A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"


Hiking through Big Sur

July 20th, 2006
Rugged Coastline

Rugged Coastline

Route 1 in California may be one of the prettiest drives in the country, and my favorite part is the stretch in Big Sur. This dramatic section of the shoreline is awesome. The Santa Lucia Mountains, which rise to over 5,000 feet in elevation, are perched right over the Pacific Ocean. This craggy coastline is filled with massive cliffs, rustic inlets, hidden canyons, beautiful waterfalls, towering redwoods, and secluded beaches. Although some of the hikes in these National Parks are strenuous, much of Big Sur can be enjoyed by everyone. Every time I visit Big Sur I like it even better.

Big Sur is a collection of National Parks offering considerable diversity. I remember visiting Big Sur a couple of years ago and going to Andrew Molera State Park. Rather than hiking, we explored on horseback. The guide took us through the redwood forest where the trees seemed to reach the clouds. We meandered through a grassy meadow dotted with sycamore trees that ascended to a bluff overlooking the beach. As we were heading down this isolated beach on horseback back, all that I could think was “does it get any better than this”?

We visited Big Sur again this past April, and I wanted to visit different parks. I am happy to report that each hike was quite unique and equally spectacular. The first morning it was raining and we went to Pfeiffer Beach. You drive down a
Arch at Pfeiffer Beach narrow paved road through a forest of Cypress trees.

Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

From the parking lot it is only a hundred yards till you exit the canopy of trees and reach the sand. Just a short distance up the beach you see some beautiful rock formations in the ocean. A huge arch is particular eye catching. These rock formations have been pounded by the waves and eroded by the winds. Walking along the beach, the sand is white and soft, and is filled with small stones that have been naturally polished by the sea. The towering headland cliffs beyond the sand beach makes this a very dramatic landscape.

Later that same afternoon we went to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park about ten miles south, and visited Partington Cove. You park your car on Route 1 and descend into Partington Canyon along an old dirt path. As you reach sea level, you need to walk through a 100 foot long wooden tunnel that has been cut through the cliffs. This leads to an isolated cove that was once used as a shipping dock. Today it is a mix of rocks, water, and seaweed. The good news is that this inlet can be a common refuge for sea otters and seals. Although this hike is only a mile round trip, it is very diverse with dense forest, a creek, an old historic tunnel, the ocean, and hopefully plenty of wildlife.

After visiting Partington Cove we headed back north on Route 1 and California Condor noticed considerable congestion on the road.

California Condor

California Condor

Cars were pulled over and people were running with their cameras. At this point on the road, the cliffs drop dramatically down to the ocean floor, and sailing right over our heads were a dozen Condors. This magnificent bird is massive, in fact it’s the largest bird in the world today. At maturity, their wingspan can reach ten feet. They are being raised in captivity in an effort to bolster the population of this species that was almost extinct. So these birds were very comfortable with humans and would sail right over your head. I ducked many times. It is hard to believe that these birds have a life span of sixty years, and as they fully mature their head turns pink. Obviously the ones I saw with five foot wing spans were still pretty young. Bird lover or not, seeing these birds up close is awesome.

On my last day in Big Sur I enjoyed Point Lobos State Reserve. This is the northern most park in Big Sur. This is the perfect park for the shoppers who want to spend most of their time in Carmel. Point Lobos is only about three miles south of Carmel, and has a series of hikes along the coast that are very easy, but also very rewarding. The one downside is being so accessible also means bigger crowds.

Point Lobos has several hiking trails that run along the coastline overlooking Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Cypress Grove trail is a short one mile The Surf near The Pinnacle loop that is packed with scenic beauty.

The Surf near The Pinnacle

The Surf near The Pinnacle

Spectacular trees including a Monterey cypress perch on the top of cliffs, adding color and unique contrast to the granite rocks. Half way around the loop is The Pinnacle which is a peninsula that serves as a great overlook. You can look across Carmel Bay and see Pebble Beach golf course….hey, is that Tiger Woods? Did you ever sit in front of a fireplace and get mesmerized, well that is what happens to me. I can sit for hours and watch the waves crash over the rocks and see the blue water turn into sea foam.

Another short hike from the same parking lot is a loop around Sea Lion Point. As you might guess from the name, this group of rocks is home to plenty of

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

animals. As you begin the hike you can hear the sea lions barking in the distance. Also found amongst these rocks are sea otters and harbor seals. The paths and steps make it easy to traverse the cliffs to many different vantage points of the coast. You also have access to an isolated crescent shaped beach. It is so cute to see the harbors seals bronzing on the rocks like the sun worshipers of Miami Beach.

One last hike worth taking within the Point Lobos Reserve is around

Wildflowers at Pelican Point

Wildflowers at Pelican Point

China Grove to Pelican Point. This hike is also an easy one mile loop. Towering pine trees line the trail providing a lushness to the scenery. This trail has beautiful vistas with rock arches, sea caves, and inlets with swimming seals tending to their babies. As you approach Pelican Point there is a stunning green meadow filled with wildflowers, the green plants with yellow and orange flowers are so vibrant against a background of blue water and gray rocks. On the other side of the meadow is a perfect view of Bird Island, a massive rock that is the nesting place for cormorants and brown pelicans. There were so many birds that you could barely see the rock. Wow, every turn is just jaw dropping.

What happens if it rains and you don’t feel like hiking? Well Carmel has been known to entertain people for many days. It is a really charming town filled with upscale boutiques, oodles of art galleries, creative craft stores, the best pet store I ever saw (Diggidy Dog), a super cheese shop, and many fine restaurants.

Although Carmel is expensive, Big Sur is accessible on any budget. On the high end, you can stay at Post Ranch Inn or Ventana which are right in the middle of the park, or the Highlands Inn which is just a bit further north and closer to Carmel. Big Sur Lodge and the Ripplewood Resort are two more moderately priced places to stay. And if you want to sleep in a yurt, check out the Treebones Resort. Camping sites are numerous and will certainly provide the most cost effective choice.

The summer through early fall is the period with the most sunshine, but I find this area fabulous even when it rains. Hopefully the next time you are traveling on Route 1 through California you will spend a few days in Big Sur, you will be well rewarded. The condors, harbor seals, and otters are looking forward to seeing you.

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2 Responses to “Hiking through Big Sur”

  1. agnes says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful posting, Ed.
    I’ve been wanting to go to Big Sur since 4 years ago and finally I’m going this September with my sister who’s visiting me from Japan (where she studies) (sorry too much details, I’m just super excited.)
    So I’m starting my research for this trip, looking for an easy hiking places, I’m not a pro at all.
    Thank you once again.

    • Ed McAniff says:

      Agnes, thanks for your comments. Big Sur is beautiful, but also accessible. There are many easy hikes (walks): Sea Lion Point, Cypress Grove Trail, Pfeiffer Beach, and McWay Falls to name a few. I’d recommend that you buy a book on hikes in the area. I used “Day Hikes Around Big Sur” by Robert Stone. You can probably order thru amazon.com. Have agreat trip.

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