Having left Hearst Castle in the rear mirror and now well and truly on the road, our next stop was stunning Big Sur where we’d stay for the next three days. For this post, I’ve handed the writing reins over to my hubby Mark. Enjoy this amazing extensive review!
What people commonly refer to as Big Sur is a strip of coast that stretches from San Simeon in the south to Carmel in the north. The ‘park’ offers plenty to see within its bounds – state parks, rugged coastline, majestic redwoods, fine restaurants and the odd beach or two to soak your feet at – but the highlight is the voyage through itself, with each minor stop contributing to your ‘Big Sur’ experience.
Once you make it beyond Big Sur’s southern boundary, the aptly named Ragged Point, each switchback and crest in the road reveals a new turnoff point for a lookout, a bushwalk or cliffside eatery. LimeKiln State Park was one of our first stops and definitely worth the turn around if you miss it (you will invariably do this at some point – so don’t sweat it).
You’ll know the good stops anyway as the car parks will be crammed and you’ll find yourself parallel parking cliffside and facing a dicey walk back down the bitumen (usually into on coming traffic). Everyone’s doing it of course, so the tremendous danger feels somewhat familiar, especially as you watch a 9 year old walking his younger brother down along the crash rail in front of you.
And yes of course you’ve seen McWay Falls (pictured below) on a billion postcards, but it still manages to awe in real life, with its lazy seals cavorting amongst the turquoise water and its whales migrating off the coast. Pity you can’t actually swim at the beach, it’s birds only.
Big Sur attractions tend to come thicker and faster as you reach its middle, with turnoffs like Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur Bakery (which also has a great craft beer pub next door) and the way too expensive for us to stop at Post Ranch Inn. Accommodation options in the middle give you the benefit of exploring north or south without more than a half hour drive between stops.
For us that meant two nights at the rustic (and I cannot stress enough the interpretation required of ‘rustic’ in this case) Deetjens Big Sur Inn, which will either tear off a piece of your heart with its rickety accommodations and pioneer furnishings, or leave you sleepless and wondering how the bulk of the week’s accommodation budget disappeared so quickly.
Either way, Deetjens does have an excellent restaurant, more so than its close neighbour and better known Nepenthe which although deserving of all of its praise for the view, deserves less for its mostly 3 star dinner at 5 star prices. It’s the perfect spot to drink away the end of a long day on the road, just make dinner plans someplace else.
When it comes down to it, for many, Big Sur will be little more than a 3 hour tourist drive. It’s the kind of place that promises plenty to do, but makes little attempt to make it obvious exactly what to do first.
There’s bushwalking and taking pictures of bridges and picnics under the redwoods and overpriced food and breathtaking views, but thank god there are no tourist shopping districts, no museums (unless you count the Henry Miller Library), no monuments to gawk at or town squares to visit, no GPS guided walking tours and, for the most part, no mobile reception.
Instead, Big Sur offers up its arterial vein; a central path from which only the inquisitive will divert. In Big Sur it is up to you to regulate your pace and appetite for distraction. If you make it to Carmel in under 5 hours, more than likely you have not seen Big Sur at all.
So for those wanting to grasp Big Sur more fully, here are 5 tips:
1. Go into the park with a cooler (esky) full of food and drink (and probably make at least some of that drink beer). Picnics are a highlight, and searching for that elusive $10 lunch can eat up your time.
2. Accept that everything is expensive, but remember that your paying for the inconvenience of building a restaurant halfway up a rocky cliff in bushfire country.
3. Do some pre-trip research into the day hikes that interest you (here is a good site to start on). Discuss the options ahead of time with your travel party to avoid last minute highway turn off envy.
4. Accommodate near the middle. Big Sur’s attractions are more clustered at the northern end than the southern.
5. If you’re staying at Deetjens, pack your ear plugs or be prepared to fall asleep to the sound of migrating wildebeest on the floor above you.
Written by Mark Welker. Photography by Monique and Mark Welker