October 2017 – our tickets were bought a month beforehand to visit Napa and Sonoma, California, but the devastating wild fires, still uncontrolled at the time, caused us to rethink our destination. Friends and family gave us great advice on visiting the Monterey and Carmel area. We could not have asked for a more beautiful and fun adventure than we pulled off with a last minute change in plans.
Starting at Half Moon Bay, a fairly easy but windy-road trip from the San Fransisco airport, we used Highway 1 as the anchor for our adventures. We drove as far north as Pacifica and almost to the southern end of Big Sur until last spring’s land slides still blocked the roadway.
Half Moon Bay
In Half Moon Bay, we had our first view of the expansive Pacific Ocean at Half Mood Bay State Beach. Our day-pass for just $10 ($9 for seniors) allowed us access to all sate parks and beaches. The wind was warm, the sun was shining and the skies were clear, but the water was so cold!
The waves continuously and relentlessly rushing in to the beach reminded me of the nearly ever-constant wind in central and western Kansas. We were alternatively warm or chilled depended on whether the prevailing wind was from the east (inlands) or the west (over the ocean).
Traveling up the coast toward Pacifica, we stopped for sightseeing at Montara and Gray Whale Cove state beaches. A parking lot on the eastern side of Hwy 1 provides access to several trail heads. We took one of the easier routes that provided excellent views.
Pigeon Point Light House State Historical Park
Further south, just past Pescadero, we stopped by Pigeon Point Lighthouse, first lit in 1872. The 115′ lighthouse, which is tied for the tallest lighthouse on the west coast, is now part of the Pigeon Park Light House State Historical Park, which includes the light house (currently closed to visitors), several building that historical housed mechanical works, an active hostel, a gift shop, and hiking areas. The wreck of the Carrier Pigeon in 1852 as well as several other vessels in the following years, prompted construction of the lighthouse at this location. As we made our way back up the coast several days later during foggy and overcast weather, it was evident how important a lighthouse was along this rocky stretch of coastline.
17 Mile Drive
Yet a bit further south along the coastline, we took the 17 Miler Drive tour through Pebble Beach, CA. Day visitors pay a fee of $10.25 to enter the gated city, which is reimbursed if you spend a certain amount at one of the local restaurants, shops or hotels. past the toll booth, you follow the dashed red line while driving through forested neighborhoods with posh houses and manicured lawns before reaching the stunning coast line. Although the day was brisk, we saw several people in wet suits surfing off the coast of Spanish Bay. Other outlooks along the coast offer views of the treacherously rocky coastline and hangouts for seals (who were absent the day we visited).
Hwy 1 through Big Sur starting from Carmel and traveling south completely captured our hearts. Spring rains of 2017 brought landslides that blocked many sections of the narrow and windy two-lane highway. In mid-October, just about a week before our visit, most the the highway bridges were opened, allowing residents to finally have free access from their homes to the outside world again, and visitors to explore the area and patronize local tourist-based businesses. The last several southerly most miles of 71-mile stretch of highway through Big Sur is expected to remain closed until sometime in late 2018.
Handling the tight curves and narrow roads offers limited time to enjoy the scenery, but there are many parking areas with overlooks along the side of the road from which the views are spectacular. It was remarkable to us how little shoreline development there was. Big Sur includes several large State Parks with hiking trails, camping areas and lodges. Just a short walk from the parking are at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers a beautiful view from the former home of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. A trail leads to the terraces of Waterfall House, the former home on the site, which was removed at the bequest of Hellen Hooper Brown, provides the public with wonderful sights that were formerly accessible only to the residents of the home.
Just 8 to 10 miles left to the southern end of Big Sur, the highway remained closed due to the landslides. Several restaurants, fortuitously located at the end of the open road, gathered in the adventurers who made it that far. We sat outside on the deck of the Whale Watcher Cafe and enjoyed a lovely, breezy light meal looking out at the ocean before heading back up the highway.