Big Sur and the Fabulous Mr. Fog

My husband and I  woke up in our cozy hotel room in Carmel, California to the clamor from the heating unit under the window, and to a sunless gray sky beyond the checkered window curtains. A single day was our allotted time during a side trip from San Francisco, and our plan to spend it on the coast in Big Sur was threatened by a persistent drizzle and a fog that seemed to float in and out on a blanket of whispers.  A travel article I had read advised not to rush when driving along the stunning stretch of coastline between San Simeon and Carmel, that Big Sur should be explored leisurely so as not to miss the many sites between the curves and valleys.  We  had time constraints, but with this scenic stretch of coastal wonderland at our doorstep, the alternative of choosing another spot for the day was simply not an option. BIGSURBIXBY3There is a certain freedom that comes with the realization that you have 90 coastline miles of one of the most popular and beyond beautiful tourist destinations in the world to yourself, an aloneness that was almost guaranteed by the early hour and gloomy weather. Each mile driven further into “el sur grande” or “the big south” that morning defined the beauty of the area despite the mist that clung to it. The landscape’s tumble toward the sea was so captivating that my husband and I became victims of what I call the stop and go syndrome, the uncontrollable act of pulling over, jumping out of the car, running around in circles in wonder, and repeating every half mile or so. We spent a full day there, which is enough to experience the greatness of Big Sur, but two days would have been perfect.  Here are a few thoughts if it’s on your trip list:

  • Plan ahead. Get to know the area and the highlights. If you’re a hiker, there are a variety of hiking trails, (see Hiking Big Sur) or a tree lover, the Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are a must. If you love the ocean…you’ll feel as though you’ve come home.
  • Leave as early as your body clock will allow. Big Sur gets crowded, and if you’d like a little alone time on a bluff overlooking the Pacific you’re more likely to get it at 9:00 am vs. noon.
  • The weather is generally moderate year round, and I can’t imagine the area being anything but gorgeous no matter what the day throws at you.
  • Cell phone service is non-existent for many miles along the Big Sur Coast.  Print out hard copies of directions for your wish list, or screen shot them so you’ll have them handy on your phone.
  • The top attractions are the tops for a reason: Mcway Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Bixby Bridge to name a few.
  • Pfeiffer Beach was my favorite, but the most difficult to find. The long dirt road to the sea is hidden, and we had to pass by the turn off a few times before we realized where to go. Parking is limited and there is a fee, but the amazing views, purple streaked sand, and giant rock formations were awe-inspiring.
  • For lunch, the charming Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant served the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever devoured, and the bakery goods reminded me of a weekend at Grandma’s.
BIGSURMCWAY
McWay Falls

“The details, that’s what the world is made of.”

BIGSURLIGHT2 My feature header picture is of Point Sur Lighthouse located on the Northern end of Big Sur. It’s retro vibe reminded me of the 70’s styling of a Wes Anderson movie, one of my favorite filmmakers.  Tours of the park are available on scheduled days of each week. For more information see Point Sur Historic Park and Lighthouse.

72 comments

  • Thank you for taking me back. In the late 90’s my husband, 3 year old and parents and I got stranded in SF for 3 days enroute from Australia to NC due to snow storm in Chicago. My husband and I had been to Carmel, Monterey and Big Sur a few years earlier and loved it. So we hired a car and took the whole family there while we waited the 3 days for our flights to be rescheduled. Was fabulous, with such special memories. Lovely to see your beautiful photos.

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    • Hi, I like how you bounced back and turned your travel glitch into a wonderful adventure. During most of our visit to Northern California, and especially Big Sur, we were thinking how much our (college age) kids would have loved it. At their age, there are only a few places they still would like to see with their parents, and this is one of them! Take care, and thank you for your lovely comment.
      Elisa

      Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for the tips. I’ve heard about this area but never been. From your pictures, it does look like you had the place to yourself.

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    • I have a greater awareness for a place when there are less people around. Once the crowds arrive I start people watching, which is fun too, but distracting! Take care and have a great weekend!

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  • I feel as though your travelogues on California are better than ones drafted by actual Californians. I love the whole Big Sur drive, but my better half can only take so much of it. Car sickness and all from the curves. But it is still a wonderful trip.

    Another one we really like is Route 1 north of San Francisco to Pt. Reyes. Its a beautiful drive, and the park itself is incredible. Of course like Big Sur it is usually shrouded in fog. Thats part of the attractions. And if you really want an adventure, try a trip to Mendicino and Ft. Bragg. Do the cutover from Weed, Calif. a great trip through the coastal mountains to the sea, then a great road to both towns.

    Thanks for sharing your trip, and as you can probably tell, you’ve connected in to one of my favorite areas of the state. I’m glad that you had a wonderful time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Barney, you always make me feel at home in California, both live and in my writing. I was excited to read your travel tips, and book marked them on my computer – there is greater confidence in exploring an area when you have advice from a local.
      Take care, I know you’ll be enjoying your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Yes, less people is definitely more enjoyable on that highway – and safer too, given one’s tendency to gaze down the steep cliffs to stunning views of the Pacific. 🙂

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    • I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Big Sur, I kept thinking that we have Ireland right here in our own country. I’ve never heard anyone speak of the comparison. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • I feel as if I’ve come home 🙂 (I wish!) June gloom? My only experience of this neck of the woods. Swathed in mist is wonderfully romantic (and probably damp 🙂 ). Gorgeous, Elisa. I hope I’ll make it some day.

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    • Funny, the area did remind me of coastal Ireland and England, and yes the fog! I wasn’t prepared for it, and think a more experienced photographer would have known how to handle it better. At least with me you get the real thing! Ha. Thanks Jo, glad to see you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  • Gorgeous photos! This is one of my favorite places. I have this dream of, one day, living in Carmel. It will never happen, but it’s fun to dream. 🙂

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    • Hi Sylvia! Thank you, it was a wonderful day, and a reminder of how much you can do in a short time. I’m thinking of you on your journey, hoping you’re having a wonderful time!

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  • Big Sur and the fog, you got the premium trip. Better yet, the Point Sur Lighthouse is a haunted location. Ghost Adventures on The Travel Channel did an episode there.

    “Cell phone service is non-existent for many miles along the Big Sur Coast.”

    This is my way of traveling. None of the modern conveniences. Just the folded paper map, preferably by AAA. Deborah, ever the organizer, gets a bit antsy traveling without having at least a screenshot on her tablet or laptop. Elizabeth, not so much worried about getting lost: “If you missed your turn five miles back, you’ve seen five miles you otherwise might not have seen.”

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    • Honestly, I could have happily spent the entire day on Point Sur, I read about the lighthouse being haunted after our trip. A good reason to return, right, as a ghost buster. 🙂
      And your comment about the cell phone made me laugh at myself. It’s either North or South…pretty hard to get lost!

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  • Beautiful captures, Elisa! We visited the Big Sur several years ago, I didn’t get good photos, hope to visit there again in the new future. Thank you for the tips!

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    • Thanks, Amy. It’s one of those destinations that you need to go a second time to see all the things you missed the first time around. I guess that’s true of anywhere though!

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  • Beautiful! You hit all my favorite places. Next time finish the drive and see the Hearst Castle and elephant seals at Cambria, and then drive an inland loop back to the Bay Area through the winery region. Gorgeous area!

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  • Have I told you how much I have enjoyed your writing? This piece seamlessly carried me along the Big Sur, your dancing around in wonder – I could feel it come alive right before my eyes. We’re definitely making that road trip to the US one day! The last time I was there was almost 20 years ago. Thank you for this magnificent, gorgeous post Elisa. As always. Sharon x

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    • Thank you, Mélanie! I knew it would be a beautiful drive, but really I had no idea until we arrived. Sunny thoughts back to you, and take care,
      Elisa

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  • That looks like a stunning bit of coastline Elisa! The mist and the rain seems so appealing with our midday temperatures hitting 42C today. Big Sur Grande is now on my ever growing list of places to visit in the US. Thanks for the tips.

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    • I’ve often heard and read about the beauty of Big Sur, but had absolutely no idea that this coastline rivals the coast of Ireland in it’s majesty. Yes, put this high on your U.S. list. Actually, almost anywhere in Northern California is jaw dropping! You will need more time…

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post Karen. It was my first trip to Big Sur and once we arrived I thought, what on earth to us so long to visit? I hope you get the chance to soon, the beauty is life changing. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • What a stunning scenery. Your picture from McWay Falls – wow! I just heard about the oil spill on the coast of California but didn’t catch where it was. Hoping this beautiful stretch was not affected.

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  • Back in the 80s, we spent four years living on Fort Ord, an Army post in Monterey that has since closed. The fog slowly rolls its way out and back in like a blanket over the bay. The sun routinely burns it off. Best weather and natural scenery of anywhere I’ve been and I loved our time there. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

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    • I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been to experience the beauty of this area for 4 years. I’d love to see one sunset and one sunrise there, the fog was lovely in its way…but sun is always good! I’ve always wanted to visit Monterey, I’ve heard that the aquarium there is amazing. Thanks for stopping by, have a great week!
      Elisa

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  • I thoroughly enjoyed this drive with you, Elisa. I did it myself way back in the eighties so this was a very nice revisit. I wish I had been better prepared at that time, like I feel now after reading your post, but still, it was absolutely magic to drive along the coast. Gorgeous stretch of land and very beautiful photos!

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    • It’s a nice thought that we’ve both traveled the same road, experienced the same remarkable beauty and felt the same wonder of this stunning stretch of the California coast. And to think you were able to do it without GPS or a cell phone. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Dina, and hello to the rest of the four!
      Take care,
      Elisa

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, come to think of it, I doubt I’d the guts to do it again today, without GPS and a cell phone. 😉 I even survived five days in LA with a car! 😀 coming from the desert, driving into LA and being presented with the magnificent highway system left me speechless. What a marvelous, versatile land!
        Best regards from all us, Dina x

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  • I visited there many years ago. A spectacular place…we went horseback riding on the beach..some great memories. Your images are gorgeous and what beautiful atmosphere. You have me longing to go back!

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    • Hi Susan, and thank you. Now you have me longing to go back as well. A horseback ride on a beautiful beach in Big Sur sounds enchanting!

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  • I love your comment about “stop and go syndrome”. It’s definitely a chronic condition that I suffer from whenever I travel, and especially when I cruise up or down the Pacific Coast Highway. I have found my way back to that stretch of road every few years since 1984, and my “pull overs” increase in number and frequency with each recurring trip. So do the number of photographs I take. It’s as if I believe that I can take a little piece of the whole vibe back home with me every time.

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    • I know, it’s funny, isn’t it? Each time we stopped I would call out the line from the Meg Ryan movie, “French Kiss,” where she exclaims, “Beautiful! Gorgeous! Wish you were here!”

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  • Big Sur where Jack Kerouac wrote the Novel. ? . Great thanks for the pictures ☺ .

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  • Hi Elisa, I enjoyed this glimpse of Big Sur since we finally made it there earlier this year. While we drove Highway One on a May day when everything was bathed in sunlight, I like these atmospheric, mysterious captures. And that Grilled Cheese Sandwich sounds like something to return for!

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    • Thank you, Tricia. We kept waiting for the mist to “burn off,” but it never did. Hopefully when we return for another grilled cheese, the sun will be more cooperative! Glad you stopped by!

      Liked by 1 person

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