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