Big Fun in Big Sur

Getting to “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world” requires navigating cliff-hugging hairpin bends, but Big Sur is well worth the effort.


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The Bixby Creek Bridge is even nicer in person than it is in automotive advertising.

Photo by Brandon-CC

Widely considered one of the best drives on Earth, the road leading south to Big Sur is a breathtaking 90-mile stretch of Highway 1 that snakes high above the ocean via a series of cliff-hugging hairpin turns. Dubbed “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world” by the early-20th-century landscape painter Francis McComas of Carmel, Big Sur’s rocky and often fog-streaked coastline divides ancient redwood forests from the deep blue sea. It’s a magical place.

And its history as a hideaway for bohemian artists, musicians, and spiritual thinkers, including Jack Kerouac, Joan Baez, and Hunter S. Thompson, boosts its mystique.

For an iconic photo, pull into the turnouts at either end of the gracefully arched Bixby Creek Bridge. Completed in 1932, this engineering marvel 13 miles south of Carmel is considered the gateway to Big Sur. Keep an eye out for wild California condors along the way, as more than 60 of these magnificent endangered birds now inhabit the region. The pullouts between Nepenthe Restaurant and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are the best spots for condor-viewing.

Fuel up for the day at Big Sur Bakery. This local hotspot is a converted 1930s ranch-style house that serves up wood-fired pizzas and wood-grilled dishes such as locally caught white sea bass topped with wild fennel butter.

A popular wintertime activity in Big Sur is hunting for mushrooms, especially chanterelles. Look for these egg-yolk-yellow beauties near oak trees—but don’t eat any mushroom picked here, or anywhere else in the wild, unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s not poisonous. If you’d like a little expert assistance, the annual Big Sur Foragers Festival (set for Jan. 14-17) features guided foraging hikes.

Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller settled in Big Sur in 1944, then lived and wrote in the area for nearly two decades. The Henry Miller Memorial Library pays homage to this literary great and serves as a center for art and writing events. Stop by, settle in with a cup of coffee, and browse the library.

If you plan to sleep in Big Sur, it’s worth staying up late to visit the Esalen Institute. This center of cultural learning and experimentation allows public access to its hot springs early each morning between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. There’s nothing like a meditative soak to promote sweet dreams.

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