Dawn to dusk in Big Sur, California is a photographers dream. From north to south, Big Sur is the 90-some miles of California coastline between Carmel and Hearst Castle. Reception can be non existent, and that’s a good thing. Get ready to unplug to reconnect.
Big Sur is a road trip. It’s about the drive. Slow down, pull over and enjoy the abundant views, nature and hospitality. Make sure the vehicle you’re driving is tuned up, gassed up and reliable. This stretch of highway 1 is rich vistas and blind curves. Drive safely and share the road, bicyclists and cars pulling on and off the roadway are a frequent occurrence.
As a photographer, sunrise and sunset are the best times of day for lighting. Dawn offers the sweet blue light of morning. Throwing shadows that chase and dance as the second hand swirls. McWay Falls is a revelation at day break. A waterfall emptying from pine-lined cliffs down to sand and surf. It’s a magical experience to start the day alone with nature at such an iconic location. It’s as if you discovered it yourself and I can’t help but imagine what an experience it would be to stumble upon by accident. Although it’s location is extremely close to the road, you could drive right past it and never know. Make sure to map out this stop ahead of time. Depending on how busy it is, parking is available along the road, a short walk on marked trails. If possible, park in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and walk the trail, through the tunnel to the view point, it’s a longer walk but absolutely worthwhile!
After a day of exploring, the sun inches toward the horizon and I get the itch. I know just where to photograph sunset session. As I arrive, warm light illuminates Bixby Creek Bridge. The sight reminds me of The Bridges of Madison County. Dusk is a busy time as photographers set up their gear and tourists from far and near pose for selfies. It’s mostly quiet. A collective experience; appreciating the beautiful juxtaposition of humanity and nature. I pause in between shutter clicks to take in the moment. Breathe the sea air. This is living.
Cruising this iconic coast for the day is the next best thing to staying overnight. Big Sur offers a handful of camping and luxury accommodations, not the place to opt for an home share like Air B and B. Camping is offered in a few well travelled spots like Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Timber Top. Camping is only allowed in designated camp areas and usually require a reservation. Camping in the redwoods is a bucket list experience. Use this chance to explore untouched coastline and pristine backcountry. This is one of the places in the state you may be able to see a California Condor cruising the cliffs or soaring over vistas. Keep in mind, open fires are not allowed, absolutely no collect, always leash pets, and please, please, use designated restrooms. Triple please for no unauthorized drone use. And as always when camping- pack it in, pack it out! Always try to leave places better than you found them.
Connecting with nature is the reason to visit Big Sur. Staying in a resort designed to showcase natural beauty while enjoying resort amenities is an exceptional experience. All boasting expansive views, enjoy a carefully curated experience at some of the Big Sur Resorts like Ventana, Esalen and Post Ranch Inn.They each offer a unique encounter with nature. Ventana is not for the faint of heart. Enjoy resort style amenities even at their glamping sites. Swim both pools and soak in the bathhouses. Oh, and did I mention– they’re dog friendly!? Esalen is steeped in history. Offering literally hundreds of classes, healing hot springs and space to facilitate creativity and healing. The hot springs at Esalen are open to the general public with a reservation from 1-3am. Early, I know. But absolutely invaluable. At Post Ranch Inn, art mimics nature. From the architecture of the accommodations to the homage to art through the sculpture garden, exhibition space and mercantile. Post Ranch Inn is a place to feel at one with nature, elements of wood, glass, and water abound. They even offer a few special rooms in the timbers with their treehouse rooms. If you don’t have the chance to stay at Post Ranch Inn, consider dining with them at their restaurant, Sierra Mar.
My favorite way to enjoy a meal in Big Sur is a simple picnic. There are a plethora of breathtaking locations in the parks and along the journey. Pack a cooler or backpack with your meal and pick up a few items from a local store. You might discover something new and tasty! If you’re up for enjoying a meal at a local eatery, consider Nepenthe– weather permitting. Classic fare with breath taking views for over 50 years.
Lastly, this portion of the California coast experiences a high volume of tourism, please respect nature, stay on trails and out of closed areas or private property. No matter how you cruise the Big Sur Coastline, it is sure to exceed expectations.