that go without a mask are us.
We found a lot of police and a strange feeling. I think spending so many days in national parks, in the midst of so much nature, has left a mark on my feelings. Now seeing so many people together I feel misplaced. We arrived at the small port with the Golden Gate bridge very close. On the way back we take a walk along Chestnut Street to the Fisherman's Wharf.
In the end, we decided that it is best to sit on a terrace to have a coffee and see the atmosphere from the stands. After 9 o'clock at night, we go to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. It is an elegant place, with tablecloths and dim lighting.
We have a fantastic dinner with steamed clams, salmon with pesto, and grilled fish with spiny lobster, scallops, and prawns. It was exquisite, the lobster has a softer flavor than here and the consistency is more tender. They prepare it on the grill with butter and a light marinade. Without a doubt, it was an unforgettable dinner.
After a beer at about 11 we get ready to go to bed. Today was one of the most complete days on this trip along the West Coast of the United States.