We set out just before 6 while it was still dark. There is just something about being on the road while most people are still fast asleep. To watch the scenery unfold slowly as the sun rises is awesome. First you see the tops of the hills appear as the sky lightens. Then the trees stand out as silhouettes. Finally everything is visible and then the sun appears in all its majesty. It is going to be a beautiful day.
We are headed for a beautiful part of the California coast – Big Sur. When I knew I was coming to California for the first time just over ten years ago, the item on the top of my itinerary was to drive south on Highway 1 from Carmel to Los Angeles. Our first stop today is in Carmel for breakfast – see previous entry.
There is no denying that Carmel is a pretty town. Some of the buildings are unique. Take the Tuck Box on Dolores Street. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. Back in the 60′s, when Tom was stationed at nearby Fort Ord, he would come here for breakfast sometimes. It is still there and they serve not only breakfast but lunch and afternoon tea (very English). Next time we are in Carmel, we will come here for breakfast.
Driving through downtown Carmel at 8 a.m. in the morning is a real pleasure. Admittedly none of the shops are open but you do get to appreciate the layout of the place and how well maintained it is. Later on today it will be swarming with tourists and it will be difficult to find anywhere to park.
We decide to pay a visit to Carmel Beach. I have never been to this part before. Just head on down Ocean Street and there is a small car park at the end. It is a very nice beach, sandy and clean. There were a lot of dogs with their owners, joggers and couples walking hand in hand. This is a very romantic place to be.
Soon we are heading back to Highway 1 and on our journey to Big Sur. Now Big Sur is not one single destination but a 50 mile stretch of the best views imaginable of the Californian Coast. There are several State Parks dotted along the coast – Point Lobos just south of Carmel, Garrapata a bit further along, then Andrew Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur and finally Julia Pfeiffer Burns. There are a lot of places to park along the way but they are just dirt pull outs and a couple of vista points. These get really crowded later in the day. If you see cars parked at the side of the road then you can safely assume this is a good spot to pull over and maybe even find a trail down to the sea. For a guide to locations to stop at check out this website – ‘A Guide to California’s Big Sur’.
The road is a two lane highway which hugs the curves and climbs and ascends like a ride in a theme park. Today the views are spectacular with no fog at all. Just south of Carmel there is a signpost which warns that there are hills and curves for the next 63 miles.
I kept my eyes peeled for whales, watching out for spouts of water far out to sea which look like puffs of smoke. At this time of the year the males are returning to Alaska after spending the winter in the Sea of Cortez down in Baja California. They are closer to shore than on the southerly migration. In a few weeks the females and their calves will be passing and they will be even closer to the shore.
We stopped at Bixby Creek Bridge to take photos. This is the most photographed bridge on this stretch of road and rightly so. It is 260 feet high and 700 feet wide and is very elegant. In fact that’s the Bixby Creek Bridge at the top of this page where our California Travels logo is. We took a side road inland for a short distance to take photos looking back towards the bridge.
Our end destination is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park which is 37 miles south of Carmel. We have come to see the McWay Falls. A few weeks ago an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled ‘To Sur, With Love, Camera’ by Tom Stienstra. In it he talks about the McWay Falls and the best spot to take a photograph. I quote, “there is a wide pull out on the right half a mile before reaching the park”. I would respectfully point out that the pull out is only a quarter of a mile before the park and is within view of the entrance. Another pointer to find the exact spot is a plaque at the southern end of the pull out which is in memory of Julia Pfeiffer Burns and it can be seen from the road. It is a perfect place to view the falls but the best time to take photos would be in the late afternoon when the sun is behind you.
We were considering going into the park and taking the 1.6 trail to see the waterfall but we could see the path just below where we were standing so we saved ourselves the $8 entrance fee. The beach itself is inaccessible. We stayed a good while there while Tom took loads of photos and then turned around and headed north.
Between Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is Nepenthe. This is a well known restaurant built on the side of the cliff with stunning views to the south. But it is more than just a restaurant. On the ground floor is a gift shop selling all sorts of upmarket products. At the back is a book section where we quite happily while away a half hour and sometimes we even buy something. There is a sunny deck at the very back with interesting objects for the garden on sale. The gentle breeze sets stirs at least a dozen wind chimes and the sound is very pleasing.
Climb the outside stairs to the Cafe Kevah. This is open from 9.30-3.30 for breakfast and lunch. We just had a hot chocolate – me – and an herbal ice tea – Tom – this time and sat in the sunshine on the large deck overlooking the ocean. This is the life. I could do this all day, every day.
Back in the 60′s Tom used to come down here with friends to sit around the large fire pit, watch the sun go down, eat and drink until late at night. Once in a while a little known actor named Clint Eastwood would join in. Wonder what ever happened to him?
Nepenthe restaurant is on the top deck but it doesn’t open until 11.30. Here there is an indoor eating area and another large sunny deck for outdoor eating with tiered seating looking out over the ocean. A great place for lunch on a day like today but it is getting a little crowded for us. Time to head home.
We drive the same route home but you get a different prospective driving north. For one thing, as a passenger, I am not constantly looking out of the window and seeing a steep drop down to the surf below.
At Castroville, which is the ‘artichoke capital of the world’, we stop at the Pezzini Farms to buy some artichokes for dinner. Mmmm, great with one of their dips, melted butter or mayonnaise.
March 04 2008 05:14 pm | Special Places