Pebble Beach and Big Sur: Must-See in California by Bonnie and Bill Neely

We drove to Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive, which is a MUST for anyone in Monterey County. It is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. If you are on a bicycle or walking along the seaside sports path it is free, or if you drive through in your car it is $10 but worth it. We drove along beside the world famous golf course on one side and the mighty Pacific on the other side. The homes on the far edge of Pebble Beach Golf Course are enormous and each is quite unique. The people along the way are so friendly, and there are many turn-outs for parking to take photos, or go for a hike on the path, or down to the ocean.

2    pebble beach golf course

The rocky shore attracts all kinds of sea life and myriads of birds. There are cliffs for photo ops, of which Lone Cypress is the most famous with its single tree surviving the winds and storms and rough seas alone for over a century. There are several hotels and restaurants along the drive and, Yes, even if you are not a member of the Golf Club or staying at a hotel you CAN pay to play golf at one of these golf courses, IF you can afford the exorbitant fee!   In this drought year some of the course is allowed to go natural and is brown already in May. At the time of this article California is in one of its worst dry periods in history.

We continued South down the coast on Highway 1 to enjoy BIG SUR. We had started out early because it was a holiday weekend and we knew the traffic on this beautiful drive will be tight. Bill wisely (with a little objection from me) skirted all the viewing points and Los Lobos Point because the Memorial Day crowds were huge and parking nil. He said it would be more open on our return Northward since everyone is stopping in the morning.

3   Pfeiffer Park

We stopped for lunch and a view at the little village shops at the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where we saw some beautiful giant Redwood trees. At Riverside Hotel we debated eating lunch at the crowded restaurant where the food looked delicious, but we decided to enjoy our picnic by the river instead. We watched hotel guests who were sitting in Adirondack chairs in about 6 inches of water, and children gleefully splashed over large pebbles in the cold creek. We walked the Pfeiffer Forest Trail inhaling the Christmas-like scent of some huge redwoods high above us.

4   giant Redwoods

We have driven the entire coast along Highway 1 several times, once in our RV which was a terrifying mistake! The entire 85 miles of dramatic scenery along the high cliffs and rugged coast of Big Sur makes everyone want to stop a thousand times to take pictures, or hike, or enjoy the wildflowers. Monterey County has what we consider the most impressive part of the drive, so we did not venture below Pfeiffer on this trip. We started the return route northward and the viewpoints were easily accessible because the mid-afternoon traffic had thinned and ample parking was available, but we were across the highway from the photo spots. We wanted to see more Redwoods and were directed to Palo Colorado Road, 15 miles north of Pfeiffer State Park Entrance. We had expected much thicker forest and taller trees like in Northern California, but these were beautiful. The narrow road went past many little cabins like fairy tale habitats and some larger homes, where people can truly get away from civilization.

If you can possibly find a parking place (which may require a half mile hike) Point Lobos State Reserve at the northern end of Big Sur just south of Carmel is a must-see stop. There are many trails and great hiking in the area, so check the Internet or seek guide service and maps in Carmel. This is the very best way to get spectacular photos. Look for the very rare Monterey Cyprus trees which grow only on the north shore of Carmel Bay.

At Point Lobos you’ll find the Whale Museum in a historic whaler’s cabin fascinating. This area is both a Marine Reserve and a Marine Conservation area, and many people come here to SCUBA dive. Whale watching along the shore and the cliffs above is usually successful at most times of the year. Look for grays, blues, and humpbacks. We were fortunate to see them all! Many species of wildlife abound here and you will probably see thousands of harbor seals lolling in the sun, cormorants and gulls nesting on the rocky cliffs. This is the place to see Pacific animals and birds in great numbers. We loved seeing the fierce sea lions and adorable see otters and several whales.

5     Big Sur

At the end of our day of beautiful scenery and exploration we drove into the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where upscale shops, restaurants, entertainment, hotels abound. On this holiday weekend the town was very crowded. The pretty little park in town center was ready for a big Memorial Day service the following day. We enjoyed perusing the elegant shops and art galleries and stopped at the irresistible bakery Café Carmel to have a coffee and a sinful pastry. This shop was so crowded we waited in line to order about a half hour, but it was worth it. The creations are as delicious as they are pretty (which is often not true in a bakery.)

6   Carmel Bakery

Is there a more beautiful place in all of the United States than Monterey County? And such contrasts between the wealth of resort communities and the vast agricultural centers, which provide much of the fruit and vegetables for the country! You could spend a week or a lifetime here and never tire of new things to see and do.