Monterey to San Simeon

The Big Sur coast along Highway 1 south of Monterey

The Big Sur coast along Highway 1 south of Monterey

We are back on the road again. It has been some time since we posted anything. These last few months have been pretty hectic but a new phase in our lives has just began. On Friday I retired so from now on Tom and I are on an endless vacation.

(Click on the photos for larger versions.)

To celebrate this event we took on a short road trip down Highway 1. We set off just after 6 on Sunday morning. At that time we were in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures of over 100 degrees in most of central California and more of it to come the following week. Hopefully it would be cooler on the coast. Of course, at 6 in the morning, it had been wonderful 64 degrees when we left home.

Heading towards Monterey on 101, we had the road to ourselves. Later on in the day we knew it would be packed with folks making their way to the Monterey peninsula but at the time we were there it had been bliss. The sun was up and blazing away on our left hand side in all its glory but lacking the heat it would throw out later on. All that changed as we approached Highway 156 to the Monterey peninsula because suddenly we were in fog with restricted visibility. It cleared a bit by the time we reached Castroville and by the time we were passing Sand City we could see the Pacific Ocean with a view of Monterey in the distance.

We stopped for breakfast in Monterey (post coming) and afterwards made our way back to Highway 1. Soon we were at the start of the scenic coastal route to the south. All trace of fog had disappeared and everything sparkled in the early morning sun with temperatures hovering around the low 60s. When we stopped to get a better view of the rugged coastline, the cool breeze felt good.

The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge

The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge

There were roadworks on Rocky Creek Bridge (which is the bridge before Bixby Creek Bridge) which were quite scary. The road was reduced to one lane with traffic across the bridge controlled by traffic lights. Just driving across some of the bridges on Big Sur normally is scary enough because they are so high but when half the bridge appears to be missing it is positively frightening. We made it safely to the other side thank goodness.

The views along this stretch of Highway 1 make it one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the west. The coastline is rugged and the road follows the contours of the mountains. There are many twists and turns and each change of direction brings a new mouth dropping vista into view. Little stores and restaurants are located along the way and interesting stops, indicated by small gravel parking places with one or two parked cars, hint that there is something worth looking at nearby.

Just before the  Point Sur lighthouse an amazing sandy beach can be seen. It is obviously a beach which begs to be visited but a wire fence with out-of-bounds, keep out and no trespassing signs posted makes it quite clear that visitors are not welcome. I wonder whether there is a house down there or maybe the cliffs are too dangerous to climb down.

Looking south along Highway 1 in Big Sur

Looking south along Highway 1 in Big Sur

A short distance before we passed Nepenthe (a restaurant/cafe/gift shop complex that is a well worth a visit), the most amazing view of low fog hovering above the ocean with the hilltops behind, beckoned Tom to stop and take a few photos. We stopped again just past Nepenthe to take more photos. The temperature had risen to 84 degrees. It was here we met an English couple who were visiting the area for the first time. They came from Kent, which is very near to where I lived, and it was great to chat to them.

Once beyond Julia Pfeiffer Park, Tom and I were in new territory. Both of us had been along here before – Tom on several occasions and me just once in 1998 – but this is our first time together on this stretch of Highway 1. Just south of Lucia there were more scary roadworks. Once again there were lights and one way traffic but this time it was due to a new bridge being constructed. It looks very different from all the others because this one has a roof, presumably to stop bricks falling on top of cars.

North of Lime Kiln State Park we stopped at Willow Creek Beach to stretch our legs. It was not much of a beach but it was nice to gaze out at the ocean. A few gulls were resting near the water. As I studied them I realized that they were split into two groups. One group were certainly resting but the second group were grooming and bathing in the rock pools. When one gull shook itself after bathing, finished its grooming and flown away, another gull from the resting group took its place. It was fascinating to watch.

Our next stop was at Gorda. There is not much to Gorda at all apart from the Gorda Springs Resort which looks very welcoming from the road. They have cabins to rent, a small store and a cafe called the Whale Watchers Cove. We just wanted a drink and a restroom and this place seemed ideal. First we went to the cafe where Tom ordered a beer and I asked for a hot chocolate. The server was unfriendly to say the least. The beer came in a bottle and the hot chocolate from a package and the price was outrageous. Guess that was to be expected as this is the only stopping place on Highway 1 for miles in either direction. We sat out on the sheltered patio with an amazing view of the ocean but saw no whales. The gardens were pretty impressive and all the while we sat there we watched a guy meticulously watering all the plants. We then visited the store. Would you believe it, the guy there was just as unfriendly as our server in the cafe. Eventually found the restrooms – at the back of the store – and we were back on the road again.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery along Highway 1

A bit further down the coast we stopped at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Here you can see elephant seals close up and personal and you don’t have to walk too far at all. There is a large car park right next to Highway 1, which was very nearly full when we arrived, and within 20 feet you can see the elephant seals.At this time of the year, there were both young males and females who had drawn themselves up on the beach to molt. Some of the males were pretend sparring, which looks quite scary but it is nothing like the bloody battles between the breeding males during December and January when they are fighting for their harems. To view the elephant seals here is easy but I much prefer Ano Nuevo, which is between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, where you have to walk some way to see the seals and there are less people around.

After leaving the rookery and driving further south on Highway 1, we spotted Hearst Castle up o the hill. Many people have told us that a visit to Hearst Castle is a must but neither Tom nor I are convinced. I’ve seen pictures of it and it is so way over the top and ostentatious. At San Simeon we saw some colorful wind surfers out in the bay and a little further on we spotted a herd of zebras, which seemed really strange. We later found out the the zebras were owned by the Hearst Castle Estate of course.

Next stop would be Cambria but you will have to wait for the next post.


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2 thoughts on “Monterey to San Simeon

  1. Heather

    Congratulations ou your joint retirement. Oh, the time for travel you’ll have! I’ve been a craving to travel south of Monterey, been ages. Thanks for the inspiration!


  2. Margaret and Tom Husband Post author

    Hi Heather,

    Thanks and it’s great so far. The trip south was fun although Atascadero and Paso Robles were really hot. Posts are limited right now as we have family over from the UK.

    Love your blog. Boy, Colorado and Point Reyes, you get around.

    Margaret and Tom

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