The Big Sur

The Big Sur is an area of outstanding natural beauty south of Monterey, California. US Highway 1 whiles and wends a course between a rugged coastline pounded by huge Pacific surf to the West, and steeply sloping hills to the East. Along the way there are a number of well maintained state parks offering short hikes to get a closer glimpse of the waves thrashing into the rocky beaches and cliffs, or on the other side of the highway, forested canyons and pretty waterfalls.

Our first stop was Point Lomos State park which featured some easy and uncrowded hiking trails to give us our first glimpse of the raw power of the Pacific. A second stop in Pfeiffer State Park took us inland through shady pine groves and spring wildflower to a gentle waterfall.

Further south, marked only by a sign saying “Narrow Road” (thanks to the Lonely Planet for clueing us up to this one!) we were able to get down to sea level and the gorgeous but wind swept Pfeiffer Beach. Big waves splashed impressively against building sized rocks near the shore, and the sand had pretty purple patterns due to the manganese garnet deposits washed down from the surrounding hills. The sun was baking but the incredible wind made it feel about as warm as a Cornish beach!

Most of the inland sections of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park were closed following extensive recent fire damage. However it does contain the rare sight of the pretty McWay Falls which cascades 80 feet directly onto a pristine unoccupied sandy beach (no public access to the beach was a condition of the legacy which gifted the park to the State). Many people turned around after seeing the falls, but the same trail led to a lookout point with a beautiful 270 degree vista of the coast.

We also stopped at Salmon Creek Falls, a more conventional three level drop within a forest canyon, but with a supreme location at the apex of a hairpin bend in one of the twistier sections of the road. This set of hairpins takes the road down to the coast again and follows the shoreline rather sedately, albeit with some fantastic views. The highlight of this section is undoubtedly the colony of Elephant Seals basking on the beach near Piedras Blancas: the beach is less than 50m from the highway, so viewing them is as easy as pulling into one of the spacious car parks and finding a good vantage point away from the other tourists!