Carmel and the Big Sur

I hope you enjoy this post as much as we enjoyed driving this beautiful stretch of California coastline.

This is California’s version of the Great Ocean Road, and is as stunning as our own coastline.  It is an excellent driving experience with the road twisting and hugging the cliff.  To undertake this piece of central California coast road would require a drive of approximately five hours to complete at a leisurely pace.  The Big Sur is derived from a Spanish term, meaning the Big South.

We start the scenic part of the route in historic Monterey, visit the colony of Carmel, and threads our way through the Big Sur to around Nepenthe (it is marked on the map, spoken about extensively and is ONLY a restaurant!).  In this part of the world, the mountains plunge into the Pacific.



The town of Monterey served as California’s capital under Spanish, Mexican, and American flags.  Our main stop in this town was to have a decent coffee and plan our assault on the road ahead.  On the outskirts of Monterey, we were teased with some wonderful rugged coastal vistas.

After enjoying coffee in Monterey, we drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea, an upscale village of quaint colourful cottages, restaurants, shops, and art galleries fronted by a broad beach fringed with Monterey pines. But we reach Carmel in the most roundabout and possibly nicest fashion possible, the 17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach. 

The 17 Mile Drive takes us through the Del Monte forest and along dramatic coastline, dotted with lesser golf courses as we approach the big daddy.  We also need to be careful of the large number of cyclists along this winding piece of road, lest they become part of the scenery.

Now, we have all heard of Pebble Beach, famous for PGA golf tournaments (five US Opens and the Golden Bear has won here 5 times – an amateur, an open and some minors) and the classic car show and shine, where the cars are almost as valuable as the real estate.  This peninsula is essentially, a golfing mecca and the place for the beautiful (and not so beautiful) to be seen. 

…and of course, the Pebble beach cypress…the lone cypress which is the symbol of the Pebble Beach Company and has existed on this rocky outcrop for a couple of hundred years.

I think I swallowed more flies during this 17 mile drive than I had in my pervious 51 years – my mouth was agape taking in the surroundings.  Our final destination, Carmel, was our lunch stop and a lovely little French establishment was found.

After driving through Carmel and the highlands, where impressive houses perch on granite cliffs above the sea, we reached the start of Big Sur, which extends over 100 kms south to San Simeon. On this coastline, redwood groves reach skyward, the Santa Lucia Range plunges into the sea, waves are beaten to froth on ragged rocks and the wind whips around your earlobes, messing your hair (oh, the tragedy). It’s a place of such power that makes you wonder at the force of mother nature.

Our journey south brings us to the much photographed Bixby Bridge, a single-span concrete arch that spans a huge chasm below. We (or should I say I) gawk and take photos.

Ahead, the highway passes Hurricane Point, a place of big winds and big views, and then descends to the Little Sur River. Again, a large number of touring cyclists, laden with saddle-bags front and rear, grind their way up these large climbs. The descents on the bike are hairy as well, with the road shoulder covered in gravel.

Most of our viewing is towards the coastline but impressive landscapes also exist inland.  But, it’s toward the sea that is the most interesting and sand dunes soon appear, rolling toward the 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse.

Apart from the scenery, we had the fortune to witness sea-lions at play (and being lazy on the rocks)and sea otters ducking and diving for food.

This coastal road is as impressive as it is long.  The views are as big as its reputation…and some.  There were many opportunities where we could pull off the road and enjoy the vista before us.  This was a memorable and unhurried drive…now, if I had only hired that Mustang convertible…

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