"The Greatest Meeting of Land & Sea"
Big Sur is located along Scenic Highway One approximately 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles. Historically, the name Big Sur, was derived from that unexplored and unmapped wilderness area which lays along the coast south of Monterey. It was simply called El Sur Grande, The Big South. Today, Big Sur refers to that 90-mile stretch of rugged and awesomely beautiful coastline between Carmel to the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south. Highway One winds along its length and is flanked on one side by the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains and on the other by the rocky Pacific Coast.
The view from the environmental camps at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, photo by Stan Russell
Although there were two Mexican land grants awarded in the 1830's, which included most of the area north of the Big Sur Valley, neither grantee settled on the land. It was little more than a century ago when the first permanent settlers arrived in Big Sur. In the following decades other hardy persons followed and staked out their homesteads.
The landmarks bear the names of many of those early settlers - Mt. Manuel, Pfeiffer Ridge, Post Summit, Cooper Point, Dani Ridge, Partington Cove and others. Some of their descendants still live in Big Sur.
At the turn of the century Big Sur sustained a larger population than it does today. A vigorous redwood lumbering industry provided livelihoods for many. The Old Coast Trail, which had been the only link between homesteads, was still little more than a wagon trail. Steamers transported heavy goods and supplies and harbored at Notley's Landing, Partington Cove, and the mouth of the Little Sur River.
Navigation was treacherous, and in 1889, the Point Sur Lighthouse Station began sending its powerful beam to protect ships from the hazards of the coastline.
In 1937, the present highway was completed after eighteen years of construction at a considerable expense even with the aid of convict labor. The highway has since been declared California's first Scenic Highway, and it provides a driving experience unsurpassed in natural beauty and scenic variety.
Electricity did not arrive in Big Sur until the early 1950's, and it still does not extend the length of the coast or into the more remote mountainous areas.
The proximity of the Pacific Ocean provides for a temperate climate. Winters are mild, and rainy days are interspersed with periods of bright sunshine. An average rainfall of over 50 inches fills the many streams that flow down the redwood-lined canyons. Coastal fog cools the summer mornings, but it usually lifts by early afternoon. The best weather is often during the spring and fall.
It is wise to include both warm and cold weather clothing when packing for Big Sur. A damp, foggy morning can be followed by a warm afternoon. In the interior valleys of the Wilderness Area, the temperatures are more extreme; the fog bank seldom crosses the coast ridge, so the days are likely to be hot and the nights chilly.
The scenic qualities and the natural grandeur of the coast which result from the imposing geography, the rich vegetative compositions, and the dramatic meetings of land and sea are the area's greatest single attraction to the public. Big Sur has attained a worldwide reputation for its spectacular beauty. Hiking, backpacking and scenic driving are major recreational activities.
Drive carefully. Highway One is one of the best maintained roads in the world, but its sharp curves and steep hills still preclude high speed driving. This breathtaking stretch of coastline has something to offer any visitor. So relax and enjoy the awesome beauty of the timeless Big Sur Coast.
Download our local Big Sur Visitors Guide in Adobe PDF.