Bixby Bridge and Big Sur beachcombing

It’s not difficult to see why Big Sur regularly appears on lists of top destinations to visit. Magnificent mountain scenery, towering redwood forests, wildlife encounters, and a beautiful wild coastline along the mighty Pacific Ocean, make it a treat for the senses. It was a warning on the State Park website that most appealed to me though. Big Sur is a place where getting a mobile phone signal is almost impossible.

Here, just a few hours drive from the tech hub of San Francisco, you can leave the digital world behind. We decided to embrace this idea and headed to the coast for a day of low tech beachcombing … nearby Pfeiffer Beach was the perfect place to start our explorations, even if there’s a $10 fee to visit. Maybe that was why no one else was on the beach.

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Pfeiffer Beach is a wonderful crescent-shaped arc of sand, backed by cliffs and hills. Famous for many reasons, it’s mostly known for two huge rocks sitting in the cove. These both have holes in them that look a little like caves. As the Pacific Ocean waves pound into the rocks the water is channeled through the holes and spews out white, foamy spray.

The beach is also famous for having purple-coloured sand, caused by manganese garnet being washed down from the surrounding hills when it rains. We didn’t see the purple sand, but this is a fantastic beach no matter what colour the sand.

Big Sur, California, United States

Big Sur, California, United States

Big Sur, California, United States

Big Sur, California, United States

Point Sur, Big Sur, California, United States

Point Sur, Big Sur, California, United States

We were driving towards Carmel-by-the-Sea and, after a refreshing walk along Pfeiffer Beach, we headed north towards Andrew Molera State Beach. This is where the Big Sur River meets the Pacific Ocean, and is all windswept natural beauty. It has to be one of the most beautiful beaches along this coast. It was also, surprisingly, deserted

We strolled in grand isolation with just the sound of the wind and ocean for company. It’s a short walk to the beach from a nearby carpark. The walk entails wading through the Big Sur River, the water isn’t very deep and the beach definitely makes getting a little wet worthwhile. The short trail passes through a picturesque meadow where, on our return, we came across some deer.

Walk to Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Walk to Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Deer near Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Deer near Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Deer near Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

Deer near Molera Beach, Big Sur, California, United States

We carried on north, soon passing over the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. The bridge ranks up there as being (almost) as well known as the Golden Gate, but that’s just about where the comparisons end. Built in 1932, just a few years before the Golden Gate, it carries less than 5,000 cars per day. The single concrete arch has a timeless quality, and is dramatically set into the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

It’s well worth stopping to admire the views from one of several roadside parking spots, but for Jack Kerouac fans this is virtually a place of pilgrimage. It was here, while drunkenly marauding around like a madman, that he wrote the novel Big Sur and the poem Sea.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California, United States

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California, United States

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California, United States

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California, United States

Big Sur, California, United States

Big Sur, California, United States

We decided to stay in the wine region of the Carmel Valley, a short drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea, but stopped briefly to visit the famous Carmel Mission. Our real reason for coming here was to hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It’s a beautiful place with an abundance of wildlife. The scenery is magnificent, but we also saw several sea otters, seals and sea lions.

This really is a beautiful area, criss-crossed with walking trails with only a handful of people on them. It was the perfect end to a day of Californian beachcombing, made all the more satisfying in the knowledge that we could sample some Carmel Valley wines at the end of our drive.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Sea Otter, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Sea Otter, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Sea lions, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Sea lions, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Seal, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Seal, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States

California’s rugged Pacific coast, Morro Bay to Big Sur

Waking early, just as the sun was rising, we headed down to the shoreline of Morro Bay where it overlooks the harbour and the town’s stand out sight, the 576-foot Morro Rock. The waters were as calm as the town was quiet. Boats bobbed gently in the harbour, sea birds wheeled overhead, and groups of pelicans hurtled past on important fishing missions. It was the definition of tranquil.

Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California, United States

Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

We went for a walk along the water front in the refreshingly cool early morning air. There were a few dog walkers but, as we left the streets behind, we saw no one else. Illuminated by the sun on the other side of the bay were rolling sand dunes, part of a protected area and wildlife haven. You often get sea otters here. Not this morning sadly, but we would have plenty of spotting opportunities further up the coast.

Morro Bay looked like a lovely town, and with nearby beaches we could easily have spent a couple of days relaxing here. That wasn’t to be. We had just enough time to have coffee and some breakfast before setting off up the rugged Pacific Coast, which stretches for hundreds of kilometres north of here.

Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California, United States

Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Morro Bay, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Our destination for the day was a ‘rustic’ wooden cabin amongst some trees in the Big Sur State Park. It looked cosily picturesque on the website, the sort of place you’d enjoy arriving after a day on the road. Looks can be deceiving apparently. ‘Rustic’ translated as ‘the world’s least comfortable bed’. I had the worst nights’ sleep of our entire trip.

Leaving Morro Bay behind, we were soon on State Route 1 passing along the broad sweep of Estero Bay. We decided this looked too tempting and stopped to take a walk on the near-deserted beach. It was beautiful in the soft morning sunlight.

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Wild beach, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Back on Highway 1, we passed through several small towns that are dotted along the coast. We skipped going on a guided tour of Hearst Castle in favour of a pit stop to see one of the natural wonders of this coast: the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas. In the peak season, there are as many as 17,000 seals that call this stretch of coast home and the beaches become packed with blubber.

The day we arrived at a boardwalk viewing point with information boards, there were a few hundred seals wallowing in the sand and soaking up the sun. They are enormous creatures that spend most of their lives in the ocean, and they don’t exactly look comfortable on land, although they can still move faster on the sand than humans.

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Seals, Pacific Coast, California, United States

The road north of Piedras Blancas hugs the precipitous coastline and is one of the most celebrated routes in the US. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful roads you’re ever likely to drive. The closer you get to Big Sur the more mountainous the route becomes. At some points the mountains plunge into the ocean and the road begins to twist and turn, dramatically revealing fabulous vistas over the Pacific Ocean.

The route from Morro Bay to Carmel-be-the-Sea is only around 200 kilometres, and we weren’t even going that far, but this is not a road to drive too quickly. There are too many glorious views to be had, and too many hairpin corners to negotiate for that. We took most of the day to make the trip, arriving at our cabin as the sun was setting. We bought some provisions and settled down for a night under the stars in Big Sur.

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Pacific Coast, California, United States

Home for the night, Pacific Coast, California, United States

Home for the night, Pacific Coast, California, United States