Big Sur, California > TheRoamingNoodle

Driving Big Sur | America’s Greatest Highway

One of the most famed drives in America: California’s Big Sur. This place doesn’t disappoint and you’re about to find out why.

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On this throwback travel (yes it is a couple of days late and probably a penny short) I look back on the time we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway. I should say it’s one of the best highways … in the world (cue Jeremy Clarkson’s voice.) True, it had been many moons since we were there (circa 2014), but I can still hear those waves breaking over the rocks below as we crested pass after pass. The narrow pavement, black and smooth, twisting its way through canyons on one side, sheer cliffs on the other.

The day was spent with some good friends all vying to do one thing: see what the hype was all about. By day’s end, each of us walked away with a little bit more appreciation than when we started. Tony, Qin, Connie, and I were in awe of the drop-dead beauty that was found on just a mere stretch of this 655mi. tarmac.


Having a license was an escape from reality for as long as I can remember. You can just pick up, go wherever, and whenever your soul wanted to have an adventure. With this life mantra, among many others, enter California’s Route 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway.)

I had always dreamt about just packing up, filling the tank until it burst with gas, and make my way west. Towards the Pacific, towards this moment. Kind of like Fievel. I had my first chance two summers before when I road-tripped across America. But, in the end, the universe didn’t align and we couldn’t make that excursion. Until now!

In October of 2014, I found myself yet again in San Francisco and wasn’t one to let this opportunity slip away a second time. I had to plot someway, somehow, to my travel companions that this drive, over 150 miles each way, was well worth it. There was upselling, side selling, all-around selling the crap out of its majesty. My persistence won out in the end and we set aside an entire day for just this trip. Luck would have it than my companions are also aficionados of scenic, adventure drives.

We stayed in Hayward which meant it would only be about two hours and 45 minutes from start to finish. We decided to start at Half Moon Bay, which comprises about 40 more miles of Route 1 than had if we went directly from our place of stay. With the rental gassed up, snacks ready at the ready, I rolled down the windows and we were off!

this is finally happening, my soul was being filled

There’s not much I can describe into words the exact emotions you feel when driving down this particular stretch of Americana. It’s long, windy, twisting, full of ups and downs. Honestly, it was a rollercoaster of a ride coupled with views that beat any screensaver. Endless vista points and just random places you can, correction need, to stop by on your cruise.

it’s easy to feel insignificant against all of that

The day’s drive was long because of how often we stopped to take in the views, but we also had some planned destinations. Each of us picked a point of interest off the PCH to visit:

  • Pebble Beach
  • Point Lobos
  • Bixby Creek Bridge
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (McWay Falls)

They represented a part of each of my companions, something that all of us can take away from the experience, from our trip.

Pullover with utmost caution as the road is an only one-way lane in each direction at any given time, add this to its winding nature and being careful is a must. Once safely stopped head out of your car to bask in that fresh, Pacific Ocean air. Let the sun hit your face each to let you know of its warmth against the cool ocean breeze. Listen to the waves break against the many rocks littering the sandy beach. Wander with safety to the cliff’s edge and let your soul escape your body for a brief moment.

PEBBLE BEACH

I’ve only seen Pebble Beach through my T.V. where the rich and famous go to play golf, and the infamous Car Show. There was something intriguing here as to why we stopped, the Lone Cypress Tree. Yes, I stopped for a tree. It sounds funny, weird, and lame all at the same time. But once you are there looking out to the lonely tree perched up against the spectacular backdrop on the edge of a cliff, it makes sense.

The cypress is over 250 years old so it’s seen a fair share of things over the centuries. Navigating to it was horrendous as the location is really just one giant seventeen-mile circle road you just drive around. Getting a good viewing spot alos proved difficult because of the many tour bus carrying patrons that were there. Get your elbows out.

POINT LOBOS

Point Lobos, our next stop, was just a few minutes from Pebble Beach and it housed awesome vistas. I couldn’t figure out how to capture the grandeur of this place, because it was just immense. Luckily I had the super-wide Nikkor 10.5mm in my kit and it made for an easier job at hand.

Once snapped onto my D7K body though I seldom shot off any photos besides the one here. This was entirely due to it being just so nice listening to the crest of the waves break against the rocks. You can see the strength of the ocean when she broke loose. Needless to say, I got a little wet shooting off some of my photos.

BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE

I remember seeing Bixby Creek Bridge numerous times in commercials as a kid. You know those picturesque car commercials where they had it driving back and forth. I am a sucker for architecture if you haven’t noticed in my shooting by now so this was a treat. Having to see the most photographed bridge of the west coast was a no brainer.

Let me tell you it is large. The arches stretch from the base and make for a beautiful fixture against the setting sun. And boy when that sun hits at just the right angle everything in view becomes bathed in that golden brown hue. Parking can be tough because it is a narrow road and all. The cliffs offered the best views of the bridge, but please be careful as one slip and it’s down down down you go.

MCWAY FALLS

McWay Falls was the furthest destination of our trip that day and it was why I chose to keep it last. Why last? Because when we got there it was just in time for the sunset Saying it was the most anticipated stop on my adventure was selling it short.

what a f****** beautiful view

A short path leads you through an opening where you are greeted with the cove below. With 15 minutes before the sun was about to set I snapped away at my heart’s content, making sure I got at least two or three images I was happy with. Mission photo accomplished I put everything away and focused on the sun setting.

Picturesque doesn’t even compare to this. Everything was perfect from the cloudless sky, the mid-ground fixtures of California palm trees, to the slow setting nature of the sun. I just clocked out of my thoughts and into the moment, something I don’t often get to do much of. As the sun slowly dropped the sky changed from orange to a fiery red and ultimately a smooth pink/purple combination.

All around you can hear thunderous applause for when the sun finally dipped beneath the horizon. People were actually applauding, that was how beautiful it was. Once over we all headed back towards the car lot, had a little bit of a snack before it grew even darker. Although I couldn’t see it, everyone had a smile ear to ear.


The drive back to Hayward in the dark was long and arduous, but I did it knowing we accomplished something that day. My life’s bucket list had another check mark added to it that day. We pass time going over our favorite parts of what we saw and experienced during that 150-mile stretch. Everyone had taken away something different from it, something more than they had before. Ultimately that is what trips like these are supposed to be about: gaining in life experiences.

If you find yourself on the golden coast then I commend with all earnest that you seek out and treat yourself to one of the natural world’s most breathtaking experiences.

2 comments on “Driving Big Sur | America’s Greatest Highway”

  1. I’m not one for long car journeys, but this looks absolutely stunning and I’ve actually wanted to do that trip for years. Just to work out how to drive on the other side of the road first haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can barely sit in a car for more than five hours these days! You should do it! It is simply one of the best backdrops I think 🙂 Oh that is easy, everything is opposite of how you drive now!

    Like

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