by Renee Brincks
Five must-see stops on the California coast!
Winding 90 miles through breathtaking Big Sur, Highway 1 is the
quintessential California road trip and some of its most stunning scenery
starts just south of the Monterey Peninsula.
The spectacular route presents a constant supply of postcard-perfect
vistas, from jagged cliffs to arched-bottom bridges to the plump Santa
Lucia Mountains reaching up more than 5,000 feet. Along the way,
campgrounds, rustic lodges and luxe oceanfront resorts tempt travelers to
stay and explore.
Whether sightseeing with friends or on a solo sojourn, Big Sur promises
peace and perspective attainable in no other place. So, call the girls,
grab a camera and head for Highway 1 – and when you go coastal, don¹t miss
these five sites.
BIG SUR RIVER INN
South of Carmel, atop soaring sea-view curves, salty air seasons the
scenery along Highway 1. Beyond Andrew Molera State Park, where the road
wiggles away from the coast into a valley of pines and wild greens, the
Big Sur River Inn sits amidst a cluster of campgrounds, galleries and
With 20 tidy rooms, including a handful of two-room river view suites, the
inn offers true relaxation among the redwoods.
Established in 1934, before Highway 1 was a paved road, the Big Sur River
Inn was originally called “Apple Pie Inn” in honor of the hot pie that was
a local favorite then and still sweetens the menu today. Other tasty
treats at the on-site restaurant range from thick milkshakes and bacon
cheeseburgers to organic mixed greens and almond crusted trout.
The River Inn’s lush back lawn slopes down to the Big Sur River, where
guests can pull deck chairs into the shallow current and kick back in the
sunshine. On Sunday afternoons in the summer, the inn hosts live music on
the restaurant’s outdoor patio. Locals and guests alike pack the patio
and adjacent hill, while barefoot children giggle and chase and splash in
A front row blanket on the grass, live jazz and a little goat cheese and
Portobello appetizer? It¹s a diva’s dream.
A favorite restaurant and gathering place for travelers, artists and
locals, Nepenthe has enchanted guests since 1949 with its legendary ocean
views, remarkable wine list and scrumptious ambrosia burgers.
Still, what makes this famed setting on the sea even more magical is its
The tale begins when a young Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles visited the
Big Sur coast on a break from selling war bonds in San Francisco.
Venturing up a dirt path, the couple came across a cabin overlooking the
Pacific. Instantly charmed, they pulled together a $167 down payment and
planned their private retreat. Locals say the pair never returned.
Bill and Lolly Fassett purchased the property from Hayworth and Welles in
1947 and moved in with their five children. Building a Frank Lloyd
Wright-inspired structure from native redwood and adobe, they called their
creation Nepenthe – Greek for “isle of no care.”
This is, indeed, the place to let cares fall away. Whether over dinner at
Nepenthe Restaurant or while sipping coffee at the adjacent Café Kevah,
contemplative souls come here to sit on the outdoor deck and gaze out to
where the ocean meets the sky.
Guests shouldn’t miss the downstairs Phoenix Shop, featuring all things
funky and fine – from imported fabrics and locally made jewelry, to
fragrant incense and inspiring toys, to unique house wares, books and
HENRY MILLER LIBRARY
Not really a library at all, this part museum, part bookstore, part solace
stop for the road weary draws travelers who come for a glimpse into the
life of a rebel writer and stay for intellectual chatter and creative
Henry Miller never actually lived on the redwood-shrouded grounds of the
library – but he did make his home on nearby Partington Ridge from 1944 to
1962. Emil White, an artist and close friend of Miller, founded the
memorial library just a year after the writer passed away.
Though Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were once banned
in the U.S. for obscenity, his work is now often listed among the classics
of American literature. The library honors his freethinking spirit with
an eclectic collection of books, art and outdoor sculptures (think old
computer monitors arranged totem-style).
Bringing its own kind of cultural clout to Big Sur, the Henry Miller
Library hosts writing workshops, lectures, open-air concerts and the
annual West Coast Poetry Slam competition, which takes place each July.
One of Big Sur’s most scenic secrets is Pfeiffer Beach.
The beach is a beauty – and so beloved by locals that, according to
legend, signs directing visitors to the shore have been repeatedly pinched
in an effort to keep its existence a secret. Today, no signs along
Highway 1 announce the beach, but it is accessible from Sycamore Canyon
Road about one mile south of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance.
Sycamore Canyon is a narrow, snaking road that leads to a paved parking
lot and a sandy, tree-lined path. The path opens into Pfeiffer Beach,
rimmed by rocky ridges and coastal tide pools. Boulders with tunnels
resembling giant keyholes, carved by hammering surf and salt, sit just off
shore; to the right, the beach¹s soft sands take on a purple tinge.
This is no sunny, southern California seashore. In fact, when the winds
are strong, Pfeiffer Beach can be absolutely chilly. Still, a setting so
striking is worth a few goose bumps.
London, San Francisco, New York City…many major destinations draw
travelers with distinctive bridges, and Big Sur is no exception. The
soaring Bixby Bridge, set 260 feet above a stream that empties into the
Pacific, is one of the ten highest single-span bridges in the world.
Built with the help of convict laborers in the early 1930s, the bridge is
a study in strength and elegance. Over 700 feet long and featuring
sweeping concrete arches, it is one of the most photographed icons along
the Big Sur coast. A favorite of both photographers and film crews, the
Bixby Bridge also serves as a backdrop in Jack Kerouac’s 1962 novel, Big
Bixby Bridge is 18 miles south of Carmel and gravel pullouts at the
bridge’s north end offer clear close-up views. Driving south, where
Highway 1 heads up steep cliffside curves, additional turnoffs present
vistas of the bridge and the surrounding hills and canyons.
* * * *
For More Information:
Big Sur River Inn
Highway One at Pheneger Creek
Big Sur, CA 93920
Highway One, 29 miles south of Carmel
Big Sur, CA 93920
Henry Miller Library
Highway One, 30 miles south of Carmel
Big Sur, CA 93920
Highway 1 at Sycamore Canyon Road, 26 miles south of Carmel’s Rio Road Big
$5 entrance/parking fee
Highway 1, approximately 18 miles south of Carmel’s Rio Road
Big Sur, CA
Big Sur Chamber of Commerce: www.bigsurcalifornia.org
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.montereyinfo.org
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