After driving through Carmel Highlands, where impressive houses perch on granite cliffs above the sea, you reach the start of Big Sur, which extends 90 miles (145 kilometers) south to San Simeon. On this fabled coastline, redwood groves reach skyward, the Santa Lucia Range plunges into the sea, and waves are beaten to froth on ragged rocks. It’s a place of elemental power that can make human affairs seem inconsequential.
Garrapata State Park
Route 1, opened in 1937, climbs higher than 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the sea. One of the few easy-to-reach beaches is at Garrapata State Park (tel. 1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=579), about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south of Carmel Highlands. From Soberanes Point watch for sea otters, which are protected under California state law.
Old Coast Road
En route to Bixby Bridge, six miles (ten kilometers) farther, you can choose to leave Calif. 1 and drive the 11-mile (18-kilometer) Old Coast Road, which climbs through remote forests and canyons and offers silent ocean views before ending at Andrew Molera State Park (tel. 1 831 667 2315, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=582). The unpaved road is tortuous and impassable when it rains.
Much photographed Bixby Bridge is a single-span concrete arch more than 260 feet (80 meters) high and 700 feet (200 meters) long. Park at turnouts near either end to gawk or take pictures. Ahead, the highway passes Hurricane Point, a place of big winds and big views, and then descends to the mouth of the Little Sur River. Looking inland, you’ll see 3,709-foot-high (1,131-meter-high) Pico Blanco, distinguishable by its lime deposits. Toward the sea, sand dunes soon appear, rolling toward the 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse (tel. tel. 1 831 625 4419; tours Saturdays and Sundays, call for additional days April through October; $8; www.pointsur.org), a state historic park. In a few miles you reach Andrew Molera State Park (tel. 1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=582; fee), whose broad beach, oak and redwood forests, and stretch of the Big Sur River are accessible only by foot.