I find it easy to get bogged down by the daily grind of living in the heart of San Francisco. Even when I’m sitting in my room, door closed, there’s constant noise – people talking outside my window, the girl upstairs moving furniture, cars whizzing by and sirens in the distance. There’s a sort of balancing act in tempering the urge to demand your own space and recognizing that all these people crammed into your bus need to get to work as well. Sometimes it feels inescapable, especially for someone who grew up in a small, quiet, coastal town.
Therein lies the necessity of the weekend day trip. Despite how much I would love to have a longer trip planned every weekend, that’s not always feasible (and would not be doing justice to the remarkable amount of insanely cool places just outside the Bay Area that you don’t need to hop on a plane to see).
We road-tripped down the Big Sur, cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway for a day full of fresh air, sunshine, and epic views.
Ideally, when planning this trip I wanted to do a full weekend – stay at Deetjens, make a reservation for the storied hot springs at the Esalen Institute, and really immerse myself in the Big Sur lifestyle. While that dream will (hopefully) one day materialize, for this day trip I knew I wanted to hit the major sights and get an solid overview of the area.
Here’s what we did on the 3.5 hour drive south from San Francisco, to Big Sur:
+We left SF at around 10:30 am and drove directly down to Santa Cruz. Don't settle on the first place you see -- there’s plenty of little beachside cafes and restaurants to choose from and we decided we were too hasty with our choice.
+After lunch we walked along the boardwalk and grabbed coffee at the phenomenal Verve Coffee, right in downtown Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is not what I expected -- tree-lined streets, a relaxed pace, and little stores and cafes make for a surprisingly charming visit.
+Caffeinated and ready to go, we drove directly down to Big Sur, driving past the town of Monterey (and the unexpected number of artichoke farms surrounding the area — come to find out, Castroville is the “Artichoke Capital of the World” aka “The Vegetable You Always Forget Exists Capital of the World).
+Bixby Creek Bridge: This was our first stop and our first glimpse of the protruding emerald cliffs of the Big Sur region coast. Bixby Creek Bridge is an icon of this stretch of coast California and definitely worth pulling over to snap a few pics. A few miles down the road, an older woman was painting the landscape — all very picturesque. Thus began our winding drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. Cue your 70s throwback jams playlist.
+McWay Falls: We stopped at a little grocery for snacks and waters then continued on towards McWay Falls. You realize upon arrival that no picture will do this view justice — surrounded by rocks, the falls empty out into a frothy, turquoise inlet that meets the Pacific in a surprisingly bright array of colors. There was something very tropical and exotic about McWay Falls, in a very distinctly California region.
+Henry Miller Library: We pulled off the PCH to the Henry Miller Memorial Library and this is where the heyday of Big Sur became apparent. A haven to writers, musicians, and artists of the Beat Generation, Big Sur lent itself to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Keroac, and Joan Baez (to name a recognizable few), garnering attention as a destination for contemplation and openness. The library is full of postcards, books, and other souvenirs (as well as several sleepy cats inside and ping pong in the front yard). Well worth a stop for some Henry Miller-inspired reading list additions.
+Nepenthe: A cliffside, open-air restaurant and bar that offers up spectacular views of the Pacific. An expansive menu and full bar = best way to end a day in Big Sur.
The best part about Big Sur is that there isn't an overwhelming amount of things to do so you can truly take your time. This area has a rich history, and our day was a welcomed combination of culture and nature. The winding drive provides so many breathtaking views of this famed stretch of California coast and rushing it will definitely detract from the experience. Relax here - there are few places where land and water converge that are as beautiful as Big Sur.