The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Driving Big Sur
Stretching 90 miles south of Carmel from Point Lobos all the way to Hearst Castle, Big Sur is one of the most memorable sections of coastline on the planet, with 5,000-foot tall mountains rising up from the Pacific Ocean. Early Spanish missionaries dubbed it El País Grande del Sur (the Big Country of the South), and the rugged land has resisted development or even much of a population—the current total of around 1,000 is roughly the same as it was in 1900, and for the 3,000 years before that.
Hwy–1, the breathtaking drive through Big Sur, was finally cut across the very steep cliffs in 1937 after 20 years of labor and several fatalities. California’s longest and most popular scenic route, it’s an incredible trip. Like the Grand Canyon and other larger-than-life natural wonders, Big Sur boggles the mind and, in an odd way, can be hard to handle; you have to content yourself with staring in awestruck appreciation, taking pictures, or maybe toasting the natural handiwork with a cold beer or glass of wine at one of the few but unforgettable cafés and restaurants along the way.
However beautiful the drive along Hwy–1, it’s also narrow, twisting, packed with sluggish RVers on holiday weekends, and every few years is closed by mud slides and washouts after torrential winter storms and the even more destructive wildfires that have plagued the coast in recent summers.
Big Sur is still a very wild place (with little or no cell phone reception), and there are very few services, with most of the overnight accommodations booked up solidly during the peak summer season. Spring brings wildflowers, while fall gets the most reliably good weather. No matter when you come, even if you just drive through in an afternoon, be sure to stop whenever possible and get out of the car; scenic viewpoints line the roadside, and dozens of trails lead off into the wilds.