A perfect California day includes sunshine with temperatures around 70 degrees, an outdoor cafe, driving along the coast on Old California Highway One, stopping at overlooks, hiking some trails and discovering a beach or two. Our Day in Carmel and Big Sur was perfect! We planned our route over coffee, crab and eggs at “From Scratch” in Carmel. The sunny patio was wreathed in arbors overflowing with scented yellow and fuchsia blooms. Carmel is a quaint village with cute, English-style cottages, galleries and trendy shops stacked on a hillside overlooking Carmel Bay. It resembles Niagara on the Lake in Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia. Neither of those places can boast that its Mayor was once Clint Eastwood as they do in Carmel! We sadly did not spot “The Man with No Name” while we were there.
image from Google
Touring on the iconic California One is an adventure with its steep hills and sharp curves that suggest you might fly off the edge of the cliff at any moment. It was a beautiful but harrowing experience in our motor home a couple of years ago yet a more tranquil drive in our car this time. Our first stop was at Point Lobos State Park where two stony peninsulas jut out into the ocean. The northern point is more rugged with an array of gorgeous wind-sculpted trees whose roots grip the rocky boulders. Some rock faces were adorned with a flowering succulent plant that fell across the surface like a waterfall. Poison Oak, some dry and some with fresh leaves, grows everywhere and hikers must be aware not to touch it at any stage. The Pacific’s waves crashed dramatically against the ragged rocks that define the California Coast. A romp of sea otters floated nearby, camouflaged with kelp leaves. The protected turquoise waters of Whaler’s Cove provided solitude for sea birds and breathtaking views for visitors. The southern hike crosses more barren rock cliffs which sit above China Bay where Sea lions lounge on the beach and frolic in the waves. Their scent “L’eau de Dead Fish” is potent and discourages any lingering.
Continuing south, we stopped at the beautiful Bixby Bridge, constructed in the 1930’s and standing nobly as a landmark near Hurricane Point. There are a number of lighthouses along the coast and we viewed the Point Sur Lighthouse in silhouette through haze. If the lighthouse were not closed for renovation, we would have stopped for a climb. Miles on each side of California One are designated ranchland. We saw a rancher on horseback leading his cattle along a ridge, how cool! A variety of classic homes sit atop the highest cliffs precariously balanced, taking in spectacular views.
Further south, travelers enter the cool forests of Big Sur at the feet of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Big Sur, an unexplored, unmapped wilderness area in the early 1800’s was named by the Spanish “El Sur Grande” meaning The Big South. In the 1830’s Big Sur supported a vigorous Redwood lumbering industry using the Old Coast Trail which was transformed into California’s first scenic highway by 1937. Big Sur River runs along the edge of the forests that support a variety of conifers and oak. Luckily many redwoods were spared the axe of former logging in the area. There are a sprinkling of lodges and cabins all constructed in the 1940’s and 1950’s with rustic logs and hewn wood furnishings. These days the cabins that simply held a couple of beds, a table and a lamp have indoor plumbing and fireplaces. A riverside porch in Big Sur beside a Giant Redwood, provided the perfect location for us to enjoy ice cream cones.
Our final destination came at the end of a single lane dirt road and a $10.00 fee at the entrance booth. Pfeiffer Beach National Forest was a great beach destination to explore. The rip tide prevents swimming but the scenic rocks, caves, surf and unusual purple sand are well worth a visit. Green sea urchins, stars and muscles cling to the rocks that were constantly smashed by waves. The rusty-sand cliffs, similar to many along Highway One, are carved and furrowed by nature into gorgeous sculptures. Exploring the rocks, ambling along the beach and wave-watching wrapped up our day.