Tag Archives: Big Sur

The Most Scenic Road In The World: Highway 1

Nearly a century old, California State Route 1, or simply Hwy 1, connects Southern and Northern California along its coast. However, more importantly it connects people with coastal access while offering great views of the Pacific Ocean. Yet, lying roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is maybe Hwy 1’s most significant contribution with a spectacular stretch of thoroughfare along the Central Coast – arguably the most scenic road in the world.

Beginning to end

At the south end, Hwy 1 starts in Dana Point and moves north through Orange and Los Angeles Counties as Pacific Coast Highway. As it leaves the Greater L.A. area heading west and north, it slides along the flat farmlands of Oxnard in Ventura County before turning west again towards Santa Barbara and moving away from Southern California.

As the road enters the Central Coast, it goes up San Luis Obispo County beach region and this where Hwy 1 really comes into its own as a highway like no other. It strolls through the rugged coastline north along Big Sur into Monterey County – we’ll get back to this slice of heaven in a moment.

After the undulating shoreline of Monterey, the highway turns east before heading down into Santa Cruz. The road, called the Cabrillo Hwy in this region, shoots north again towards the San Francisco Peninsula and its own rocky prefectures.  After the Golden Gate Bridge, Hwy 1 becomes a two-lane road again as it winds it way along the western edge of Sonoma County before ending its scenic route along the Redwood-lined Mendocino coast.

Redwoods, Old Coast Rd

Big Sequoias abound in Big Sur.

Big Sur Highway

Nearly any part of this famous road is worth driving, but the diamond in this jewel of scenery is the Central Coast and most notably Big Sur. Words can’t describe the beauty, natural tapestry and pure breathtaking scenery that offers an experience unlike any other.

If you’re looking for a happening place with restaurants, hotels and parties, this ain’t the place. In fact, it’s one of the least populated areas in California. From the time one leaves Morro or Monterey Bay on either end and heads north or south respectively, you had better have plenty of gas and maybe a snack to get you by as you roll up and down along the back and forth heaving of a ocean edge.

Essentially, the picturesque point-to-point drive in particular that we’re talking about is from the small towns of Cambria to Carmel. There’s so much to see, you have to go slow and stop sometimes to take in the sheer magnificence of Big Sur. The only sounds you’ll hear are nature, whether it’s the ocean waves, the many birds, the California seal lions or the occasional waterfall.

Long … and fun 100 miles

Plan to spend a least half a day traversing this stunningly scenic 100 mile span. And note that you can actually drive the distance from Cambria to Carmel faster by backtracking east and going inland and up/down Hwy 101 and then west back to Hwy 1 than heading up the coastline … but what fun would that be?

Sometimes called the Big Sur Highway, exploring this expanse offers rewards beyond comprehension. From towering bridges and 1,000 foot cliffs with a crashing Pacific below, this awe-inspiring unspoiled land is filled with treasures to be discovered. There are giant Redwood forests (Sequoias) that can capture your imagination with real life sights and sounds. From Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Carmel to Moonstone Beach in Cambria, there are endless beaches to find and enjoy where bird and sealife abound. Here’s a tip: check out the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach.

purplesandbeach_12

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park really does have sand that is purple-tinged.

Unless the weather says otherwise – this craggy Big Sur coast has its fair share of nasty conditions including dense fog in the summer – a convertible is the preferred method of travel up and down this jaw-dropping and celebrated road. The views are dizzying and drivers should be careful.

Likely the world’s most scenic road, this great driving tour of California State Route 1 should be on anyone’s to-do or bucket list. The legendary twisting hugging and aptly named Hwy 1 road is waiting for you.

Source: Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, MapEasy’s Guidemap to California Hwy 1

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Santa Lucia Range

Living in wine country gives you a different perspective on geography. Or maybe more noticeably, the topography of land often dictates what you can or can’t do with an area as far as farming goes. When it comes to the California Central Coast, there’s no more dominant presence than the Coastal Range, which essentially is the Santa Lucia Range of mountains.

Santa Lucia Range - Coast

The Santa Lucia’s create a barrier between the cool Pacific Ocean and the inland valleys, such as the Salinas Valley and in our particular area, Paso Robles. Although the mountains top out at just over a mile high, the several mile wide range that runs roughly northwest to southeast, is enough to affect weather patterns and growing climates quite drastically. In fact, no other coastal region in the U.S. has as dramatic a rise in elevation as the Coastal Range does.

Named by explorer Sebastian Vizcaino of Spain, a little more than 400 years ago, the Santa Lucia’s run from Monterey Bay in the north, down to San Luis Obispo in the south. With its famous cliffs and panoramic views, one of the more famed scenic roads, Hwy 1, runs roughly along it’s western edge and also one of the most famous tourist stops in all the world, Big Sur, envelopes much of the northern and western parts of the Santa Lucias.

The highest point in these mountains is Junipero Serra Peak at 5,857 feet and smack dab in the middle of the Coastal Range – as the crow flies, maybe 10 miles west southwest of King City. During the winter, snow can be seen around the long relatively flat summit on a regular basis.

Not a lot here, plenty to see

Junipero Serra Peak

With Junipero Serra Peak in background, the Ventana Wilderness is a prime region within the Santa Lucia Range.

The Santa Lucia Range is sparsely populated and actually is made up of mostly state and national forests along with the nations largest Army command post (Fort Hunter-Liggett). Part of the Los Padres National Forest’s Ventana Wilderness encumbers a large portion of the Santa Lucia mountains.

The terrain in certain parts of the range, especially in the northern reaches, are incredibly rocky and shear. As such, the area is difficult to traverse with very few trails. The region is subject to earthquakes and the unsteady nature of the rock formations make climbing in the Santa Lucias quite a task. Pines, redwoods and oaks – such as dominate Paso Robles (‘pass of the oaks’) – are common throughout these mountains.

Wildlife abounds

Mountain lions are regulars in the Santa Lucias and now bears have worked their way up into the southern sections of the range, mainly in San Luis Obispo County. With almost no population, there is a lot of wild life throughout this pristine and rugged part of California. There are also indigenous trees found only in these parts, such as the Santa Lucia or Bristlecone Fir along with the Monterey Pine.

Big Sur

Big Sur encapsulates just part of the wonder that is the Santa Lucia Range.

The region is distinct with climes such as the Monterey Bay and Big Sur with their cool foggy weather set off against its southern neighbors like Paso Robles with their relatively dry and often hot days. In fact, its the Santa Lucia Range that filters the cool Pacific Ocean from the interior valleys, making for such unique diurnals.

Some consider the Santa Lucia Range to contain at least half of all plant life grown in California. You likely won’t find anywhere else in the Golden State the combination of flora from the ‘two Californias’ (drier southeast versus the wetter northwest), as it’s not unusual to see Yuccas growing right along side Redwoods, especially in the Ventana Wilderness.

Enemy is fire

And speaking of Ventana, fires have damaged large portions of the Los Padres National Forest due in part to the governance from the state and more importantly federal agencies. Without proper care and management of this exceptional expanse of wilderness, brings devastation with total lack of conservation in mind. Deficiency of fire suppression in the Coastal Range has brought hellacious fires that consumed and produced huge loss of wildlife over the past decades, including a couple of raging infernos in June of 2008 that burned about 200,000 acres.

Big SurStill, tucked between the giant metropolitan population bases of the Bay Area and Greater L.A., this vast countryside has somehow stayed unspoiled. The region is rough and rugged while also being gorgeous yet delicate. With endemic fauna and inimitable beauty, the Santa Lucia Range offers one of the more exclusive regions rising up along the Pacific Ocean … or maybe all the world.

Additional sources: Cal FireCalifornia’s Wilderness Areas the Complete Guide Mountains and Coastal Ranges

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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