Monterey County: The Rugged Beauty of Big Sur
...that reach down to the ocean's floor.
All combine to create the rugged beauty of "El Sur Grande"—known today as Big Sur.
Early explorers stood in awe of the vast unmapped and unexplored wilderness of Big Sur,
and set out not to tame the land, but to try to live simply and in harmony among its inhabitants.
Today, visitors will find that many Big Sur residents retain those same, simple values.
Situated approximately 26 miles south of Carmel on Highway One, visitors to this unique enclave
will find many fun and interesting things to do. Camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, nature walks
and scenic driving are all part of the Big Sur experience. Adventure travelers will enjoy backpacking
in the Ventana Wilderness and camping under the stars. State parks and several private campgrounds offer
developed campsites with hookups for motor homes. And for those who appreciate the finer things in life,
Big Sur boasts several opportunities for elegant dining and relaxing at rustic yet luxurious inns.
The history of Big Sur dates to the 1830's, when two Mexican land grants were awarded. Approximately
40 years later, the first permanent settlers arrived. In the following decades, other hardy souls staked
their claims, building homesteads and living and working off the land. The names of these early settlers
are immortalized on landmarks such as Mt. Manuel, Pfeiffer Ridge, Cooper Point and Partington Ridge.
Some of their descendents still live in Big Sur today.
In the early 1900's, a vigorous tan oak industry, mining and redwood lumbering provided the livelihoods for many.
The Old Coast Road—the main link between homesteads—was little more than a wagon trail. Steam ships traveling up
and down the West Coast delivered supplies. They harbored at Notley's Landing, Partington Cove and at the mouth
of the Little Sur River. Navigation was treacherous to say the least. In 1889, the Point Sur Lighthouse Station
began sending its powerful beam to protect ships from the hazards of the coastline.
In 1937, Highway One opened to much fanfare. The roadway took 18 years to build and was considered extremely expensive in those days -despite the fact that it was built with the help of convict labor. Highway One has since been declared California's first Scenic Highway. Its cliff-side curves which drop to the ocean below demand cautious driving, but motorists delight in using the numerous turnouts to take pictures and enjoy the gorgeous views Highway One affords.
In the early 1950's, electricity finally arrived in Big Sur. However, many remote mountain residents still go without, relying instead on candles, kerosene, and of course, Mother Nature.
As one might expect, Big Sur is home to an abundant array of wildlife, including deer, raccoons, mountain lions, and even bears. The area is also playing a pivotal role in the recovery of the near extinct California Condor. Half a dozen of the large birds have been released in the Los Padres National Forest over the past couple of years, and researchers are keeping a hopeful eye on their feeding and potential mating activities.
The Pacific waters off the coast are also teeming with marine life, including an impressive population of sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and marine birds. The California Brown Pelican, the red-billed oystercatcher, cormorants and seagulls are frequent visitors to the area. Birders will also enjoy observing the red-tail hawks, quail, crows, owls, stellar and scrub jays, flickers, kingfishers, and the occasional golden eagles that are seen flying through the area.
Highway One also boasts several vantage points from which to view the migratory path of the California Gray Whale. Between late November and early February, these giant mammals swim south to the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico, where they breed and birth their calves. The whales often travel together in large pods, and their trademark spouting makes these huge creatures easy to identify. Then, from late February through early April, the migration reverses itself, as the whales return to their northern summer feeding grounds in Alaska's Bering Sea.
Big Sur plays host to art and music festivals throughout the year, and is the starting point for what's been named the "Best Marathon in North America," the Big Sur International Marathon