how to live, travel and explore the world from your van

Big Sur California  

Big Sur Chamber of Commerce 831-667-2100 is very helpful for this large area of the United States.

Pfeiffer Beach is one of many hidden gems in Big Sur. It is the most popular access point and can only be accessed by locating unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, the only paved ungated road west of Highway 1 between Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Find the turnout, make a sharp turn then drive 2 miles down the very winding road. Do NOT pull a trailer down here. Cliffs tower over the breathtaking stretch of beach and a huge arch rock formation offshore makes spectacular sunsets completely unforgettable.

big sur california coast and beach picture


Sand Dollar Beach is located one mile south of Us Forest Service Station in Pacific Valley and 14 miles north of San Luis Obispo County line. Across the highway from Plaskett Creek Campground a stairway leads you down to a great bluff protected, less visited, super wide expanse of white sand. You can see the 5,000+ foot Cone Peak from here. Visit here if you have the time. Big Sur refers to the 90-mile stretch of wild and rugged beautiful coastline between Carmel in the North and San Simeon's Hearst Castle area in the south. Electricity still does not extend the entire length of the coast nor does it go up into all the remote mountainous areas.

This stretch is actually California's first to be designated, as a "scenic highway", which means the highway itself is so distinctive it is a destination unto itself. It is more heavily wooded than many areas of California and some campgrounds tend to be smoky due to many campfires and dense tree cover keeping the smoke from evaporating.

We drove up highway 1 to Big Sur and stayed in one of the roadside Inn’s parking lots. There are very few places to park overnight through this area so pay attention when you are driving through to pick your spot before it gets dark. The roads are not lit, they are winding and often dangerous at night in the fog. You may find that paying to stay in some of the campgrounds is worth the $20 to $25 a night but we didn't. If you plan to hike for a week or so pay to stay in a campground with hot showers as this will help make the extraordinary days unforgettable. Though there are thousands of acres to explore in the deep wooded forests through here. We chose to spend most our time on the coast and beach areas. Keep in mind around much of this drive you are far inland way off the ocean so do not expect to see the sea much.

One day we spent around Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This is where you can see the extraordinary McWay Falls on the beach. Think about it. How many waterfalls can you see in the contiguous United States that empty directly on to the sandy beach and flow into a crystal clear bay leading directly to the sea? The ocean was a tremendous color of turquoise blue fading to azure blue as it got deeper and dotted with pods of green kelp swaying back and forth. The bottom of the waterfall is off limits as the cliffs leading down are extremely dangerous and every year many people fall off and cannot get back out. Many are hurt, many die and each person everyone gets charged a minimum of $700 for the rescue if they make it out.

big sur california coast, rocks and beach picture

The overlook is some 50 feet up over the falls and we saw the birds landing and taking off over the ocean and beach. Across the street you can pay to Day Park in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or park on the road and walk through the park to the trail that leads to the waterfall. If you are only going to be there an hour to see the falls, save the money, park on the street, walk in. If you want to spend all day here like we did, pay $6, park, use the restrooms, get water, and hike the Canyon upstream along the river through the dark pine and redwood forest. Many trails make it so it's not crowed and the views are varied and worth spending the day exploring.

WARNING! Poison oak is a toxic plant found on nearly every trail we went on. Don't come in contact with it at all! Exposure to poison oak can be spread by pets, kids, clothes, equipment, lawn chairs, blankets, touching, and even burning it. If you come in contact with it immediately remove as much of the "pain" as you can with cold water and soap. The leafs have three blades, with prominent veins and a shiny surface at times and even turn a reddish color during Fall and Summer.

big sur california coast rabbit on beach picture

Afterwards we drove north to Carmel-by-the-Sea, which turned out to be one of the nicest areas of California for biking, jogging, hanging out, and house looking through unique architecturally diverse neighborhoods. You can easily Vanabode™ through here and spend up to a month. Make sure you come in June or July as any other time can get cold. Big Sur is a spectacular, expansive example of a major California park complete with amenties, wildlife, and rugged outdoor adventure - Big Sur California.

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