Try the Off Season to See California’s Scenic Big Sur Coast Highway

Sunday, October 31 2010 19:00   Scenic Drives
If you've never driven the majectic Big Sur Coast Highway, California Route One, you need to add it to your bucket list. Seriously. If you've driven along the highway, but it's been awhile, there's never been a better time of year for you to go see it again.

Located between Central California's historic city of Monterey and the town of San Simeon, of Hearst Castle fame, Big Sur Coast Highway 1 hugs the California coast, providing access to austere, windswept cypress trees, fog-shrouded cliffs and the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean.

environmental_campsview1 Views include the blue Pacific, rugged canyons, towering redwoods, sea birds, sea lions and other marine life, such as the occasional migratory whale.

Some say the best time to experience Route One and the Big Sur Coast is from November to April. Average daytime temperatures typically range in the 60s with minor changes into the evenings.

While summer days often can be overcast, wintertime offers sunny days and clear evening views that make you feel as though you could reach out and touch the stars. Additionally, campgrounds and beaches are uncrowded, offering private getaways and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Just be sure to bring an extra sweater or warm jacket, and an extra blanket. It can get cool in the evenings.

If your vacation schedule is a bit tight, a day drive along the highway is wonderful all by itself. If you're coming north from Los Angeles, you might want to stay the night in San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay and get an early start.

lovely_cove If you're heading south from San Francisco, stay the night in Monterey then head along Route One. Besides, Monterey all by itself is a great stop, loaded with early Spanish California history. And of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium contains more than a hundred galleries and exhibits, each recreating some of the bay's many habitats.

If you have extra time, visit Carmel. Either way, don't rush your drive. Plan at least five hours for a trip along Route One. Friendly tip: Make sure you have a full tank of gas before you start exploring.

If you want to add a camping stop to add to your exploration of one of the most beautiful sections along the western edge of North America, you have several options.

You'll find six unique campgrounds in the Big Sur/Central Coast area including Botchers Gap, Kirk Creek, Ponderosa, Naciemiento, Plaskett Creek, and Cerro Alto. Experience five of the most beautiful day-use facilities in Big Sur, including Pfeiffer Beach, Mill Creek, Sand Dollar Beach and Willow Creek.

Each facility has something unique to offer, from breathtaking ocean views to miles of hiking and biking trails, whale watching, sea otter preserve, fishing, surfing, rivers for swimming and so much more.

The jewel along the way might be Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, located 26 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.

This beautiful 1,000-acre park features redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows - plus open meadows.

Wildlife includes black-tail deer, gray squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and birds, such as water ouzels and belted kingfishers. Hikers can enjoy the many scenic trails, including a self-guided nature trail.

bixby_bridge Some campsites are along the Big Sur River. For something a bit classy, try the Big Sur Lodge, located in the park .The lodge has 61 guest rooms, a conference center, cafe, and a grocery store. Meeting rooms have space for groups of 10 to 125. Other rooms are available for smaller meetings and workshops, some with fireplaces and kitchens.

But even if you don't stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the trip along Highway 1 is fantastic.

Wildlife is more abundant during the winter camping season as well.

Whales can be seen migrating from November-March at Kirk Creek and Sand Dollar Beach campgrounds. Find foxes at Plaskett Creek, deer and bobcat at Naciemiento and Ponderosa, sea otters at Kirk Creek and Mill Creek and elephant and pacific seals from any coastal campground.

Within a short drive or hike from many of these facilities exist excellent excursion opportunities. While staying at Ponderosa or Naciemiento campgrounds visit historic Mission San Antonio de Padua - one of the first in California.

From Plaskett Creek Campground you can walk to Sand Dollar Beach, the largest sandy beach on the southern Big Sur coastline, or to Jade Cove where you can hunt for this green rock prized by the Native Americans who used to inhabit the area.

Hike the Vicente Trail to Cone Peak - one of the tallest mountains in the Los Padres National Forest. Or access the Ventana Wilderness with breathtaking views of the "Ventana" - the geographic formation for which so many other things in Big Sur are named.

Hike along the streams in cool, tree-lined valleys. Climb up to high ridges on the western slopes for spectacular views of the coastline and gaze into three million acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest on the eastern slope. Big Sur is known for its peaceful atmosphere and tranquil setting.

We love Big Sur and Highway 1. The winding drive and beathtaking views are among our favorites in the West. A day drive? Maybe. But at the slightest temptation, we might plan a week. Just tell our boss we got lost.

Editor's note: some material for this story came from America's Byways.


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