PURE CALIFORNIA BEAUTY
Famous coastline well worth spending a few days
By CARY ORDWAY
The Pacific coastline and old-growth forests are two of California's biggest scenic highlights — and these two natural wonders converge nicely at one of the state's most famous tourist attractions: Big Sur.
Located about 150 miles south of San Francisco, this part of the California coast offers non-stop amazement for travelers willing to drive the curvy Scenic Highway 1 the 90 miles of coastline that today encompass the Big Sur California scenic recreation area. Visitors see new panoramas around every curve — pristine beaches, craggy mountain ledges, fascinating rock formations amid swirling, sometimes angry coastal waters and, of course, the giant redwood trees that swallow up tiny vacationers posing for their vacation photographs.
Keep in mind, this road was not easy to build. Your scenic experience today comes at the expense of convict labor that was brought in over the 18 years prior to the completion of the road in 1937. Until Highway 1 was completed, most of this highway probably wasn't much wider than a harrowing goat path along the side of the steep coastal mountains.
While many travelers drive through Big Sur California on the way to someplace else, the area is also a prime destination that offers a variety of accommodations and enough hiking to keep visitors occupied for weeks. Several state parks and campgrounds are tucked into the coves or carved out of the forests to give vacationers an authentic camping experience and entry to the wilderness by way of numerous well-marked trails. A few cabin resorts are scattered along the coast and there are even a couple of high-end luxury resorts charging upward of $700 a night.
We felt we had just the right combination of amenities with the Big Sur Lodge, the only accommodations located in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This resort offers 62 housekeeping cottages spread throughout the park where trailheads and those big trees are never far away. While the cottages offer many resort amenities — big, spacious living rooms with comfortable new furniture, spacious bath areas with shampoos and lotions, a massive heated swimming pool footsteps from your unit — the overall feel was like going to summer camp (for those of us who can remember that far back). There were no phones, no televisions and,even in June, night-time temperatures were cold enough to start a real fire in the cottage's real fireplace.
Our unit featured two queen beds, one in a bedroom area and one in the "great room" or living room part of the cottage. These facilities are perfect for families with some units suitable for up to six people. A full-service restaurant is on the property — indeed, we were pleasantly surprised that our dinner there was high-quality and fair-priced, and not substandard just because the lodge has a quasi-monopoly. A few other restaurants are scattered up and down Highway 1 but our guess was that many guests at Big Sur Lodge were fully utilizing the kitchen facilities that are available in many of the cottages.
For hikers, this kind of destination is paradise. While it did get warm in the afternoon, the mornings during our June visit were crisp and ideal for walking through the thick forests of oak and redwood trees to waterfalls or climbing to vantage points offering even more spectacular views of the Big Sur coastline. All trails we were on seemed to be well-maintained. The trails in Big Sur California also were varied in both scenery and levels of exertion. We took easy trails out to watch waterfalls cascade onto scenic beaches as well as more difficult switchback trails up into the Santa Lucia Mountains.
The morning was good for hiking, while afternoon was the best time to drive the coast, stopping along the way to visit some of the shops, general stores and bakeries that you come across every few miles. One gets the impression that many of the "hippies" from the 1960's ended up here at Big Sur where, today, they enjoy a no-frills back-to-nature lifestyle selling various natural or locally produced products. There definitely is a new age flavor in many of the shops that is apparent from the music, fragrances and product offerings.
Another Big Sur point of interest is the historic Point Sur Lighthouse. Located about 19 miles south of Carmel, this lighthouse has been designated a State Historic Landmark and sits 361 feet above the ocean where it operated from the mid-19th century until l972, keeping ships away from the coastal rocks during foggy weather. Docent-led tours are given every Saturday and 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.