Southern Big Sur – SUMMER UPDATE:
There is a section of Highway 1 in Big Sur that won’t be fixed for a while, and although you cannot drive directly from Carmel to Cambria, don’t let that stop you from exploring the area! Getting around the Highway 1 road closure is as simple as splitting Big Sur into 2 different road trips. While you cannot go all the way up to Carmel from the south, there is plenty to explore from Cambria to the southern edge of Big Sur. We are going to focus on the Southern Big Sur Road Trip!
Travelers coming to Cambria from the South might know about the town of Harmony, but until you see for yourself, you’ll always wonder about this town of 16 people…and some cows. Visiting Harmony Cellars is a good start and they will fill you in on the history of this privately owned town. If you are in town on a Friday, they have a Summer Music Series with food, wine, and live music. For many years there was an active post office and historically, a creamery. Now, you can watch artisans hand-crafting blown glass and bring home a piece of one-of-a-kind glass art. Or sign up for a class where you can design, shape and blow your own glass art piece in a true hands-on experience. They provide everything but the creativity! Lessons are one-on-one so you will learn at your pace with personalized attention. Craft a lasting memory in glass in the same way passed down from the ancient Egyptians. Creating your own special piece takes about an hour and you pick it up the next day…can also be shipped! Click HERE to find out more about classes.
Of course, many people are interested in getting married in Harmony, for obvious reasons…and you can!
Visit Hearst Castle:
Just north of Cambria, the first sign of the legacy of Heart Castle are the zebras…no, we are not kidding, there really is a herd of several dozen of them that roam the ranch, direct descendants of the old Hearst zoo. Keep an eye out for these elusive creatures as you approach the town of San Simeon. The iconic Hearst Castle is now part of the California State Park System and there are daily tours of the property that was built by newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, and designed by Julia Morgan,the first woman to hold and architect’s license in California. Your guided tours take you on a journey inside the castle and you are allowed to stroll around the gardens at your own pace. It is easy to imagine the opulent parties and glamorous events held here, and if you happen to be visiting in the fall or spring, there are twilight tours with docents in period costumes providing the ambience of a time long past. The views are panoramic and magical. At times the coastline is draped in the familiar marine layer, while the Castle shines brightly above the clouds giving an even more mystical feeling to the unique vantage point. The location was carefully selected to provide a glamorous escape for the wealthy owner and his friends. For a deeper look into the architecture and interior design, the “Designing the Dream” tour is a 75-minute tour offering a comprehensive itinerary about how Hearst’s astounding idea was realized. Collaborating with Julia Morgan (1872-1957), Hearst created an environment that is unique in the country, and though design and construction of the Enchanted Hill took more than three decades, the estate was never really finished. This tour features Casa del Sol (the most elaborate of the guest cottages), the dressing-rooms behind the Roman Pool, and the more “modern” Art Deco esthetic of the North Wing of Casa Grande, which was built and furnished in the late 1930s – early 1940s. For more information about this tour, click HERE. For a custom experience, you can self design a private guided tour. Access any of the areas of the estate available to the public on the other tours, although private tours are somewhat limited in the busy summer months and holiday times. It is also one of the rare opportunities to drive your own vehicle up to the Castle. If you have never seen Hearst Castle, you can now visit their virtual tour HERE.
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse:
The historic landmark Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, ( “white rocks” in Spanish), has recently undergone a restoration and is available for tours. The views are breathtaking and the area has a rich history. Long before the establishment of a light station, Native Americans harvested the abundant natural resources at Point Piedras Blancas. Early mariners used the large white offshore rocks as navigational landmarks. In 1875, a light station was established at Point Piedras Blancas to aid maritime navigation. The lighthouse, with its distinct light pattern of a white flash every 15 seconds, assured mariners of their location and warned of the rocky coastline. The nearby coastal rock outcroppings that were a danger to ships, provide refuge to many marine animals. Visitors to Piedras Blancas Light Station enjoy scenic vistas with wildlife viewing. The light station is operated by the Bureau of Land Management in cooperation with the non-profit organization Piedras Blancas Light Station Association, Inc. Summer is a good time to see humpback whales off the coast. They are often found in San Simeon Bay. You may even spot one while on a tour of the light station. Humpbacks go where the food is and they feed on bait fish close to shore in summer. In contrast, gray whales migrate between Alaska and Baja California to give birth every year. Both humpbacks and grays are baleen whales and feed on small fish like krill. See if you can spot any whales by viewing their webcam HERE.
Elephant Seal Rookery:
As you travel north, you will find the Elephant Seal Rookery, where these behemoths live, mate, and raise their young. The docents are there to answer questions about these incredible animals. They appear to be sluggish, but when agitated, they move incredibly fast! Sometimes, they wander onto our local beaches, so if you see one, keep a safe distance. The number of seals at the rookery peaks three times during the year: in late January when most births have occurred, around the first of May at the peak of the juvenile/adult female molt, and in late October during the fall or juvenile haul-out. The annual cycle begins in November with the arrival of mature males at the end of the month. The northern elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris, is an extraordinary marine mammal. It spends eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5800 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to its land-based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting, and rest. Piedras Blancas is a great place to view these remarkable creatures during their time onshore. Friends of the Elephant Seal is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about elephant seals and other marine life and teaching stewardship for the ocean off the central coast of California. It is a cooperating association with California State Parks. The viewing area is 5 miles north of Hearst Castle State Historical Monument in San Simeon, 1.5 miles south of Point Piedras Blancas. The viewing areas are open every day of the year, are wheelchair accessible, and free. No reservations required.
Gateway to Southern Big Sur:
One of the final stops along highway one before the closure is Ragged Point. Stop for a meal or quick bite at the cafe, and explore the point…you can see further north into Big Sur, but access is closed beyond this point as they work diligently to open the area to travelers. Take a walk out to the far edge and you can see the perspective of Highway 1 and the coastal mountains it is carved into. Once you view it from this angle, it is easy to see why the road had its challenges in both building and maintaining it. The silver lining during the closure is, you can slow down and explore some of the lesser known points along the way and still get the Big Sur experience.