Andrew Molera State Park offers easy beach access
and that's unusual. It is where the Big Sur River
meets the Pacific Ocean. The park is home to a
former farm where Monterey Jack cheese was born.
SUR, Calif. — McWay Falls is picture perfect.
waterfall drops 80 feet into sandy McWay Cove along
California’s Big Sur. It’s a stunning image and
geographic feature of Land’s End on America’s Left
Coast, tucked off Highway 1 in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State
ocean water at McWay Falls shifts from aquamarine to
cobalt to Caribbean blue. The spot where McWay Creek
tumbles into the Pacific Ocean is one of the most-visited
spots in Big Sur.
Sur is a wild and natural 90-mile stretch from Carmel to
San Simeon, where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the
ocean. It is an appealing place with its own distinctive
California flavor, lovely, wild, lonely and rugged. It is
also dramatic, enchanting, overwhelming and sublime.
is a land of incredible resorts, eye-popping sunsets,
redwood groves, cobbled beaches, soaring California
condors, Spanish missions, tree-lined hollows,
lighthouses, huge elephant seals and migrating gray
mood changes with the weather and the time of day. Fog may
blanket the coast at dawn until the sun burns it away. The
setting sun creates a colorful palette. Storms add a
Sur is a place of free spirits and American literary
giants: Henry Miller, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lillian Bos
Ross, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Gary
Snyder, Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Weston. It was Jeffers
who said: "Big Sur is the greatest meeting of land
and water in the world."
Sur stretches from Carmel on the north to San Simeon in
the south. The Spanish called the area El Sur Grande, the
curvy, two-lane highway runs north-south between San
Francisco and Los Angeles and it sits 500 to 1,000 feet
above the crashing surf.
hugs the coast and is an enchanting place, one of the
world’s great scenic highways. It gets 3 million
visitors a year and is especially popular with Europeans.
The road is surrounded by the 240,026-acre Ventana
Wilderness in the canyon-filled Santa Lucia Mountains in
Los Padres National Forest.
highway was not built until 1937. Big Sur didn’t get
electricity until the late 1940s. Telephone party lines
survived into the 1970s. Cellphone service is spotty, at
Sur is surprisingly wild with limited accommodations, food
and gasoline along 90 miles. There are long stretches with
few signs of civilization. But it also has some of the
plushest resorts in California: Post Ranch Inn and the
Ventana Inn and Spa.
of the best ways to see Big Sur is to visit three state
parks: Andrew Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer
Molera State Park offers easy hiking trails that reach the
ocean. That’s rare along this stretch of coast. The
4,766-acre park is largely undeveloped, by design.
Primitive camping is available.
bubbly Big Sur River flows through the park and empties
into the ocean at a remote beach that stretches 3 miles. A
19.5-mile stretch of the stream is a designated wild and
park, a one-time dairy farm where Monterey Jack cheese was
born, is the largest state park along Big Sur, 23 miles
south of Carmel. It is a great place for Pacific vistas,
driftwood-filled beaches, hikes along windswept ocean
bluffs and more than 20 miles of trails.
might even find thousands of monarch butterflies wintering
en masse in eucalyptus trees along the Big Sur River.
Big Sur State Park features 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls,
camping and a park lodge on 1,006 acres. The Big Sur River
tumbles through the park. It is also a major trailhead and
route to get to the Ventana Wilderness.
most impressive redwoods are found in the campground. The
giant trees can be 350 feet tall, 20 feet in diameter and
more than 2,000 years old.
parks stretch inland to include the steep, rugged
redwood-lined creek canyons, the slopes of oak, the open
grasslands and the ridges of chaparral.
Pfeiffer Burns (1868-1928) was an early settler of Big Sur
who ran a ranch in McWay Canyon with her husband, John
Burns. Her namesake park is 37 miles south of Carmel and
it covers 3,762 acres.
Falls can be viewed from an overlook. It is just a short
walk from the parking lot off the highway. The round trip
is 0.64 miles. There are views to the north and south, but
no public access to the beach. The spring-fed stream flows
year-round over California’s only beach waterfall.
falls used to tumble into the ocean. But that changed in
1983-84 with a fire, landslide and highway reconstruction
that created the cove. The falls are named after
settler-farmer Christopher McWay from New York state.
park is also home to the 4.5-mile Ewoldsen Trail, one of
the premier Big Sur hiking trails. It features huge
redwoods, waterfalls in McWay Canyon and ocean vistas.
Parts of the trail are still closed after a major 2008
park entry fee is $6.
other popular spots along Big Sur are Pfeiffer Beach (the
most popular and accessible beach) and Sand Dollar Beach.
the access road to exotic Pfeiffer Beach is tricky.
Sycamore Canyon Road is unmarked. It is just south of the
entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Look for mile
is two miles on a winding, one-lane road and then a
10-minute walk to the beach. Cliffs tower above and an
arch-shaped rock sits offshore. It can be windy. It is
often on best-beaches lists and appeared in the movie
"The Sandpiper" with Elizabeth Taylor and
Dollar Beach features a protected, crescent-shaped beach.
much-photographed Bixby Creek Bridge is 700 feet long and
260 feet high on Highway 1.
will find sand dunes near the Point Sur Lightstation, a
state historic park that dates to 1889. It sits 361 feet
above the water.
are offered of the station that’s on the National
Register of Historic Places. Go to