Rugged rocky promontories flocked with forest plunge away to meet wild Pacific swell in a shower of surf along particularly dramatic stretches of California's Big Sur Coast, a scenic strip of shore that reaches south from the Monterey Peninsula to San Simeon. Lent topographical distinction through both the work of the sea and the Santa Lucia Range, the Big Sur Coast offers visitors to these parts a glimpse of mother nature untrammeled by development and given over to fog and mist, not smog. Find here the occasional state park but few other civilized trappings (fill your tank before setting out, in other words) and expect the sort of sojourn that runs from Pacific Coast Highway panoramas to peaceful hikes and plenty of photo opportunities with the occasional hotel or restaurant to lend traveling comforts.
There are a range of sights to be on the watch for as you wend your way along Highway 1, the main thoroughfare in these parts. Starting in the north, highlights include guided tours of the Point Sur Lighthouse, stunningly set atop a volcanic inselberg linked to land by a sandy beach; Bixby Bridge, which arches high above Rainbow Canyon; and cascading Pfeiffer Falls, in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (the falls are hike-in). Beaches carved out of steep cliffs are periodically accessible along the way, like Pfeiffer Beach or Plaskett Creek. If you're after more in the hiking department, look for trails en route that lead to waterfalls, breath-taking coastal overlooks or secluded coves. Esalen Institute, a few miles south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is a "reservations-only" kind of place that was in an earlier day a notorious hippie hang-out; many a photograph has circulated of its famous baths (and bare bathers) set overlooking a lovely piece of rocky beach. Not far from the coastal town of San Simeon, at the south end of Big Sur, is one of the region's most sought out un-natural attractions, Hearst Castle. Built on a hilltop for William Randolph Hearst, this expansive estate is as intriguing for its elaborate design as it is for the artifacts and artworks showcased in the main house. Make reservations for the requisite tour well in advance, particularly during peak season – this is the most popular sight in the area.
The Big Sur Coast is in west central California, and is generally defined as the hundred mile stretch of coastline between Carmel and San Simeon.