Big Sur/Big Basin

~Here’s How You Do It

Pacific Coast Highway north has been heralded as the most scenic drive in the US and it is with good reason. When you land on the West Coast and travel this baby, have the camera at the ready. There are so many scenic turnouts, you may decide to just walk. If you require a rental, shop around online and even consider shuttling to an out of the airport area rental agency to save some cash.

 Have car, will travel. Take the 101 N until it becomes Highway #1/Pacific Coast Highway and enjoy the ocean views along the way. If time permits, stop off in Santa Barbara. A “don’t miss” is the courthouse, which is notable for its authentic interior and exterior Spanish architecture. Make sure you go all the way to the top of the tower. The view of the surrounding mountains and ocean rivals Oprah’s Montecito home and you don’t have to pay $30 million for it.

Interior Santa Barbara Courthouse
Interior Santa Barbara Courthouse

 Next, pop over to State Street for shopping and then make your way to the stunning yacht harbor for casual outdoor eating overlooking the boats that you too can own if you hit the lotto. Two words of advice: “happy hour”. Prices are significantly lower. And friends, please leave your car parked and use the trolley, as it is cheaper to park off of State Street than down by the beach. The trolley runs the entire length of town and it is a fun, quaint experience. For a Santa Barbara only trip, take Amtrak from Los Angeles. We are talking less than $50 round trip, stunning coastline views, and an open bar…but that’s another write up.

 Continuing on this journey, prepare to wind down by timing your travel to arrive at Gaviota State Beach at sunset (about 30-45min. N of Sta. Barbara). The pier makes an amazing backdrop for photos and the rocks on the north side of the pier are photo worthy as well. If you are there in the off-season, you may very well have the beach to yourself or luck into chatting with the charming campground hosts like we did.

Note the timer photo below we took and go ahead, shoot one yourself.

Gaviota State Beach
Gaviota State Beach

 Our northbound trip was in January’s off-season and, in general, this is the wisest time of the year if you have an allergy to crowds and overspending. Having made reservations in advance for Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur, the first night was set. However, note that there is a 2-night weekend minimum. Thankfully, Kirk Creek is not one of the beach sites that has risen in price recently. Through 2014, they are still showing $22 per night and that is a bargain for ocean front. All 33 sites on a bluff overlooking the Pacific are stellar. The sunrise photo (top of this page) attests to the pristine beauty of the coastline while the photo below attests to the value of double checking: do the canvas and tent poles match? Check…oops.

Oops packed the wrong tent poles
Oops, packed the wrong tent poles

 Next up on our agenda was Big Basin State Park where you can choose from cost friendly tent camping or the pricier canvas cabin with wood-burning stove option, which we went for out of fear of rain. The camp bathrooms were absolutely fine and the “for pay” hot showers were truly hot and generous in amount of time for your dime. We did a little hiking, some cooking out, and kicking back. One thing to note for the rebellious, photo focused hiker (cough, cough): the trail is pretty restricted when you arrive at the waterfall so the photo seen in the gift shop on a poster cannot be duplicated unless you climb over a “do not enter” fence…not that we have any first hand experience of that. The 8 mile round trip hike, a redwood rocking beauty, is both smooth and not too arduous.

Big Basin waterfall
Big Basin waterfall

This trip wrapped up with a return back down Pacific Coast Highway and stops along the way in Big Sur at The Spirit Garden, as well as the famous restaurant and gift shop, Nepenthe. A final photo op was taken advantage of when the California Elephant Seals were in their annual resting phase, after giving birth near San Simeon.

Elephant seals near San Simeon
Elephant seals near San Simeon

Striking a balance financially on this vacation was a priority, and the decision to begin with $22 a night camping, followed by $75 for the tent cabin (as of 2014 now $79 per night), and ending with an Internet booked room on the ocean near Morro Bay for a little less than $200 seemed to work. It is good to note that the ocean front room also offered a savings as we stayed during the discounted Sunday-Thursday time period.

Morro sunset #1

 

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