Big Sur: Wikis


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Iconic image of the Big Sur Coast at Bixby Creek Bridge
Map of Big Sur

Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the central California coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name "Big Sur" is derived from the original Spanish-language "el sur grande", meaning "the big south", or from "el país grande del sur", "the big country of the south". The terrain offers stunning views, making Big Sur a popular tourist destination. Big Sur's Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states, ascending nearly a mile (5,155 feet/1571 m) above sea level, only three miles (4.8 km) from the ocean.[1]

Although Big Sur has no specific boundaries, many definitions of the area include the 90 miles (145 km) of coastline between the Carmel River and San Carpoforo Creek, and extend about 20 miles (32 km) inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucias. Other sources limit the eastern border to the coastal flanks of these mountains, only three to 12 miles (4.8–19 km) inland.

The northern end of Big Sur is about 120 miles (193 km) south of San Francisco, and the southern end is approximately 245 miles (394 km) northwest of Los Angeles.




Native Americans

Three tribes of Native Americans—the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan—were apparently the first people to inhabit the area now known as Big Sur. Archaeological evidence shows that they lived in Big Sur for thousands of years, leading a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence.[2]

Few traces of their material culture have survived. Their arrow heads were made of obsidian and flint, which indicates trading links with tribes hundreds of miles away, since the nearest sources of these rocks are in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the northern California Coast Ranges.

They followed local food sources seasonally, living near the coast in winter to harvest rich stocks of mussels, abalone and other sea life, and moving inland at other times to harvest oak acorns. Bedrock mortars, which are large exposed rocks that these people hollowed out into bowl shapes to grind the acorns into flour, can be found throughout Big Sur. The tribes also used controlled burning techniques to increase tree growth and food production.[3]

Spanish exploration and settlement

The first Europeans to see Big Sur were Spanish mariners led by Juan Cabrillo in 1542, who sailed up the coast without landing. Two centuries passed before the Spanish attempted to colonize the area. In 1769, an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolà were the first Europeans known to set foot in Big Sur, in the far south near San Carpoforo Canyon.[4] Daunted by the sheer cliffs, his party avoided the area and pressed far inland.

Portolà landed in Monterey Bay in 1770, and with Father Junípero Serra, who helped found most of the missions in California, established the town Monterey, which became the capital of the Spanish colony Alta California. The Spanish gave Big Sur its name during this period, calling the region el país grande del sur (the Big Country of the South) which was often shortened to el sur grande, because it was a vast, unexplored, and impenetrable land south of their capital at Monterey.

The Spanish colonization devastated the Native American population. Most tribe members died out from European diseases or forced labor and malnutrition at the missions in the eighteenth century, while many remaining members assimilated with Spanish and Mexican ranchers in the nineteenth century.[5]

Ranchos and homesteads

Along with the rest of California, Big Sur became part of Mexico when it gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1834, the Mexican governor José Figueroa granted the 8,949-acre (36 km2) Rancho El Sur in northern Big Sur to Juan Bautista Alvarado.[6] Alvarado's uncle by marriage, Captain John B.R. Cooper, soon after assumed ownership.[7] The oldest surviving structure in Big Sur, the so-called Cooper Cabin, was built in 1861 on the Cooper ranch.[8]

In 1848, as a result of the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded California to the United States. After passage of the federal Homestead Act in 1862, a few hardy pioneers moved into Big Sur, drawn by the promise of free 160 acre (0.6 km²) parcels. Many local sites are named after the settlers from this period: Gamboa, Pfeiffer, Post, Partington, Ross and McWay are common place names. Consistent with the Anglo-Hispanic heritage of the area, the new settlers mixed English and Spanish and began to call their new home "Big Sur."

Industrial era and gold rush

Bixby Landing in 1911

From the 1860s through the turn of the twentieth century, lumbering cut down most of the coast redwoods. Along with industries based on tanoak bark harvesting, gold mining, and limestone processing, the local economy provided more jobs and supported a larger population than today. In the 1880s, a gold rush boom town, Manchester, sprang up at Alder Creek in the far south. The town boasted a population of 200, four stores, a restaurant, five saloons, a dance hall, and a hotel, but it was abandoned soon after the turn of the century and burned to the ground in 1909.[9] There were no reliable roads to supply these industries, so local entrepreneurs built small boat landings at a few coves along the coast, such as Bixby Landing pictured here.[10] None of these landings remain today, and few other signs of this brief industrial period are visible to the casual traveler. The rugged, isolated terrain kept out all but the sturdiest and most self-sufficient settlers. A 30 mile (50 km) trip to Monterey could take three days by wagon, over a rough and dangerous track.[11]

Before and after Highway 1

After the industrial boom faded, the early decades of the twentieth century passed with few changes, and Big Sur remained a nearly inaccessible wilderness. As late as the 1920s, only two homes in the entire region had electricity, locally generated by water wheels and windmills.[12] Most of the population lived without power until connections to the California electric grid were established in the early 1950s.

Big Sur changed rapidly when, after 18 years of construction and aided by New Deal funds and the use of convict labor, a paved two-lane Highway 1 was completed in 1937.[13] Prior to the construction of Highway 1, The California coast south of Carmel and north of San Simeon was one of the most remote regions in the state, rivaling nearly any other region in the United States for its difficult access.[14] Highway 1 dramatically altered the local economy and brought the outside world much closer, with ranches and farms quickly giving way to tourist venues and second homes. Even with these modernizations, Big Sur was spared the worst excesses of development, due largely to residents who fought to preserve the land. The Monterey County government won a landmark court case in 1962, affirming its right to ban billboards and other visual distractions on Highway 1.[15] The county then adopted one of the country's most stringent land use plans, prohibiting any new construction within sight of the highway.

Big Sur artists and popular culture

The author Henry Miller lived in Big Sur from 1944-1962.

In the early to mid-twentieth century, Big Sur's relative isolation and natural beauty began to attract a different kind of pioneer — writers and artists, including Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller, Edward Weston, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, Emile Norman, and Jack Kerouac. Jeffers was among the first of these. Beginning in the 1920s, his poetry introduced the romantic idea of Big Sur's wild, untamed spaces to a national audience, which encouraged many of the later visitors. Henry Miller lived in Big Sur from 1944 to 1962. His 1957 novel Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch described the joys and hardships that came from escaping the "air conditioned nightmare" of modern life. The Henry Miller Memorial Library[16], a cultural center devoted to Miller's life and work, is a popular attraction for many tourists. Hunter S. Thompson worked as a security guard and caretaker at Big Sur Hot Springs for eight months in 1961, just before it became the Esalen Institute. While there, he published his first magazine feature in the nationally distributed Rogue magazine, about Big Sur's artisan and bohemian culture. Jack Kerouac spent a few days in Big Sur in early 1960 at fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin in the woods, and wrote a novel titled Big Sur based on his experience there. Big Sur acquired a bohemian reputation with these newcomers. Henry Miller recounted that a traveler knocked on his door, looking for the "cult of sex and anarchy."[17] Apparently finding neither, the disappointed visitor returned home. Miller is referenced in Brautigan's A Confederate General at Big Sur, in which a pair of young men attempt the idyllic Big Sur life in small shacks and are variously plagued by flies, low ceilings, visiting businessmen with nervous breakdowns, and 2,452 tiny frogs whose loud singing keeps everyone awake.

Big Sur also became home to centers of study and contemplation - a Catholic monastery, the New Camaldoli Hermitage in 1958, the Esalen Institute, a workshop and retreat center in 1962, and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a Buddhist monastery, in 1966. Esalen hosted many figures of the nascent "New Age," and in the 1960s, played an important role in popularizing Eastern philosophies, the "human potential movement," and Gestalt therapy in the United States.

The area's increasing popularity and cinematic beauty soon brought the attention of Hollywood. Orson Welles and his wife at the time, Rita Hayworth, bought a Big Sur cabin on impulse during a trip down the coast in 1944. They never spent a single night there, and the property is now the location of a popular restaurant, Nepenthe.[18] Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in the 1965 film The Sandpiper, featuring many location shots of Big Sur, and a dance party scene on a soundstage built to resemble Nepenthe. The Sandpiper was one of the very few major studio motion pictures ever filmed in Big Sur, and perhaps the only one to identify real Big Sur locales by name as part of the plot. The DVD, released in 2006, includes a Burton-narrated short film about Big Sur, quoting Robinson Jeffers poetry. Another film based in Big Sur was the 1974 Zandy's Bride, starring Gene Hackman and Liv Ullman.[19]. An adaptation of The Stranger in Big Sur by Lillian Bos Ross, the film portrayed the 1870s life of the Ross family and their Big Sur neighbors.

In music, The Beach Boys devoted the three parts of their California Saga on the band's 1973 album Holland to a nostalgic depiction of the rugged wilderness in the area and the culture of its inhabitants. The first part describes the outdoor environment of the region, the second part is an adaption of the Robinson Jeffers poem The Beaks of Eagles, and the third part discusses local literary and musical figures. Big Sur is also mentioned by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their 2000 single "Road Trippin'". The song tells of a road trip in which lead singer Anthony Kiedis, guitarist John Frusciante and bassist Flea surfed at Big Sur following John's return to the band. Among other notable mentions of Big Sur in music are Buckethead's song "Big Sur Moon" on the album Colma, and the song Big Sur by Irish indie band The Thrills from their album So Much for the City. Death Cab for Cutie's song "Bixby Canyon Bridge" is about a bridge (Bixby Creek Bridge) near the cabin in which Jack Kerouac stayed.

Big Sur today

Big Sur coast line. Bixby Creek Bridge near the outcropping of rocks which resembles a dinosaur, June, 1965

Big Sur remains sparsely populated, with about 1000 inhabitants, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The people of Big Sur today are a diverse mix: descendants of the original settler and rancher families, artists and other creative types, along with wealthy home-owners from the worlds of entertainment and commerce. Real estate costs are as impressive as the views, with most homes priced above $2 million. There are no urban areas, although three small clusters of gas stations, restaurants, and motels are often marked on maps as "towns": Big Sur, in the Big Sur River valley, Lucia, near Limekiln State park, and Gorda, on the southern coast. The economy is almost completely based on tourism. Much of the land along the coast is privately owned or has been donated to the state park system, while the vast Los Padres National Forest and Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation encompass most of the inland areas. The mountainous terrain, environmentally conscious residents, and lack of property available for development have kept Big Sur almost unspoiled, and it retains an isolated, frontier mystique.

The Basin Complex Fire of 2008 forced a two-week evacuation of Big Sur and the closure of Highway 1, beginning just before the July 4 holiday weekend.[20] The fire, which burned over 130,000 acres, represented the largest of many wildfires that had broken out throughout California during the same period.[21] Although the fire caused no loss of life, it destroyed 27 houses, and the tourist-dependent economy lost about a third of its expected summer revenue.[22][23]


Pictures taken on afternoons in March (upper) and October (lower). The October picture shows a typical fog bank nearly 1,000 feet (300 m) thick.

It is impossible to generalize about the weather in Big Sur because the jagged topography causes many separate microclimates. This is one of the few places on Earth where redwoods grow within sight of cacti. Still, Big Sur typically enjoys a mild climate year-round, with a sunny, dry summer and fall, and a cool, wet winter. Coastal temperatures vary little during the year, ranging from the 50s at night to the 70s by day (Fahrenheit) from June through October, and in the 40s to 60s from November through May. Farther inland, away from the ocean's moderating influence, temperatures are much more variable.

The official National Weather Service cooperative station at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park reports that January is the coolest month with an average maximum of 60.0 °F (15.6 °C) and an average minimum of 43.2 °F (6.2 °C). August is usually the warmest month, with an average maximum of 77.3 °F (25.2 °C) and an average minimum of 50.2 °F (10.1 °C). The record maximum temperature was 102 °F (38.9 °C) on June 20, 2008. The record minimum was 27 °F (−2.8 °C), recorded on December 21, 1998, and January 13, 2007. There are an average of 8.8 days annually with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and an average of 1.4 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. Average annual precipitation at the state park headquarters is 41.94 inches, with measurable precipitation falling on an average of 62 days each year. The wettest year was 1983 with 88.85 inches and the driest year was 1990 with 17.90 inches. The wettest month on record was January 1995 with 26.47 inches and the most precipitation in 24 hours was 9.23 inches on January 31, 1963. More than 70% of the rain falls from December through March, while the summer brings much drier conditions. Measurable snowfall has not been recorded in coastal Big Sur, but is common in the winter months on the higher ridges of the Santa Lucia Mountains.[24] The abundant winter rains cause rock and mudslides that can cut off portions of Highway 1 for days or weeks, but the road is usually quickly repaired.

Farther to the south, near San Simeon, weather records were kept at the Piedras Blancas Light lighthouse until 1975. Based on those records, January was the coldest month with an average maximum of 58.6 °F (14.8 °C) and an average minimum of 45.3 °F (7.4 °C). September was the warmest month with an average maximum of 64.2 °F (17.9 °C) and an average minimum of 51.9 °F (11.1 °C). Temperatures rarely reached 90 °F (32 °C) or higher, occurring only 0.1 day annually; nor dropped to 32 °F (0 °C) or lower, occurring only 0.5 day annually. The highest temperature recorded was 91 °F (33 °C) on October 21, 1965. The lowest temperature recorded was 29 °F (−2 °C) on January 1, 1965. Annual precipitation averaged 20.28 inches. The wettest year was 1969 with 41.86 inches and the driest year was 1959 with 9.71 inches. Measurable precipitation fell on an average of 48 days annually. The most rainfall in one month was 18.35 inches in January, 1969, including 5.28 inches in 24 hours on January 19.[25] Today, weather records are kept at the park headquarters at San Simeon and published in some newspapers.[26]

Along with much of the central and northern California coast, Big Sur often has dense fog in summer. The summer fog and summer drought have the same underlying cause: a massive, stable seasonal high pressure system that forms over the north Pacific Ocean. The high pressure cell inhibits rainfall and generates northwesterly air flow. These prevailing summer winds from the northwest push the warm ocean surface water to the southeast, away from the coast, and frigid deep ocean water rises in its place. The water vapor in the air contacting this cold water condenses into fog. [27] The fog usually moves out to sea during the day and closes in at night, but sometimes heavy fog blankets the coast all day. Fog is an essential summer water source for many Big Sur coastal plants. Most plants cannot take water directly out of the air, but the condensation on leaf surfaces slowly precipitates into the ground like rain.

Flora and fauna

The many climates of Big Sur result in an astonishing biodiversity, including many rare and endangered species such as the wild orchid Piperia yadonii, which has a highly restricted range of a total population of few individuals. Arid, dusty chaparral-covered hills exist within easy walking distance of lush riparian woodland. The mountains trap most of the moisture out of the clouds; fog in summer, rain and snow in winter. This creates a favorable environment for coniferous forests, including the southernmost habitat of the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which grows only on lower coastal slopes that are routinely fogged in at night. Many inaccessible redwood forests here were never logged, and in 2008 scientist J. Michael Fay published a map of these old growth redwoods as a result of his transect of the entire redwood range.[28] In areas where they were logged, the redwoods, aggressive regenerators, have grown back extensively since logging ceased in the early twentieth century. The rare Santa Lucia fir (Abies bracteata), as its name suggests, is found only in the Santa Lucia mountains. A common "foreign" species is the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), which was uncommon in Big Sur until the late 19th century, when many homeowners began to plant it as a windbreak. There are many broadleaved trees as well, such as the tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus), Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), and California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica). In the rain shadow, the forests disappear and the vegetation becomes open oak woodland, then transitions into the more familiar fire-tolerant California chaparral scrub.

Numerous fauna are found in the Big Sur region. Among amphibians the California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) is found here, which point marks the southern extent of its range.[29] In 1997, the Ventana Wildlife Society began releasing captive-bred California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in Big Sur, and a nest was discovered in a redwood tree in 2006.[30] This population has been successful in part because a significant portion of its diet, carcasses of large sea creatures that have washed ashore, are unlikely to be contaminated with lead.[31] Lead poisoning is an important cause of mortality in condors, and usually occurs when a bird consumes the remains of a game animal that had been hunted and killed with lead bullets or shot.[32]

Demographic estimate

93920 ZCTA for US 2000 Census

The United States does not define a census-designated place called Big Sur, but it does define a Zip Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA), 93920. Because Big Sur is contained roughly within this Zip Code Tabulation Area, it is possible to obtain Census data from the United States 2000 Census for the area even though data for "Big Sur" is unavailable.

According to the United States 2000 Census, there were 996 people, 884 households, and 666 housing units in the 93920 ZCTA. The racial makeup of this area was 87.6% White, 1.1% African American, 1.3% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 5.5% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 9.6% of the population.

In the 93920 ZCTA, the population age was widely distributed, with 20.2% under the age of 19, 4.5% from 20 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 37.0% from 45 to 64, and 11.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43.2 years.

The median income in 2000 for a household in 93920 ZCTA was $41,304, and the median income for a family was $65,083.


Bixby Creek Bridge, shown here looking southwest, is a popular attraction in Big Sur

Although some Big Sur residents catered to adventurous travelers in the early twentieth century,[33] the modern tourist economy began when Highway 1 opened the region to automobiles, and only took off after World War II-era gasoline rationing ended in the mid-1940s. Most of the 3 million tourists who visit Big Sur each year never leave Highway 1, because the adjacent Santa Lucia mountain range is one of the largest roadless areas near a coast in the contiguous United States. The highway winds along the western flank of the mountains mostly within sight of the Pacific Ocean, varying from near sea level up to a thousand-foot sheer drop to the water. Because gazing at the views while driving is inadvisable, the highway features many strategically placed vista points allowing motorists to stop and admire the landscape. The section of Highway 1 running through Big Sur is widely considered as one of the most scenic driving routes in the United States, if not the world. These breathtaking views were one reason that Big Sur ranked second among all United States destinations in TripAdvisor's 2008 Travelers' Choice Destination Awards.[34]

The land use restrictions that preserve Big Sur's natural beauty also mean that tourist accommodations are limited, often expensive, and fill up quickly during the busy summer season. There are fewer than 300 hotel rooms on the entire 90 mile (140 km) stretch of Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel, only three gas stations, and no chain hotels, supermarkets, or fast-food outlets.[35] The lodging options are rustic cabins, motels, and campgrounds, or costly, exclusive five-star resorts, with little in between. Most lodging and restaurants are clustered in the Big Sur River valley, where Highway 1 leaves the coast for a few miles and winds into a redwood forest, protected from the chill ocean breezes and summer fog.

Besides sightseeing from the highway, Big Sur offers hiking, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities. There are a few small, scenic beaches that are popular for walking, but usually unsuitable for swimming because of unpredictable currents and frigid temperatures. Big Sur's nine state parks have many points of interest, including one of the few waterfalls on the Pacific Coast that plunges directly into the ocean, located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, although visitors are not allowed on the beach itself to preserve the natural habitat. The waterfall is located near the ruins of a grand stone cliffside house that was the region's first electrified dwelling. Another notable landmark is the only complete nineteenth century lighthouse complex open to the public in California, set on a lonely, windswept hill that looks like an island in the fog.

List of state parks (north to south)

Federal Parks

Suggested reading

  • Big Sur, Jack Kerouac, Penguin Books, Reprint edition (1962, reprinted 1992), 256 pages, ISBN 0-14-016812-5
  • Big Sur: A Battle for the Wilderness 1869-1981, John Woolfenden, The Boxwood Press (1981), 143 pages, ISBN 0-910286-87-6
  • Big Sur: Images of America, Jeff Norman, Big Sur Historical Society, Arcadia Publishing (2004), 128 pages, ISBN 0-7385-2913-3
  • Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, Henry Miller, New Directions Publishing Corp (1957), 404 pages, ISBN 0-8112-0107-4
  • Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur, Analise Elliott, Wilderness Press (2005), 322 pages, ISBN 0-89997-326-4
  • The Natural History of Big Sur, Paul Henson and Donald J. Usner, University of California Press (1993), 416 pages, ISBN 0-520-20510-3
  • A Wild Coast and Lonely: Big Sur Pioneers, Rosalind Sharpe Wall, Wide World Publishing, (1989, reprinted April 1992), 264 pages, ISBN 0-933174-83-7
  • A Confederate General From Big Sur, Richard Brautigan, Grove Press (1965), 159 pages


  1. ^ Henson, Paul and Usner, Donald. The Natural History of Big Sur 1993, University of California Press; Berkeley, California; page 11
  2. ^ Elliott, Analise. Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur 2005, Wilderness Press; Berkeley, California; page 21
  3. ^ Henson and Usner, pages 269-270
  4. ^ Ibid., page 272
  5. ^ Ibid., pages 264-267
  6. ^ Diseño del Rancho El Sur
  7. ^ United States. District Court (California : Southern District) Land Case 1 SD
  8. ^ Big Sur Cabin - Davis, Kathleen - California Department of Parks & Recreation website
  9. ^ Woolfenden, John. Big Sur: A Battle for the Wilderness 1869-1981 1981, The Boxwood Press; Pacific Grove; page 72
  10. ^ Wall, Rosalind Sharpe. A Wild Coast and Lonely: Big Sur Pioneers 1989, Wide World Publishing; San Carlos, California; pages 126-130
  11. ^ Eliott, page 24
  12. ^ Henson and Usner, page 328; Woolfenden, page 64
  13. ^ Glockner, Joseph A. (June 1, 2008). "Naval Facility (NAVFAC) Station History". The Navy CT / SECGRU History. 
  14. ^ JRP Historical Consulting Services (November 2001). "Big Sur Highway Managment Plan". Corridor Intrinsic Qualities Inventory Historic Qualities Summary Report. CalTrans. pp. 38. Retrieved 2009-11-14. 
  15. ^ National Advertising Co. v. County of Monterey, 211 Cal.App.2d 375, 1962
  16. ^ Henry Miller website
  17. ^ Miller, Henry. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch 1957, New Directions Publishing; [[New York (city)|]]; page 45
  18. ^ Nepenthe Restaurant, Rita and Orson.
  19. ^ Movies Made in Monterey - Z
  20. ^ Fehd, Amanda (July 3, 2008). "Big Sur evacuated as massive wildfire spreads". (AP). Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  21. ^ Threat to Big Sur eases by Steve Rubenstein, John Coté, and Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 2008.
  22. ^ Uncredited (July 19, 2008). "Progress Reported in California Fires". New York Times (AP). Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  23. ^ Cathcart, Rebecca (August 1, 2008). "Fire Damage Takes a Toll on the Economy in Big Sur". New York Times (New York Times). Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  24. ^ Western Regional Climate Center website
  25. ^ Western Regional Climate Center website
  26. ^ San Francisco Chronicle
  27. ^ Henson and Usner, pages 33-35
  28. ^ Fay, J. Michael (2008-09-30), Redwood Transect-Big Sur Redwoods 2.0,, retrieved 2009-01-06 
  29. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) California Giant Salamander: Dicamptodon ensatus,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  30. ^ "Condors End 100-Year Absence In Norcal Woods". 2006-03-29. 
  31. ^ Thornton, Stuart (2006-05-26). "Condors make a meal of a beached gray whale". Monterey County Weekly. 
  32. ^ Ritter, John (2006-10-23). "Lead poisoning eyed as threat to California condor". USA Today. 
  33. ^ Woolfenden, page 10
  34. ^ Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau: Trip Advisor Crowns Monterey County With Three 2008 Travelers' Choice Destination Awards
  35. ^ Lodging Guide to Big Sur, Big Sur Chamber of Commerce website

External links

Coordinates: 36°06′27″N 121°37′33″W / 36.1075°N 121.62583°W / 36.1075; -121.62583

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

McWay Falls, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA
McWay Falls, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA

Big Sur [1], on the Central Coast of California, contains vast wildernesses and breathtaking views as it stretches 90 miles along the rugged Pacific Ocean in the Central Coast region of California. It is approximately 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles. The area is great for outdoor recreationists and contains several state parks, two national wilderness areas and is part of the Los Padres National Forest, all of which include hiking trails. The most common visitors to Big Sur are those just driving through to enjoy the scenery. The next most common activity is Hiking/Backpacking in the open natural spaces of Big Sur.

California Highway 1 (also known as Pacific Coast Highway) winds through Big Sur flanked by the steep Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the rocky Pacific Coast to the west. Big Sur begins just south of Carmel and continues south through the small towns of Big Sur, Lucia, and Gorda. It ends in San Simeon (where the Hearst Castle is located). When driving on Highway 1 through Big Sur be sure to stop at the many turnouts and vista points to see the beauty of the area.

Big Sur is also known as a destination for the "Merry Pranksters" in the 1960s.

Get in

Big Sur is a remote area accessible only via Highway 1. The easiest and most common way to get there is by car, though some enthusiastic adventurers can be seen riding bicycles to the area along the highway as well.

From San Francisco take US-101 south to CA-156 west which merges with Highway 1 20 miles from the beginning of the Big Sur area. Approximately 125 miles and 2-3 hour drive.

From Los Angeles take US-101 north and exit onto Highway 1 toward Morro Bay/Hearst Castle which is 45 miles south of the end of Big Sur. Approximately 250 miles and 4-5 hour drive.

Monterey-Salinas Transit Route 22 bus runs from Monterey to Big Sur. It runs seven days a week Memorial Day to Labor Day, and weekends only Labor Day to Memorial Day. Be sure to call during winter and spring months, as inclement weather and high winds may cause the bus to be canceled. 888-678-2871, [2].

Get around

There is one public bus that goes through Big Sur, the Monterey-Salinas Transit Route 22. The bus route is active daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends only the rest of the year. It goes from downtown Monterey to Big Sur and back four times a day, stopping at several state parks, the Big Sur River Inn, and Nepenthe. During the winter and spring, the bus is sometimes canceled due to bad weather.

Private driving along Highway 1 is the most common mode of transportation.

Bicycling along Highway 1 is also popular, though challenging.

Much of the interior areas of the region are only accessible via hiking.

For more information about Big Sur visit the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce. [3]. The Big Sur Chamber of Commerce is continually updated with a Calendar of Events page.

Big Sur Coastline with glimpse of Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA
Big Sur Coastline with glimpse of Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA
  • Bixby Bridge, 11 miles north of Big Sur Village. Iconic bridge built in 1933. One of the most photographed in the world because of its location within such beautiful scenery.
  • Henry Miller Memorial Library, Highway 1, a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant, 831-667-2574, [4]. Wi-Fi internet access.
Point Sur and Lighthouse, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA
Point Sur and Lighthouse, Highway 1, Big Sur, California, USA
  • Point Sur Lighthouse, 5 miles north of Big Sur Village, [5]. Point Sur is a dominate feature along Highway 1. It is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the only complete turn-of-the-century light stations open to the public in California. Allegedly one of the most haunted places in America. Spectacular views can be had from atop Point Sur. Tours (3 hours) are offered, check website for times. $8 adult, $4 children.
  • McWay Falls, 12 miles south of Big Sur Village. One of the most spectacular places anywhere in Big Sur. There is a hike out to a view point but it can also be seen from the road just before Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  • New Camaldoli Hermitage, located in Lucia off Highway 1 (25 miles south of Big Sur village), 831-667-2456, [6]. Monastery offering guided retreats, also sells gifts and food items.
Redwoods in Ventana Wilderness along the Pine Ridge trail, Big Sur, California, USA
Redwoods in Ventana Wilderness along the Pine Ridge trail, Big Sur, California, USA

Hiking/Backpacking - The Big Sur area offers over 80 unique day hikes. Difficultly, length, and location can vary greatly. There are hikes to beaches and vistas along the coast, there are hikes along rivers and through canyons, and there are hikes through redwood forests in the Santa Lucia Mts. For longer and more remote adventures backpacking is an option. There are hundreds of miles of trails through the region, particularly the Ventana Wilderness. (Be certain to be prepared and know what you are doing before going backpacking in the Wilderness.) More information can be found at the Big Sur Ranger Station located 3 miles south of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315.

NOTE: Always check conditions before hiking or backpacking! Hiking areas in Big Sur can be closed down in winter due to mudslides. Know before you go.

Beaches - Remote and pristine beaches are accessible to the public as well in Big Sur. Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, and Sand Dollar Beach are the most common beaches visited by the public.

  • Andrew Molera State Park, less than 1 mile north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315, [7]. Miles of trails, beaches, and meadows. Also has 24 primitive camp sites (first come first serve).
  • Hunt for Jade, beaches south of Big Sur Village. Jade is a common semi-precious stone found on the beaches in the Big Sur region.
View of Big Sur river canyon from Pine Ridge trail in the Ventana Wilderness, Big Sur, California, USA
View of Big Sur river canyon from Pine Ridge trail in the Ventana Wilderness, Big Sur, California, USA
  • Pfeiffer Beach, 2.5 miles south of Big Sur Village turn west on Sycamore Canyon Rd (unmarked road, only paved and non-gated road to the west in the area). Great sunsets and a fun beach. If you are heading south on Pacific Route 1, the key to finding this beach is to look for the yellow sign - "NARROW ROAD No RVs - Trailers"
Pfeiffer Beach, Sunset, Big Sur, CA
Pfeiffer Beach, Sunset, Big Sur, CA
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 2 miles south of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315, [8].
  • Point Lobos State Reserve, 24 miles north of Big Sur Village (just south of Carmel), 831-624-4909, [9]. Well managed and developed recreation area offering many hikes, beaches, coves and points. Also offers SCUBA by permit only. Often referred to as the crown jewel of the State Park System. $10 per car.
  • Sand Dollar Beach, 35 miles south of Big Sur Village (across Highway 1 from Plaskett Creek Campground, stairs lead to the beach). Largest expanse of sand in Big Sur and also well protected from wind.
  • Ventana Wilderness, Big Sur Ranger Station (3 miles south of Big Sur Village), 831-667-2315. The wilderness covers 167,323 square acres. Within the wilderness area alone there are 237 miles of trails and 55 designated camping areas.


There are art galleries and gift shops throughout Big Sur all along Highway 1.

  • Del Campo Gallery, Fine Art by Big Sur artists. A hidden treasure worth finding... Formerly ARS Gallery, located on Hwy 1 at Loma Vista in the Courtyard of the Spirit Garden.[10].Open daily 11:00-6:00 closed Tuesdays. Also by appointment: 831-667-2618
  • Big Sur Arts Center, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-1530, [11]. Home to Big Sur Arts Initiative non-profit organization. Features a Hidden Garden Tour.
  • Big Sur Garden Gallery, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-2000. Local and exotic gifts and jewelry.
  • Big Sur Spirit Garden, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-1300, [12]. Botanical garden featuring exotic succulents and plants. Also provides cultural, musical, artistic, and educational programs and classes.
  • Chappellet Studios, Rancho Rico, 831-238-6943, [13]. Gallery by appointment only.
  • Hawthorne Gallery, located across from Nepenthe, 831-667-3200, [14]. Open daily 10:30am - 6:30 pm. Representing works of the Hawthorne family and other internationally known artists.
  • Heartbeat Gift Gallery, next to Big Sur River Inn, 831-667-2557, [15]. Shopping featuring jewelry, clothing, and collectibles.
  • Local Color, located in Big Sur Village Shops, 831-667-0481, [16]. Local artists and craftsmen featuring Big Sur jade, redwood bowls, and tie-dyed cloths.
  • Post Ranch Mercantile, 831-667-2347, [17]. Open daily 10:30 am - 7:00 pm. Natural products featuring tableware, clothing, bedding, and body care products.
  • Sofanya's Art Gallery 831-626-2876, [18]. Personalized artwork, portraits, sculptures and wearable art you can take with you. By appointment.
  • Soul River Studios 831-667-2559, [19]. Located by the River Inn upstairs at the Village shops
  • Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, 831-667-0520, 47540 Highway One, [20]. Wedding cakes, desserts, pastries.
  • Big Sur Lodge Restaurant & Espresso House, 831-667-3111, [21]. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the banks of the Big Sur River, views of redwoods.
  • Big Sur River Inn, 831-667-2700 or 800-548-3610, [22]. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Deck overlooking Big Sur River. Live entertainment on Sundays.
  • Big Sur Roadhouse, 831-667-2264, [23]. Open for dinner 5:30 - 9 pm. Closed Tuesdays. Call for reservations. Californian-Latin American cuisine.
  • Cafe Kevah, located on a terrace just below Nepenthe, 831-667-2344, [24]. Open March - December, 9 am - 4 pm. Brunch and light lunch.
  • Cielo, located at Ventana Inn, 831-667-2331, [25]. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Offering 50-mile vistas of the Pacific from the outdoor terrace.
  • Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, 831-667-2378, [26]. Breakfast 8 am - noon, dinner 6 pm - close.
  • Lucia Lodge, (866) 424-4787 or (831) 667-2391, [27]. Open for lunch and dinner from 11 am - 9 pm. Excellent Fish & Chips (judged as one of the Top 10 in the US by Coastal Living Magazine).
  • The Maiden Publick House, next to Big Sur River Inn in the Village Center Shops, 831-667-2355. Classic affordable pub with food and drinks.
  • Nepenthe, Highway 1, 831-667-2345, [28]. Picturesque dining location overlooking 40 miles of coastline.
  • Ragged Point Inn, located 15 miles north of Hearst Castle, 805-927-5708, [29].
  • Redwood Grill, located at Fernwood Resort, 831-667-2129, [30]. Open 11 am - 9 pm. Serves buffalo burgers, salmon burgers, hamburgers, veggie burgers, sandwiches, salads and more.
  • Ripplewood Resort, 831-667-2242, [31]. Open 8 am - 2 pm. American cuisine with Spanish flair. $5-$12 per entree.
  • San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill, 805-927-4604, [32]. Panoramic ocean view. Pool table, TV's, live entertainment. Wi-Fi internet Access.
  • Sierra Mar Restaurant, located at the Post Ranch Inn, 831-667-2800, [33]. Light lunch noon - 3:30, drinks 3:30 to close, dinner nightly. At 1,149 feet the restaurant offers great views of the coastline.
  • The Grill at Treebones Resort, 805-927-2390, [34]. Casual dinners nightly starting at 7 pm.


Many local restaurants also contain bars and/or provide drinks.

  • Fernwood Resort, just north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2422, [35]. Cabins, tents, RV's, all allowed but with limited availability. Also has a bar and grill as well as other resort amenities.
  • The Maiden Publick House, next to Big Sur River Inn in the Village Center Shops, 831-667-2355. Classic affordable pub with food and drinks.


The two main options for sleeping in Big Sur are either camping or staying in a hotel/resort. Some locations have both options provided. Camping is popular in Big Sur and there are many small campgrounds through the region that are not listed below but can be found along Highway 1.

  • Big Sur Campground and Cabins, 47000 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920 (just north of Big Sur Village), 831-667-2322, [36]. Accommodations include campsites, tent-cabins and rustic cabins, all beneath giant redwoods and beside the Big Sur river. There is great swimming in the river and hiking is close by. Kids can ride inner-tubes or rubber boats down the river and a short 3 mile drive either north or south will get you to beautiful beaches (Pfieffer to the south and Molera to the north.)
  • Big Sur Lodge, 47225 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920 (just south of Big Sur Village), 800-424-4787 or 831-667-3100, [37]. Lies within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Contains 61 cottage style units and all resort amenities.
  • Big Sur River Inn, Highway 1 at Pheneger Creek, Big Sur, CA 93920, 831-667-2700 or 800-548-3610, [38]. Heated swimming pool. Full service restaurant and bar. 20 guest rooms.
  • Deetjens Big Sur Inn, 48865 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 831-667-2377, [39]. Norwegian-style setting nestled in the redwoods of Castro Canyon. (Advanced reservations recommended)
  • Fernwood Resort, just north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2422, [40]. Cabins, tents, RV's, all allowed but with limited availability. Also has a bar and grill as well as other resort amenities.
  • Glen Oaks Motel, Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 831.667.2105, [41]. 17 clean and comfortable units available year-round.
  • Limekiln State Park, Highway 1, 831-667-2403, [42]. Gorgeous campsites along a creek that runs into the ocean. Sites on the beach and under the redwoods. There are a few small hikes to the historic limekilns and a significant waterfall (be prepared to cross the creek a few times to get to the waterfall, but it's so worth it in the spring).
  • Lucia Lodge, 62400 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 831-667-2456, [43]. Coastal cabins with great views of the coastline ranging in price and privacy.
  • Post Ranch Inn, Highway 1 (2 miles south of Big Sur Village), 800-527-2200 or 831-667-2200, [44]. High end resort style accommodations, three pools, spas, and private decks. Sits 1200 feet above the Pacific.
  • Ragged Point Inn & Resort, 20 miles north of San Simieon on Highway 1, 805-927-4502, [45]. 30 rooms and a gourmet restaurant. Nearby stores, snacks and espresso.
  • Ripplewood Resort, Highway 1, 831-667-2242, [46].
  • Riverside Campground & Cabins, Highway 1, 831-667-2414, [47].
  • Treebones Resort, 71895 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 877-424-4787, [48]. Features 16 yurts and 5 campsites. Amenities include pool, hot tub, restaurant, gift shop, and lodge.
  • Ventana Inn & Spa, 28 miles south of Carmel, 831-667-2331 or 800-628-6500, [49]. Ultra-luxurious resort with all possible amentias including pools, hot tubs, sauna, restaurant, bar, and of course great views.
  • Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District 831-385-5434, [50].
  • Kirk creek campground. Just south of Lucia and Limekiln SP. All campsites are located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. There are few trees (much warmer than under the redwoods!) and the sites are on well kept grass. Amazing sunsets and decent bathrooms. There are a few nice short trails leading down to the beach.

Get out

To continue a trip going north on Highway 1 be sure to stop by Carmel and Monterey.

To continue a trip going south on Highway 1 more interesting stops include: Hearst Castle in San Simeon and San Luis Obispo.

Routes through Big Sur
MontereyCarmel  N noframe S  San SimeonSan Luis Obispo
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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