A few weeks ago we took a weekend trip to Big Sur, a stretch of central California where wind-swept coastal mountains drop, in a big hurry, down to meet the Pacific Ocean. It’s true that many coastlines are scenic and are able to captivate us humans, but this is an unusually atmospheric place where the land, water, and air come together to make something special. We might always think of our continent in East to West terms. That being so, North America ends in a particularly dramatic way at Big Sur, beautiful to the very last.
Although it’s often spoken of as if it’s a town, Big Sur is actually more of a geographic area: there’s no town or even village, just a few small roadside stops stretched miles apart along the winding Pacific Coast Hwy.
There are very few lodging opportunities in Big Sur itself, but it’s doable as a day trip from the Bay Area. For a more relaxed experience befitting the scenery, I’d recommend staying just north of Big Sur in the towns of Carmel or Monterey.
We stayed a few miles inland of Carmel where the fog clears earlier in the day, and the climate brings to mind Italy or the south of France.
If beautiful scenery, beaches, and general relaxation aren’t your thing (I feel for you if that’s the case), the area’s major tourist “activities” are golf, which we didn’t do, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which we did.
This stretch of coastline, including Monterey Bay, has a particularly vibrant and diverse ecosystem, and the Aquarium does a great job of teaching you about it. The highlight of the visit and the centerpiece of the Aquarium is the gigantic tank holding the kelp forests, the wild version of which you can see in the top photo (brownish patches of water just offshore). Kelp needs waves to grow (the agitation of the water transports the nutrients the plants need to survive), so the Aquarium built an undulating, dynamic tank that’s utterly mesmerizing. Go early or late to avoid the crowds of screaming children, unless that’s your thing.