We were on the road before six to drive to Big Sur. The reason we were heading to Big Sur is because we read an article in the September/October edition of ‘Via’ called ‘The Secrets of Big Sur’ by Jennifer Reese. It has been quite some time since we had taken a drive down this very scenic route on Highway 1 and decided it was about time we went there again. I remember the first time I drove through Big Sur and thought it was just a lovely drive with wonderful views of the stunning North California coast but there was nowhere really to stop and explore. Now I know differently and realize that there are so many places to visit. We have been to Point Lobos State Reserve, Pfeiffer Beach to name two and we were going to investigate a couple more on this trip.
When we left San Jose it was dark and there were no clouds. Stars were twinkling in the sky and the slightly less than full moon was shining above us. At the San Juan Bautista exit off 101 we ran into fog so we missed the sun rising. The fog remained with us all the way to Monterey and only started to lift when we hit the outskirts of Carmel.
Our chosen breakfast spot was the Wagon Wheel Coffee Shop on Carmel Valley Road, see previous post. The fog disappeared just as we reached the turn off for the Wagon Wheel and the sun came out for us.
It was round about 8 o’clock we crossed the Carmel Bridge and had officially entered Big Sur. Before long we could see the ocean and the coastline was clear. A few miles offshore though, a huge fog bank lurked but we kept our fingers crossed that it would wait out there until after lunch. It was the perfect day for a drive down Highway 1. I was armed with a list of all the interesting places along Big Sur and their nearest milepost to make them easier to find.
We parked in a turnout near Garrapata State Park and took a walk down towards the beach. At first the trail was steep but leveled off a bit further down. There were several little trails branching off along the way but nothing was signposted so I guess they must be unofficial paths. We could hear the raucous sound of sea lions and I thought they were down on the beach but the nearer to the beach we went, they still sounded the same distance away. I then realized they must have gathered on a couple of rocky outcrops about half a mile offshore. We wandered around the trails for about half an hour, stopping now and again to peer down at little inaccessible beaches and inlets at the bottom of craggy cliffs. The kelp beds were abundant but I didn’t spot any sea otters. We did see though, not only a snowy white egret perched on the kelp keenly watching for passing fish but also a blue heron. That is the first time I had ever seen those birds on the ocean. It was really quiet and peaceful with not another human being in sight.
Back on the road again I saw a sign which told us that there would be curves for the next 64 miles. Yep, that’s Big Sur for you. Soon we were crossing the most photographed bridge on Highway 1 – Bixby Creek Bridge (see photograph at the very top of this page). Already there were a few tourists parked up and taking photos. Both Tom and I always hold our breath as we cross this bridge as we don’t like to think about how high up we are.
Our next stop was just south of the Big Sur Lighthouse. We were heading for Andrew Molera State Park but parked in a turnout about a quarter of a mile before the park. Once before I had ventured a little way down this path but today we planned to go further. At the entrance to the path there is a sign saying there is a primitive camp site and I wandered what exactly that meant. The pathway starts off as a grass track through a pasture and then we entered a wood. In front of us was an old, fenced off cabin with an information board outside from which we learned that this is the oldest structure in Big Sur. It was built by George Austin in 1861 for Captain J.R.B Cooper and is now known as the Cooper Cabin. Over the 150 years since the cabin was built, all of the shingles on the outside have been replaced but the rest is more or less as it has always been.
We continued on our hike by going down some steps to join the Beach Headlands Trail but there was no sign to tell us that – I just happened to have a map I’d printed the night before. The trail became wider and we left the trees behind us. The only people we saw on this part of the walk were a father and his two sons walking back from the beach with their surf boards. The sun was shining and we wished we had not brought our sweatshirts with us. The path narrowed slightly and became a little sheltered from the wind. We walked around a corner and Tom suddenly stopped because just ahead of us were a doe and her 6 month old youngster. They stopped and stared at us for a couple of minutes before walking towards us and then turning off into the bushes at the side of the path. Silently they disappeared and were seen no more.
After a while we found ourselves walking beside the Big Sur River. It looked cool and inviting as it meandered along. Before long the path ended at the top of a small, sandy beach and the river flowed into the ocean. The only way to get to the main beach, where we could see some people sitting and quite a few surfers out on the ocean, was to cross the river but there was no bridge. It wasn’t very deep but quite wide and I could have done it as I had my walking boots on but Tom only had tennies on. One alternative was to take our shoes and socks off and wade across but there was a third option. Not too far back up the trail there had been a signpost to the Headlands Trail and I could see from the map that it would get us to the other side of the beach though not actually to the beach. I could see a bench on the far side and it looked very inviting, so back we went to take the side trail.
It was a fairly steep climb up a wooden stairway but we were entertained along the way by numerous lizards which darted off as we approached. If they had remained perfectly still, we would not even have seen them. The trail lead us down more steps and onto to path to the tip of the point and the bench. It was so nice to sit on that bench looking across at the beach and watching the surfers patiently waiting for the next big swell. I have a few favorite benches I like to sit on overlooking the ocean and this one has now joined the list. For half an hour we sat there enjoying ourselves and relaxing. Occasionally a line of pelicans would suddenly surprise us by appearing right under our noses. Just before we left the bench to climb back up to the headlands, half a dozen horses and their riders appeared on the beach – where they came from we have no idea.
Back in the car and still traveling south on Highway 1, our next stop was the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. By the time we arrived, it was nearly 12 noon and finding a car parking space proved to be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately they have an overfill car park and we found a place there. We followed a short part back to the bakery. I was really looking forward to a cool drink and a pastry of some sort but we were to be disappointed. A line spilled out of the door so we couldn’t even get inside. I did manage to have a quick look inside but there didn’t seem to be many bakery items on display. In fact it looked more like a bar. There was a printed notice saying that tickets were on sale for a BBQ which was to be held there at noon so I guessed the line was to buy tickets for that. We decided that perhaps this was not the best day to stop here so that will have to be put on the list for our next visit.
Instead we drove a few miles down the road to Nepenthe which is always worth a visit anyway. Here they have a restaurant on the top level with marvelous views down the coast and on the middle level the Cafe Kevah which has a lighter menu and the same view as above. Tom had an ice tea and I had a hot chocolate and we shared a pastry. Unfortunately the fog had rolled in so the views were not spectacular at all but it was nice to sit under an umbrella and chat about everything we had seen and done that day. And then it was time to drive home at the end of another perfect day.