Exploring Big Sur
Big Sur has long been on my (Andrea's) "to visit" list. Specifically, the Bixby Bridge. I plotted ways to get to this bridge even when I lived much further away in the midwest, so this trip has been on the radar for some time. We had planned a long anniversary trip up the coast back in August, but our cat Zoe had some bad luck and got injured, so we had to stay home with her. The trip was cancelled, and honestly, we were heartbroken for both the cancelled trip and our poor kitty.
Fast forward to Christmas time - we had a few days off work and had planned on mostly just relaxing and staying local. We planned an overnight in Joshua Tree, but at 9 o'clock on the night before, due to freezing weather in the desert, Kim jokingly said, "hey, we could go to Big Sur". We laughed, then paused, then said "why not". We rapidly re-packed our bags and changed our itinerary. And this brings us to this blog post... a few days of exploring the California central coast, and specifically, the Big Sur area. (Also, our Big Sur camping post.)
We headed up the coast on the historical Highway 1. This road gradually gets more narrow (and more gorgeous) the further north you go, and there are plenty of spots to pull over and snap a photo. We stopped a lot, as is natural for wandering photographers. Stops also occurred due to whales spouting and flapping fins at us several times. The water is a shade of blue that is just stunning. This is a beautiful highway to drive as it follows the coast and beautiful cliffs and water and forest.
We opted for a fairly straight shot up the coast in order to get to a campsite at a reasonable hour. We anticipated full campgrounds, as most of them take reservations and stay full for months at a time. Knowing that we chose this route very last minute, we were prepared for a situation where we might have to hike to camp, but were very hopeful for a campsite with fire-pit!
We took small detours to catch a glimpse of Morro Rock, to watch cows in the distance roaming right next to the water, and to simply glance over the coast and be in awe of how beautiful it all is.
Gorda General Store
We stopped at this little "town" called Gorda on the way up the coast because we needed fire wood. This is next to a little gas station with rather expensive fuel - like plan on two times the going rate, it was $5.99 when we were there. Getting gas in Cambria is a good idea, and you can likely dodge the prices at this little market. The General Store was our stop for firewood because we try to "buy it where we burn it". While we were a little relieved to have found a bundle of wood, it was unfortunately quite overpriced. We opted for only one $20 bundle, since we weren't even sure we'd be able to have a fire.
Camping - Plaskett Creek to Kirk Creek
Our first option for camping was at Plaskett Creek Campground, which was a large, somewhat crowded camp on the inland side of the 1. There were a few sites that looked like tent spots, but they were almost all full. We had originally hoped to get a spot on the water side of the highway, so we opted to try our luck at a second campground - Kirk Creek Campground. We arrived to a very full campground, but stopped to speak with the camp host, and found that one spot (#24) was available. We grabbed it right away. We'll cover the camping in more detail in another blog, but I will say that this campground is ideal for ocean views, the sound of waves crashing as you sleep, and beautiful sunset views.
This campground has a trail that leads directly down the cliffs and right to the ocean. We grabbed cameras and took off, hiking through the woods and lots of overgrown greenery. We enjoyed watching the sun begin to set from a very rocky beach with waves rolling in.
Unfortunately, we didn't know that much of the greenery was poison oak - which is very rampant in this campground. Kim had a very rough couple of weeks with poison oak after this trip!
The next morning, we quickly packed up our stuff, since we could only have the site for one night, and obtained a new site, again thanks to help from the camp host. With a campsite secured for another night we headed north on Highway 1. We saw even more whales that morning, as the water seemed to be more calm and they were much more visible.
The Great Bixby Creek Bridge
We eventually arrived at the great Bixby Bridge. A large crowd had gathered at the tiny parking area near the road, but that parking area has a dirt road that continues up the hill and around the open valley below. We drove up and enjoyed the views of the bridge with the water behind it, without crowds of people all around us. The bridge itself is quite beautiful, especially if you take a moment to appreciate the history of it and how it came to be.
We headed back south towards the campgrounds after a bit of time at the bridge. Along the way, we stopped at the Big Sur Bakery for some souvenirs and snacks. There is also a small gas station here, if needed - again, quite expensive!
McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Continuing south towards Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, we stopped to take the brief walk out to McWay Falls. This is a short hike, from a very busy road. Parking is available at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for a fee, but we opted for free street parking. We ended up parking about 1/4 mile down the road and walking up to the trail. The trail is clearly marked and easy to follow - mostly just follow the other people walking (and signs). Once out at the overlook, the falls and cove are easily seen. The water in this cove seems exceptionally blue, and the beach is stunning in its untouched state.
We explored various other places along the coast - there are many spots to pull over and enjoy the views. We headed back down to the campground and rebuilt our site (#20) and got a fire going, with our $8 bundle of wood (purchased right at the campground). The wind was getting very strong at that point, and we were hunkering down as best as we could. We opted for going to bed a bit earlier this night due to the high winds and lower temperatures.
A large rainstorm moved over the coast at some point during the night, and we woke up to the rather loud, but awesome sound of a downpour on our tent. We managed to sleep through most of it, and even better, managed to stay dry in our Marmot tent! When morning came and the rain finally moved off, we crawled out to a soaked campsite and tried to start packing up what we could. The day got off to a slower start, but it was actually quite fun - our first camping rainstorm!
San Simeon Elephant Seals
Eventually, we started on the trek back home. This time, we took a lengthy detour in San Simeon to see the elephant seals at the rookery. There are several little spots along the way where these creatures gather, so keep your eyes open and you might find some laying near the boundary. Depending on the season, be prepared for some fighting among the seals, but they will mostly all just be napping and cuddling. (Also, note, they do not smell very good!) They are all along the coast opposite of Hearst Castle, if you should need help finding them.
The central coast of California has so much to offer. We know we drove past quite a few places that would have been worth exploring further. We also know that we will be taking this drive again, so we'll pick a few different things to explore each time. The next coast goal is to drag us all the way up to Fort Bragg. Glass Beach is on the "to visit" list right under that bridge! Next time!
All photos taken by Andrea & Kim
Cameras: Mamiya M645 1000S, Nikon D750
Film: Kodak Portra 400