Joan Larsen’s Travel: The World’s Most Spectacular Road – America’s Big Sur, Up Close and Personal

Posted on July 5, 2017


By Joan Larsen

We needed to have our breath taken away by an array of magnificent scenery, of stunning beauty that cannot be equaled – anywhere. We all seem to need beautiful “getaways” from the world we live in now.  And so, with a truly wonderful lifetime of adventures ‘round the world,  again we searched out California’s Big Sur coastline this year, and found that it still remains unequalled in its appeal to the peace and serenity all of us crave.

This road, carved along high and winding cliff sides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is only 60 miles long. . . but that drive should be oh-so- slow and leisurely.  Soaking in the mountains above, watching the waves and the whales below, really are best done by stopping at each of the many pull-offs that dot the route.  I personally call them “places to dally” . . . with convenient rocks to sit on and dream, trails going either up or down at times to get you up close-and-personal with a world of tiny creatures, miniature gardens of wildflowers and plants that line the hillsides on both sides.

Below, on beaches in coves hidden from the road, vacationing seals have claimed this untouched spot as their very own.  .  . and intrepid walkers can see them lounging and sunbathing, oblivious to onlookers.   We have to smile as they seem to imitate humans in their desire for “warm”.

We stop for trails – easy trails with little chance of accidents – but leading to secret trail ends in redwood forests – or in this one just above, called Partington Cove.  You actually park along the side of the road and head downward for an easy mile.  At its end, a reinforced rock tunnel – one that will not be forgotten ! – leads to the secret cove that is all yours.  I have never met another person there.  .  . and so, long ago, I claimed it as mine.

When driving, there is still another deep bend in this high road.  You are driving slowly so you must stop at the premier Coast Gallery.  Stop. . . as I promise you first that the architecture alone is one of a kind.  But you can lunch, have a latte on the upper deck and soak in the scenery, or go out back as I do to see the hidden secret gardens up the hillside with their beautiful sculpture.   The amazing art gallery with all its hidden rooms lies within.

The gallery is the home of famed sculptor Loet Vanderveen – and he lived on the mountainside above as he sculpted in bronze.  His work resides in the White House .   .  . and in my home as well.  His work of African animals is magnificent – and you can view my daughter’s acquisition of giraffes below.

However, my “other home”  actually is in Antarctica.   And so I was actually able to ask Loet if he would do a series of penguins for me – and for the world, of course – and so, from the Coast Gallery to my home, these are now my penguins.

Yes, this most magnificent road along the California coast has provided a day to remember.  .  . but I am saving my personal best forever memories for last.  Again, almost hidden on a winding curve is a magical place called Nepenthe, only 30 miles from Carmel.  I find it the most romantic place – yes, in the entire world — to once again toast to the wonderments of our life and this natural world all around us. But this spot is a place to very casually dine high up. . . and then find yourself lounging against the railing forever – just to take in the jagged coastline and call it your own.  Nepenthe? Well, I call it “my favorite restaurant in the world” for all those reasons – and more.   Many more.

I have tried to capture its magic with a few shots of the natural wonders of Nepenthe.  But only winding up the forested, lovely stairway with its carvings to its very top – looking seaward for umbrella-ed canopy views of the Pacific and the creatures that live there – can fully tell the tale.


All of us who have the wonderment of this world and the wanderlust to explore the places most beautiful – will find Big Sur, California, and its wondrous places to explore – along the most spectacular road in the world – to be THE getaway that should not be missed.


You truly should go.

Two dynamically opposite things happened this spring at Big Sur.  This year, every premier travel magazine has named this magnificent road on the United States’ Pacific the most spectacular road in the world.  But later winter was harsh, with more rain falling than has been seen in many many years.  A steep hillside at the south end of U.S. Route 1 became a landslide, covering that piece of road.  And then a smaller bridge’s foundations became precarious farther north.  The result: massive amounts of work are being done as I write to allow the whole of this coastal highway to re-open as soon as possible.  There is a great quotation, perfect for this time: The best things in life are worth waiting for.  This happens to be one of my own beliefs.  And so, my own plans are solid for another week in this wonderful world next spring. Do come, too.


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.”