See More Than the Coastal Highway in Big Sur
Big Sur occupies such a long, narrow stretch of the California coast that it's easy to think you can see it all from the two-lane Pacific Coast Highway. After all, you don't even have to leave the car to get sweeping Big Sur views, from the Santa Lucia Mountains out to the blue Pacific horizon. The area's businesses are all on the highway, too, like the terrific Big Sur Bakery, which serves steamed mussels and wild king salmon as refined as anything in the big city, or the Post Ranch Inn, where the price of a single cocktail gets you the finest sunset view in North America. But the area's tiny trails and side roads wind down cliff faces into hidden canyons and secluded beaches even more impressive than the postcard vistas. Andrew Molera State Park, at Big Sur's northern end, has campsites right where the Big Sur River meanders through coastal forest. A narrow dirt trail follows that river to a vast white-sand beach, where you couldn't see a guardrail or scenic turnout if you tried. Better still, a giant rocky headland blocks prevailing winds to make ideal conditions for bodysurfing, boogie boarding, or all-day lounging. Drive south to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, leave your car in lot 3, follow the paved path over the plank bridge through the campground to the river, and you'll happen upon one of the prettiest little swimming holes in California. And if you're still not done exploring, there's the absurdly beautiful Kirk Creek Campground, nestled into meadow grasses along the edge of a 100-foot sea cliff. A steep footpath leads down to a rocky little beach so secluded it might as well be in Alaska, and the nearby Nacimiento-Fergusson Road leads inland toward the summit of 5,000-foot Cone Peak. You can get a good look at the highway from there.