92 mi / 148 km
San Luis Obispo (SBP)
Just a mention of the Big Sur is usually enough to conjure images of wave-sprayed rocks jutting from the Pacific Ocean, mist-cloaked coastal mountains, and pebble beaches washed by waterfalls. Well…you get all that and more on this 92-mile drive from San Simeon up to Monterey. It's one for the ages, so buckle in.
The start of the Santa Lucia Mountains that create the sheer drama of the Big Sur is heralded by the grand mansion of Hearst Castle. The onetime home of news tycoon William Randolph Hearst, it's a place at once beautiful and strange, with elements of the Baroque, the Gothic, and the Rococo all fused together in a mishmash of an estate that reveals the unusual life and eccentricities of Hearst himself.
Construction of this incredible estate begun all the way back in 1919, with things coming to a complete halt a full 28 years later due to financial constraints and Hearst's declining health. During its hayday it was a hub for Hollywood celebrities, political figures, and influential personalities of the time. Hearst himself, known for his extravagant parties, hosted guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable, among many others.
The estate's main building, known as Casa Grande or the "Big House," serves as the focal point of Hearst Castle. It boasts 165 rooms, including grand halls, ornate libraries, opulent bedrooms, and an awe-inspiring indoor Roman-style pool adorned with intricate mosaics. The Big House also houses an extensive collection of fine art, antiques, and rare artifacts, curated by Hearst himself during his worldly travels.
The Cabrillo Highway paves the way from there. It wiggles along the sides of the Pacific past the galumphing elephant seals at Piedras Blanca, where you can get just about as close as it's possible to get to those colossal creatures. Then it goes by breathtaking Ragged Point, home to an iconic tavern where you can glug Cali craft ales to what's known as the "Million Dollar View" – we'll let you discover why.
This is where the Big Sur itself begins in earnest. The sierras creep ever closer to the ocean. The roadway tightens. The bends hairpin on precipitous cliffs; over deep gorges and canyons.
Soon, you'll be wowed by the sights of McWay Falls. The poster boy of the Big Sur, it's a paradisiacal bay that looks totally untouched by humans. The cherry on top is an 80-foot waterfall that brushes off the pine-topped headland and straight onto the beach.
There's a chance to balance out the wildness with a bit of culture next. As lush redwood groves begin to pop up between the ridges, one hides the Henry Miller Memorial Library. It's a peaceful, meditative place that chronicles the life and works of one of America's most groundbreaking literary figures. But it's also a cutting-edge arts space that hosts rock bands and subversive writing forums.
The final 14 miles of the Big Sur is often hailed as the loveliest of the lot. It starts with the swell-battered Point Sur Lighthouse, which gives way to bays of sweeping kelp forests inhabited by sea otters and seals. Then comes the majestic bridge at Castle Rock Viewpoint, one of the must-stop photo ops of the Big Sur.
Finally, you'll hit California's most charming seaside town: Carmel-by-the-Sea. It's so darn enchanting, with its Comstock cottages and pine-studded shores, that you'll surely want to move in. An average home going for a cool $2.9 million, though – so keep on saving!
In the early 1920s, the city government of Carmel-by-the-Sea enacted a law that will likely knock your socks off! It became prohibited to wear high-heeled shoes - that is without an official permit of course!
The reasoning? High-heeled shoes could potentially cause damage to the city's sidewalks, which were made of soft, sandy soil. To enforce this regulation, women were required to obtain a permit if they wished to wear high-heeled shoes in public. I guess high heels arn't just clunking noisy... In Carmel they can be downright destructive too!
The drive along the coast of Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea is a captivating adventure that takes you from nature's grandeur to the enchanting streets of a town steeped in art and culture. It is a journey that ignites the senses and nurtures the spirit, leaving you with a profound appreciation for the wonders of this remarkable coastal region.
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