The Rugged Beauty of the Big Sur Coast

Beach Essentials

Where: Between Cramel and San Simeon, California, USA
When: December for the stormy beauty and whale watching
Happenings: California grey whale watching, horseriding amongst meadow wild flowers, beachcoming by rugged cliffs
Remember to Bring: A taste for adventure


Where It’s At

The 90 mile stretch of coastline known as Big Sur lies along the route of Highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeon. It’s name is an amalgamation of the Spanish ‘El Sur Grande’ and it’s English translation ‘the Big South’. The name ‘Big Sur’ refers to the spectacular cliffs, beaches and forests south of Monterey and Carmel. The stark natural beauty of this place where the San Lucia mountains meet the Pacific Ocean has inspired great artists, writers and soul-searchers such as Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, and has been dubbed ‘the greatest meeting of land and water in the world’.

How to Get There

Highway 1 winds its way along this coastline and numerous turnoffs allow for panoramic views of the sea, deep blue ocean waves, and in the spring, the spouts of migrating whales offshore. A whole day is needed to get from Monterey to Los Angeles by the coastal Highway 1 which passesHearst Castle, a good afternoon stop off site.


When to Go

Although winter is the rainy season in this part of the United States, the rugged natural beauty of the coastline is in it’s stormy element. The hillsides around Big Sur are lush and green and in December the woods are carpeted with wild flowers. Even during the summer months this part of California tends to be cooler and foggier than the sun-baked stretches of sand in the south, so come prepared with some warm clothing.


While some of the Big Sur coastline is private property closed to the public, there are several State Park and U.S. Forest Service beaches which offer breathtaking scenery and a host of recreational activities:

– Go horseback riding in Andrew Molera State Park, with it’s meadows of wild flowers, fantastic views of the coastal mountain range and sandy cove.

– Wander down to Pfeiffer Beach, where the sun sets spectacularly behind off-shore arch-shaped rock formations.

– Crescent-shaped Sand Dollar Beach is Big Sur’s sandiest stretch and is the best protected from the elements. Nearby Jade Cove is popular with beachcombers scouring the shore for a semi-precious souvenir of their trip.

– From the coast all the way up to the 3,000 foot ridges far above, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a woodland paradise with redwood, tan oak, madrone and chaparral, with an 80-foot waterfall and panoramic views of the ocean from granite cliffs.

– Big Sur is on the bi-annual migratory route of the Californian Grey Whale, as it makes its way back and forth between the chilly Bering and Chukchi Seas and the warmer waters of Baja California. To catch a glimpse of this majestic mammal visit Big Sur between December and February or March and May. You don’t even need to organise a boat trip, as the whales swim so close to the shore you can spot them from road-side lay-bys.

– The annual Big Sur Jazz Fest takes place each May, when artists and musicians converge on the coast and put on world-class performances in the area’s restaurants, bars and even out of doors in the State Parks.

– Ansel Adams, the legendary photographer, frequently photographed this place and travellers interested in his stunning black and white photography should make time for the Ansel Adams museum store in downtown Monterey. Just down the street from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which highlights the flaura and fauna of the Monterey Bay, the Ansel Adams museum store sells authenticated prints from Mr. Adams along with books on this famous American’s life.

– Just south of Big Sur is Nepenthes, a rustic home that has been turned into a popular restaurant seving basic American fare in one of the most spectacular settings; as you eat your food feast on the magnificent views of the Big Sur coast. It gets cold here in the summer what with the fog, but in spring, autumn and winter the weather is enjoyable and fresh.



Big Sur Jazz Fest
Schedules up-to-date information about artists taking part in this year’s Jazz Fest.

Big Sur Chamber of Commerce
An excellent resource containing information about what to see and where to stay in Big Sur, as well as listings of local businesses.

Ansel Adams Gallery
View and shop for the legendary photographers scenic prints

Heart of the Coast
A Daily Titan Big Sur Travel Article