Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Highway 1: SF to Big Sur for July 4th

San Francisco is not known for its fireworks. It's foggy, there's a drought, the temperature hovers around 60 degrees, and unknowing tourists flock to the city.  Blessed with a four day vacation, we decided instead to make our way from San Francisco to Carmel and eventually to Big Sur by driving down the infamous Highway 1.

It was challenging to drive more than two miles before wanting to stop in front of an abandoned barn, a cliff leading into the ocean, or a field of bright yellow flowers. The only advice I'd give roadtrippers is to go slowly.

Some of the highlights of the trip included the scenic 17 mile drive past the 18th hole at Pebble Beach (which come to find out isn't a beach, but a golfer's dream), a sunset picnic on Carmel Beach (an actual beach), an adventure across a newly built (and mildly terrifying) bridge to reach one of the best views on Highway 1, a drive across Bixby Bridge (and a pit stop to take pictures while standing on the side of a cliff), a visit to the Henry Miller Library, a short hike to McWay Waterfall, and a visit to Pfeiffer Beach (seriously the most beautiful beach ever).

Pfeiffer Beach can be tricky to find, but if you can find it, it is absolutely worth it. The best advice I was given was to locate the only road between the State Park and the Post Office. That road takes you 2 miles down a one-lane drive that seemingly leads to the middle of no-where. Eventually, that road drops you off at a tiny parking lot that leads into a secluded beach surrounded by rocky cliffs. It's exactly what you imagine but a million times better.

The drive from Carmel to Big Sur takes about 40 minutes if you drive it without stopping, but no one should stay in their car that whole time - it's simply too beautiful. One of our stops on the way from Carmel to Big Sur was at Bixby Bridge.  Most tourists stationed themselves on the coastal side of the bridge, but we ventured out to the other side, which I highly recommend because it provides a view of the cliffs, the bridge, and the coast.

One of the most iconic stops we made was at The Lone Cypress in Carmel. If you Google it, you'll likely read that it is "the most photographed tree in America." One crazy writer even says, "It stands along famously scenic 17-Mile Drive, raked by wind, swaddled in fog, clinging to its wave-lashed granite pedestal like God's own advertisement for rugged individualism." I don't know about all that, but it was pretty cool to see a single tree growing out of a cliff in the middle of the water.

Another often photographed spot is McWay Falls. The real directions say to go to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which straddles Highway 1, about 36 miles south of Carmel. But if you want the easiest way to find it, simply search for a ton of cars parked on the side of the road and gaggles of tourists toting large cameras set to automatic. Follow the half-mile trail and you will have amazing views of the tiny but dramatic waterfall and the beautiful coastal bluffs. Just be careful not to block anyone's view with your selfie.

All of the "official" stops along Highway 1 are great, but also be sure to stop at the less touristy runoffs as well. You'll find great views of the coast (and of the fog).

It's a super fun place to take photos. Tim gets all the credit for these last three...

One thing that caught me off guard was that one beach would be foggy, chilly, and windy and then a beach 2 miles down the road would be calm, sunny and warm. It makes it hard to know what to wear. I ended up wearing a bunch of layers and bringing an extra "summer" outfit in the car. Don't leave your bathing suit behind just because it seems cold - who knows, you might find a beach that's 80 degrees! 


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