By Joan Larsen
How could any one of us resist a world that is totally breathtaking? Just a plane’s flight away to California – not that many hours from any of our homes – lies a piece of heaven on this earth called Big Sur. A warning though: once seen, once under its spell, and you find you are drawn like a magnet back again and again.
It is that beautiful.
Just south of the enchanting village of Carmel along Route 1, you find yourself driving on a two lane curving coastal road that feels like a slow motion roller coaster.
Pull offs abound, usually on steep sea cliffs hanging over the Pacific, where you can sit, searching for whales, spouting or doing antics, as they make their way north or south, depending on the season.
You’ll spot trails, usually easy walks, leading down to overlooks to the most inaccessible beaches, hidden in coves.
There is always sea life at play. Always, lounging on their own white sand, you will see groups of seals and sometimes sea lions. Just taking in a bit of sun. Off shore, floating on their backs without a care in the world, are the most adorable of sea creatures – sea otters – often clutching a clam that is going to be lunch. I think these fellows get the prize for “cute”!
You’ll pass a lonely windswept hill that looks like an island in fog, probably wondering what it could be. DO stop if there are tours as this is the one and only 19th century lighthouse complex open to the public still. You won’t be sorry!
Soaking in the views of the wildflower-covered cliffs and the silky sand beaches, you know this is going to be far more than a day trip. Accommodations range from rustic cabins to tent camping in the many state parks along the road. But even if you are not up to 5-star resorts like Ventana or Post Ranch, visible to the ocean but beautifully hidden into the mountainside, do ask for a tour… and prepare to be blown away by their understated elegance. Like yurts from Mongolia for a different sort of night? Or how about stopping at the new Treebones… and blow your friends away by showing them that you have spent the night in a nest high in a tree that needs a tall ladder to get into??
At the village of Big Sur – as tiny as it gets – the road winds into a redwood forest with easy trails going to a world of incredible beauty a stone’s throw away from the ocean. Around here is the best place to see a California condor – looking like a small plane in the air.
Scenery unfolds around every corner of the road. But my own choice for the most breathtaking stops is the most beautifully situated waterfall on the California coast. McWay Falls drops off 80 feet in a picturesque cove opening out into the ocean. Park along the road and follow a short trail. Do not try to climb down to the beach as I did once. You will die.
Then… well, you must remember Elizabeth Taylor in The Sandpiper (if you are old enough!) Coming up is the narrow road to Pfieffer State Beach where it was filmed. It’s a little hike in but when you see the photo below you will know this is the most rejuvenating place to stay a while… a long while. Just a piece of heaven.
Every year I find myself back again in Big Sur – like 30 years now – it is the restaurant called Nepenthe that always has been my favorite restaurant on earth. Plan to spend hours lounging back on pillows, relaxing outside with glasses of wine and an assortment of culinary delights that are to be snacked on as the day goes by. Once the honeymoon cottage of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, we find it just as romantic in its setting and ambience as they must have. The uninterrupted views down the coast in everchanging light are mesmerizing.
When the sun sets the palette changes from blue and yellow to magenta and orange, the view from this special edge of the world always revitalizes our souls, calming our spirits. Being at one with nature is free. But you will find you have never felt richer.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”