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Writer and photographer Garrick Ramirez, photo

How to Enjoy Big Sur Right Now

Posted by Garrick Ramirez on August 03, 2017
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  • the stunning Big Sur coastline, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    With some planning, motorists can still experience Big Sur's majestic coastline.
  • aerial view of the Bixby Canyon bridge in Big Sur, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    A sky-high view of Big Sur's iconic—and still accessible—Bixby Bridge.
  • a cove at Point Lobos State Reserve, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    Explore serene kelp-filled coves at Point Lobos State Reserve.
  • guests at the Big Sur River Inn laze in the Big Sur River, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    Visitors can still laze in the rippling Big Sur River at the Big Sur River Inn
  • an aerial view of Big Sur's northern coastline, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    The northern stretch of Big Sur's glorious coastline remains open to motorists.
  • The scenic waters of McWay Falls in Big Sur, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of SeeMonterey
    Photo caption
    Visitors will have to wait until fall 2017 to snap shots of popular McWay Falls.

While heavy winter rains brought drought relief to Big Sur, they also saddled the region with landslides and road closures. Yet many portions of the coast remain accessible with more openings expected soon. Visitors can still plunk Adirondack chairs in the Big Sur River, scurry down to pristine beaches, and pitch a tent in a redwood forest. Plus, given the lighter-than-usual traffic, this year offers a rare opportunity to experience the solitude that made Big Sur famous.

Digging Out From a Wet Year

This spring, after the region received a whopping 190 percent of normal rainfall, a bridge failure to the north and a massive landslide to the south cut off access to Big Sur village and miles of its famously scenic coastline. Locals began referring to their isolated home as the "Island." Nepenthe restaurant threw an island fever luau to boost locals’ spirits, and ultra-luxe Post Ranch Inn resorted to flying in guests via helicopter. Rain woes proved the one-two punch after 2016’s Soberanes Fire scorched more than 130,000 acres of the Ventana Wilderness and Los Padres National Forest, forcing many local parks shut.

Today, portions of those same parks have reopened as agencies such as California State Parks, Caltrans, and the California Conservation Corps continue to clear debris, rebuild trails, and work toward reopening Highway 1. When the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is fully reconstructed—scheduled to be completed by the end of September 2017—it will grant northern access to the majority of the coast. Until then, visitors have two primary options for experiencing Big Sur:

North of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge

Point Lobos to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park via Hwy 1

Motorists can travel southbound on Highway 1 from Carmel to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park uninterrupted. This scenic, winding stretch of road features the craggy, cypress-dotted coastline of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, the awesome 700-foot span of Bixby Bridge, and the western section of Garrapata State Park, which includes a short trail to Garrapata Beach.

At the Big Sur River Inn, visitors can enjoy pints of beer from Adirondack chairs set in the rippling Big Sur River. Campers are welcome at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park where campsites are open with family campfire programs held each weekend throughout the summer. Note that much of the park’s gorge, a series of idyllic swimming holes along the Big Sur River, as well as numerous trails including the hike to Pfeiffer Falls, remain closed.

A new shuttle system allows visitors to bypass the downed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and access portions of the coast immediately south of the bridge. From noon to 8 p.m., a 10-seat shuttle takes visitors from Andrew Molera State Park (limited day-use only) to the camp store at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. From the camp store, visitors can trek a steep, roughly 20-minute trail that bypasses the bridge to a loading area for a south-bound shuttle that delivers guests to the edge-of-the-world views at Nepenthe restaurant. Shuttle tickets are $5 per person (good all day), and parking at Andrew Molera is $10 per vehicle. Final pick-up times are 5 p.m. for Andrew Molera, and 7 p.m. at Nepenthe, though shuttle operators promise not to leave anyone stranded.

Between Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and the Mud Creek Landslide

via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Extremely narrow, windy, and not recommended for RVs or nighttime driving, the mountainous Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from Highway 101—picked up near Hunter Liggett military base—allows motorists to travel a 35-mile central stretch of the Big Sur coast, which includes the now-open Henry Miller Library

The road also offers access to a few otherwise inaccessible beaches and campgrounds including Sand Dollar Beach and Kirk Creek Campground. For an inspiring hike in the area, follow the creekside trail at Limekiln State Park that leads to a 100-foot waterfall and the park’s 19th-century namesakes hidden in a lush redwood forest.

What is (Hopefully) Opening Soon

The region’s most anticipated reopening is Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge which will allow northern access to most of Big Sur, hopefully by this September, and will bring with it openings of other area favorites. Deetjen's Big Sur Inn plans to reopen with the completion of the bridge, and while the Big Sur Bakery's opening date is unconfirmed, the beloved eatery intends to open its doors when enough customers return. 

Visitors will have to wait a little longer to catch a glimpse of iconic McWay Falls plunging onto a secluded beach lapped by crystalline waters. The famously photogenic falls are part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is still being cleared of debris and downed trees and expected to reopen in fall 2017.

Many trails and wilderness areas east of Highway 1, including the large, eastern expanse of Garrapata State Park, are expected to remain closed throughout 2017. Caltrans plans to build over the Mud Creek landslide that buried a southern stretch of Highway 1 under 40 feet of earth and rubble, but that massive project is expected to take more than a year. In the meantime, for the sections that remain accessible, Big Sur residents ask visitors to be mindful of construction crews, show respect for fragile natural surroundings, and tread lightly during their visits.

As the recovery process continues for the Big Sur area, completion dates are in flux. Please call ahead to confirm openings and access.