Big Sur, CA to Lucia, CA

26.7 mi / 9.7 mph / 2302 ft. climbing
Home: Limekiln State Park campsite

We were up at 5:45am, in an attempt to get out on the roads before most of the car tourists even had their pants on.

My conglomeration of mouse-proofing attempts was successful: no mice got to our food this night. Or, maybe my mouse-proofing was a waste of time; as a control in this experiment (or a sacrificial anode), I’d left a few chocolate chips in the other food box, with unsealed holes, and they looked untouched too. Maybe their hot-pad feast the previous night had left them sated? Soft-boiled eggs (at least the $9 eggs were really good!), waffles (for Rett) and oatmeal (for me), along with coffee, got us going and on the road at a record-early 8:30am.

#FindRett on the bridge leaving the hiker/biker site at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, on December 1st.

The day began with a gut-busting 700 ft. climb out of the valley and back to the coast, but our early start helped Rett manage the traffic stress better, and the horses we saw upon returning to the ocean, in the most improbable, incredible, impregnable pasture imaginable, kept her mood high. I was glad she had the extra capacity to enjoy the place we were riding through much more than our previous ride.

Big Sur horses on a cliff 500 ft. above the Pacific.
If you zoom in, the same horses can be seen at the top-right mountain top.
#FindRett requires serious zoom-in on this epic Big Sur landscape.
Big Creek Bridge: more arches than Bixby, but less-bright.

For a few weeks now, we’ve been hearing people saying things like “are you going through Big Sur? It’s my favorite place on the coast”, or “make sure you go through Big Sur, there’s nothing else like it.” To which my (mostly-internal) is response has been “but have you been to the southern Oregon coast? Or Northern California? Or Sonoma?” Not in a competitive, judgy, or disbelieving way, but purely factual: in order for me to accurately gauge your superlatives about Big Sur, I need a frame of reference, to know what else you’ve seen.

It turns out that Rett and I independently came to the same conclusion: what makes Big Sur unique is not its rocks-in-the-water, its road high above the waves, or even its spectacular bridges. All of those things exist perhaps even more-spectacularly at other parts of the Pacific Coast. What makes it unique is the consistency of all of those things. For mile after mile, the unbelievable views unfold unobstructed and undiminished. And despite the consistency, the quality and variety is high enough that it never becomes “normal”. I still don’t know if it’s the best section of the coast, but I certainly won’t argue with anyone who subscribes to that view.

Dealing with drivers on intermittent-shoulder Highway 1.
Less than 300 miles to Los Angeles!

One thing that was slightly underwhelming was our stop at the “must see” McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. A high waterfall pouring directly into the beach sounds cool, and is something I’ve never seen before, but for whatever reason, seeing it in person didn’t improve on the pictures I’d seen. Maybe it was because the only viewpoint was from on high, and it was partially closed. Being able to walk around its impact crater in the sand would have made it a lot better, but the beach is inaccessible to anyone without rappelling gear.

McWay Falls, a unique waterfall spilling straight to the beach.
McWay Falls cove, with the falls on the left.

We found perhaps our best ad-hoc roadside lunch spot so far, one that smashed all our senses. The views were of course outstanding (I preferred the deep-blue wave-crashed rocks, Rett the sun-on side with flashing lights glinting on the surface). Then we heard the waves below, and the slight breeze through the trees. We felt the upper-70s warmth, moderated with the filtered shade of those trees. We smelled their dry smoky scent released by that warming sun. And we tasted our salami and cheese and maple-bacon jelly sandwiches. Yeah, that’s a full five-senses lunch, not bad for the first day of December.

5 Senses lunch spot.
Blue Big Sur waters.
Even the tunnels need a view

Limekiln State Park is an unusual campground, both for us, and in general. For us, because we paid $43 (with reservation fee), as there are no hiker/biker sites. But it was a better option than the waterless Forest Service campgrounds further down the road. In general, it was unusual because the sites were extremely open, essentially just occupying the “shoulders” of the single, dirt, campground road. Lest that sound dreadful, let me clarify: that entire strip was essentially a narrow creekside clearing in a deep redwood valley, so the overall setting was gorgeous, there just wasn’t any privacy. Also, our early start got us into camp at 1:30pm, so we did have the place to ourselves for a couple hours.

Our Limekiln campsite even looks pretty private from this angle, since it was the first in it’s row.

We walked down out of the redwoods, under the towering Highway 1 bridge, to the beach, which was perfectly angled to watch the sun set over the ocean in an hour’s time. The problem was that we needed to be cooking and eating dinner back in the woods at that time. Rett’s brilliant solution: let’s bring our kitchen to the beach!

So our third night of beef-jerky ramen was easily the best ever. Better than restaurant-quality food, cooked right at your table, with a world-class, windowless view. We even overheard a passer-by whisper to her husband that it smelled like a restaurant! Our portable kitchen certainly has some limitations, but it also can enable some incredible dining experiences we couldn’t achieve any other way.

Crashing waves at sunset.
Some real mountains in Big Sur.

Back in camp, the previous tenants had left a couple of Duraflame logs, so we were even able to get a zero-effort, zero-cost fire going to accompany our dessert, something that normally wouldn’t happen on a night where we’d already put time into one “event”.

But now, after a morning successfully defending against mice, we needed to spend the night defending from raccoons. Without a hiker/biker site, which comes with a food storage box, our only option was to pack all our food inside the tent with us. And I got the downside of a five-sense day, as the odor of a less-than-fresh onion actually kept me awake.



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4 responses to “Big Sur, CA to Lucia, CA”

  1. Swati Saxena Avatar
    Swati Saxena

    OMG! Your last line made me almost snort out my kombucha, giving me a more-than-usual-sensory experience at my end too.
    Gorgeous pictures, and what a great idea to dine at the beach!

  2. Jim Gregie Avatar
    Jim Gregie

    Such spectacular images of your dinner prep on the beach! Beautiful lighting and composition. Neil, this adventure trip is noticeably sharpening your “eye” for some stunning photos.

    1. neil Avatar

      Thank you! I humbly agree I (and Rett!) have been getting some great photos, but I feel like it’s less to do with me improving vs. the places we’re seeing, the things we’re doing, and maybe most importantly, the time to capture them.

  3. Kenneth Gregie Avatar
    Kenneth Gregie

    Loved the silhouettes of cooking, the rare orange crashing waves, and the most beautifully constructed tunnel I’ve ever seen.

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