Weekend Adventures Vol. 3: Big Sur, CA.
Posted on March 17, 2015
I’m reprising an old series here, “Weekend Adventures: The Art of Getting the Fuck Out”. I go in cycles with Los Angeles, like almost anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sometimes it’s the place. It’s the only place. It’s where I have to be and I’m thrilled with it. Sometimes I really need to get the fuck out. These are the chronicles.
My girlfriend and I go to Big Sur every few years. People ask me, what’s so great about Big Sur? What do you do? The answer, my friends, is everything and not much. And that’s what’s beautiful about it. Think about all the time you spend packing shit in on your weekends just trying desperately to get the most out of the few waning hours you have to royally fuck off. Now go on vacation to Big Sur and cut that shit out. You can do everything and you can do nothing. It’s your time, you’re an adult. Spend it as you wish. The best part about it is that you can be just as happy running around on trails as you can be with a beer in your hand and your feet dunked in the river. Last time we went we weren’t entirely prepared for it’s majesty and were blown away by it’s incredible splendor. This time around, we knew what we were getting into and prepared both our eyeballs and our tastebuds for what was to come. Stocking the car up with our usual pumpkin/sunflower seed blend and plenty of water and coffee, we hit the road. Click here for the full article and photo set.
First stop was San Luis Obispo. It’s a weird little town, home of Cal Poly, the Madonna Inn, and our hipster coffee fetish, Scout. We stopped in at Scout for a pastry and some more coffee and hit the road again, getting off the main roads and making our way to the coast. The drive up from Santa Monica to the San Luis Obispo area via the coastal road is great but it takes forever. My recommendation, for you fine wayfarers looking to do this in the future, is to take the freeway to SLO and make your way over from there.
Our next stop was Elephant Seal Beach which wasn’t nearly as lovely as last time as they were in high mating season. If you’ve ever experienced an Elephant Seal before, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s nothing short of horrifying. The noises they make sound like humans screaming and there’s literally hundreds of the giant slabs of blubber floundering around the beach, doing what seals do in high mating season. I’ll spare you the photos. We had a trepidatious laugh and hit the road.
The road from here is absolutely incredible. You lose cell service almost entirely shortly after this stop and for the rest of the trip, save for a few intentional moments, we were effectively off the grid. The winding Highway One takes you up the central coast, passing some of the very best of what California has to offer. Many of these shots of the coastline are from that drive with the exception of the waterfall which was in Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. An hour or so later and you’ve reached your extraordinarily tiny destination.
We stay at Glen Oaks Big Sur. I recommend it highly and it hasn’t changed much since we were there last with the exception of the addition of a series of cabins down by the Big Sur river. We’ll certainly look into these next time but we typically stay in the cheaper Motor Lodge. Glen Oaks is an old motor hotel that’s been converted into a yuppie’s paradise. Heated pebble floors in the bathroom, rain shower heads, fantastic beds, fire pits, mid-century modern inspired decor, and a central location that puts you in easy access to all of the natural attractions and the restaurants. You will likely have to drive when you’re in Big Sur. Walking along Highway One, especially any hours other than peak is a sure way to get clipped by a speeding motorist.
We went on a hike we did a few years ago, the Panorama Trail at Andrew Molera State Park. It’s my second favorite hike we’ve ever done next to the Vernal Falls Trail in Yosemite and my understanding is that we do the hike backwards, starting at the beach and finishing at the parking lot. Typically there’s a bridge to help you ford the Big Sur River to get to the beach area from the parking lot though this year there was none. We took off our shoes and waded across the thigh-deep freezing water along with several other hikers. I’m not saying it’s harmless but crossing the river itself was a fairly easy task. I was carrying a DSLR camera and was mildly nervous but made it across safely none the less.
The beach here is probably the most fantastic beach I’ve ever seen. It’s frequently deserted, save for maybe one or two others, and is massive. A sheer rock face on one side bends around to cliffs rising from the sea as you make your way south on the coast. There were surfers here on this particular day and the trademark driftwood shelter structures were in place. We made our way up the trail and enjoyed the fantastic hike, taking you in total through a river, a beach, several meadows, a forest, a mountain, and back down through some redwoods. All-in-all it’s between 9-11 miles and while challenging, not impossible. This isn’t an LA hike. There’s no water along the way so pack accordingly.
We had a drink at the incredibly glitzy Post Ranch Inn where perhaps one day we’ll stay but for now can’t reasonably justify the incredible price per night. The Manhattan I had while overlooking the sun crashing into the Pacific at sunset was ungodly expensive but also unbelievably delicious after a hard day’s hike. The restaurant/bar itself is situated on the top of a very tall cliff so your views are seemingly endless. This is probably the best view of the sunset you can get in Big Sur and might ever have, ever, so I highly recommend you try to stop in here for a drink. I hear the food is mediocre so go right when they open and beg ’em to let you booze up. Dinner that night was at Big Sur Bakery, a now-permanent staple for us in our travels to Big Sur. I don’t remember what we had but as you grow older and your ventures away from home more precious, you realize that in the end it’s not what’s on your plate that matters.
We had breakfast at Big Sur Bakery again the next two days consisting of pastries and coffee. The coffee’s not great, coming from someone who spent their early years working in the specialty coffee industry, but it’s literally the best you’re going to get for hundreds of miles. That afternoon we visited a rustic roadside motel/burrito bar that had adirondack chairs situated in the Big Sur River so that you could sit with your feet soaking while chowing down on some distinctly not-so-local fare.
Our drive back was somewhat unremarkable. We passed through Carmel heading north to catch the freeway at a faster spot. I don’t recommend visiting here. Pass on through. On the way back we cut through some farmland (thanks, Waze) that took us past the spot where James Dean was killed in a car accident many years before. While the weekend was fantastic, getting home was great, too. It’s always wonderful to come back refreshed and now having a dog to greet us made it even better.
I highly recommend visiting. Here’s links to the places we ate/drank/stayed with.