Way back in 1996, Susan and I honeymooned in ruggedly, beautiful Big Sur, which is how I see myself in my mind’s eye. I vividly recall blasting down California Highway One in our Italian convertible sports car, enjoying the curves, the wind in my then-flowing hair, and the sound of the high-revving engine at speed. All was right in the world until we got stuck behind a slow-moving RV. I was admittedly a bit peeved, while my lovely bride found it amusing. I snapped a photo of the lumbering RV impeding our progress. Little did I know then that an RV, three, in fact, would be in our future and I would be the impeder, but I digress.
As newlyweds, Big Sur was our first adventure and most enduring. This place captured our hearts, imagination, and wanderlust. And so we return year after year to relax, reconnect with nature, each other, our doggies, and the mystical allure of Big Sur. This is the place where time seems to stand still, it is a haven for those who long for simplicity rooted in nature and where creativity and a sense of community abounds. Here, nature seems a bit more vibrant and sublime. As a landscape photographer, Big Sur is my nirvana. It is a humbling experience trying to capture its stunning beauty for brief moments in time.
Although Big Sur seems a remote retreat, it is just a bit south of Carmel (Monterey Peninsula) which is an easy and scenic drive down Highway One for us. I would not advise taking this scenic route even in an LTV coming up from the south (San Simeon/Hearst Castle) as it gets very narrow, hilly, and winding in some parts. Actual fist-bumping other drivers going the opposite direction is possible on the super narrow parts, but not recommended. Our favorite times of the year to visit Big Sur is November through April, as there are fewer crowds and that’s when the hills are lush green and when the wildflowers are in bloom. The Pacific Ocean in this area contains the most vivid turquoise, blue water we’ve ever seen. And thanks to the stewardship of many nonprofits, such as Big Sur Land Trust dedicated to preservation, the waters and land of Big Sur will remain unspoiled for generations to come.
Our base camp of choice is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park surrounded by 2,000-year-old redwood trees and miles of hilly trails to explore that provide spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur Valley. Hikers come from all over and some call it a “mini Yosemite.” Many of the RV sites are next to the Big Sur River. The 169-site campground is on the east side of Highway One and is very quiet and secluded. Cell service and wifi signals are weak, but better at the restaurant and gift shop near the entrance or towards the backend of the park. The sites are $35 per night, with no hookups, while premium sites near the river at $50. There are a few private campgrounds nearby that do offer some hookups, such as Fernwood Campground & Resort, Riverside Campground and Cabins, and Big Sur Campground & Cabins.
Points of Interest
Point Sur State Historic Park with its lighthouse that stands high atop a volcanic rock. It was a cold war era Naval facility with a top-secret mission that is currently undergoing restoration. Guided tours are available.
Garrapata State Park has an easy-to-walk, well-maintained trail on a bluff above the ocean. We are often the only ones on the trails. The beauty of winter travel. During February, hundreds of white calla lilies bloom along a small creek that runs off into the Pacific.
Bixby Bridge built in 1932. This is a favorite of photographers from all over the world. It is one of the highest bridges of its kind at 260 feet above a steep canyon. You can actually walk across the bridge as well as sit on the bridge in both directions, which I’ve never done as you never know when a rental RV might be driving across!
Nepenthe provides dining on their large terrace with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. This restaurant/bar is well known for their ground steak sandwich (Ambrosia burger) on a French roll with their famous Ambrosia Sauce. Nepenthe was the social hub for artists, actors, and writers such as Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter S. Thompson during Big Sur’s golden era. Bohemians love this place and so do we. Parking is tight, so hope you have a tow vehicle to get in. The view is worth the wait.
Pfeiffer State Beach is another photographer’s portfolio shot with its famous rock and keyhole arch. Every December/January, the sunset aligns with the keyhole causing a beautiful golden glow to shine through a doorway carved into a massive rock. I would include a picture of that phenomenon, but typically dozens of photographers are vying for the same shot at the same time. Better to have a glass of wine or two on the world-famous Nepenthe deck. The unmarked two-mile-long Sycamore Canyon road is paved, but twisty and narrow so RV’s are not allowed.
McWay Falls is an 80 ft waterfall plunging onto the pristine beach cove below which is off-limits to humans. A win for mother nature. The view from the vantage points above is breathtaking enough. Parking is available at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park entrance.
Now, there are some great hotels in Big Sur that basically stretch from Carmel to San Simeon, such as the Post Ranch Inn with winter rates ranging from $1,650 to $2,250 per night and no pets allowed! However, we are rather fond of staying in our cozy Unity, peacefully parked amongst redwood trees with the soothing sound of a flowing river. I’m pretty sure our dogs would concur—for they are our most important take along on our LTV journeys. Big Sur will continue to beckon us back annually and hope you are inspired to visit this magnificent part of the California Coastline soon. A photographer’s dream.