The sun periodically breaks through the trees and shines into my window as we drive up a windy Pacific Coast Highway on the mid-Californian Coast. As we drive, the scenery slowly changes from vast fields and small towns to a more mountainous secluded terrain, and more and more redwood trees start popping up left and right growing into forests down towards the ocean and up into the hills. We’re gaining elevation on the windy road, and when we start seeing snippets of a breathtaking blue sea up a rocky coast, we know we’re coming up on Big Sur. Big Sur is home to endless adventures: scenic hikes, abundant camping, hilltop views, and some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see.
I read a quote by a famous Big Sur photographer in a little art shop along the road, saying something along the lines of Big Sur being the most majestic meeting of land and sea in the world, and I can’t say I disagree with that statement. Big Sur is truly stunning. Whether you’re roadside camping like we did, or staying in some of the amazing wood cabin type resorts, you are sure to have an amazing time backpacking Big Sur.
Our road trip to Big Sur was a true adventure – we got in the car and drove up from our home in Westwood without a plan or a place to stay. We hoped that some of the campsites we knew of would have room, but during a warm June weekend, they were all full. At this point, we had to get creative. With sleeping bags, some food, a car, and a tent, we ended up camping in different places (on the sides of roads and other places we shouldn’t have been) each night, showering in the ocean, going where the wind took us, and having the absolute time of our lives exploring this forest-meets-ocean wonderland.
Asking me to explain the best Adventure Spots in Bug Sur is basically a trick question, because the answer is everywhere. Hikes are abundant and trails and beaches can be found in all the the various state parks along the PCH drive. Where do I recommend? Everywhere. But here are some of the adventures I did:
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: This park is the Big Sur poster-child. You can hike up a river into the mountains, or you can walk along a trail above and look down to this small beach with a waterfall flowing off a cliff down below and onto the sand. * I am not recommending this* but.. if you want a true adventure, although very perilous, the hill below the trail is indeed hike-able. With some intense effort and adventurous drive, you can make it down to the beach. Again, I am not saying to do this… but it was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done. Jumping into the water and actually sitting under the waterfall was an unforgettable and beautiful experience. But we had to pass like four “No Trespassing” and “Do Not Climb Down” signs on the way… we’re bad, bad kids and deserve a slap on the wrist. Oh yeah, since we were really nomad-ing this weekend and all the campgrounds were full, we ended up setting up our tent a bit up the hiking trail at this park to sleep for the night, but we weren’t supposed to do that either. Better that than the side of the road though, right? Sometimes it’s better to make thorough plans, and sometimes not knowing is why it’s such an adventure.
Andrew Molera State Park: This state park is home to campsites, great beaches, and one of the most strenuous but rewarding 8 mile hikes I have done. There’s definitely a lot to explore here; The hike alone goes through all different terrain. From an exposed dirt uphill trail, through thick green forests, down a panoramic ocean view trail, through thick brush, past driftwood covered beaches, and along flower covered bluffs, you really can go through a lot of the amazing scenery Big Sur has to offer here at this park.
Town of Big Sur – Although the entire coastline leading up from San Louis Obispo to Carmel is wroth an adventure (as I have said time and again already), the main little town of Big Sur is adorable. If you’re a bit drained from camping and exploring, there are many little eateries where you can grab a tasty home-cooked meal and watch the latest sports game, or a few stores where you can re-stock your camping gear. Pacific Coast Highway juts inland as it arrives in the town, so it is especially blanketed by thick green forests a bit further from the beach. Here and Ragged Point are the sites of the more luxurious accommodations of the coastline, for those who are not cut out for the whole camping deal. But, one of the campgrounds here even has upgraded cabins available and a river flowing through the redwoods where campers are free to bathe. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Beach (Not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Beach!) is the closest to the town, and the road here winds through thick foliage from an unceremonious little turnout off of PCH we missed twice before we finally found. This beach is gorgeous and worth checking out as well.
Nepenthe: This just might be my favorite spot on this coastline. This trendy spot in the heart of Big Sur provides panoramic views of the enormous tree-dotted cliffs jutting straight up from the bright blue sea to the north and south. I’ve already used the word picturesque like a million times in this Big Sur A&S Guide alone… but I’m not even kidding when I say that this place is picturesque. There’s just no better word to describe it. And what’s more, you can order tea or some amazing food and sit by the fire facing the coastline in a perfect position to see the sunset.
Bixby Bridge: Another famous sight of Big Sur, Bixby Bridge plus a sunset will provide any traveler with validation on why they continuously seek out the amazing sights of this world. With views of a coastline that is breathtaking on its own, Bixby Bridge is a wonderful addition to an already sweeeeet view.