“We do not associate the idea of antiquity with the ocean, nor wonder how it looked a thousand years ago, as we do of the land, for it was equally wild and unfathomable always.” – Henry David Thoreau
I’m an East Coast guy. California is another world when you live with ice and snow and sunrises as your standards. You imagine what a place might be like when you’ve never been to it but hear of it often. It becomes the stuff of legend. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway and visiting Monterey and Big Sur became such a legend for me. And the experience lived up to its billing.
When you look out at the Pacific Ocean for a few hours, and the rugged, mountainous terrain this highway snakes through, you feel the truth in Thoreau’s words. But for the highway itself and a few scattered houses and ranches this view hasn’t changed much in millennia. And unless it all tumbles into the sea it ought to look the same for another millennium. We’re just rolling footnotes passing through the eternal. The Pacific Coast Highway sets you straight about such things.
Starting our drive from the dunes of Marin, we drove Ocean View Boulevard to Sunset Drive, making our way to pay the $10.75 entry fee for access to 17 Mile Drive. It was worth the price of admission, particularly with the big waves rolling in as remnants of a stormy ocean. Officially, 17 Mile Drive has 17 landmarks to view (all mapped for you when you pay to enter). Unofficially, the glimpses of the homes of the ultra-wealthy and a drive by Pebble Beach Golf Links are a big part of the draw.
A quick visit (checking of the box) in Carmel and we were off to Big Sur. This is where cellular coverage all but disappeared and you put your trust in fate. There are hundreds of turn-offs you can pull over into and several larger scenic vista parking areas. The toughest places to find elbow room were Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls. Each offer that postcard or Instagram worthy image. The trick is to find an image that’s unique without putting yourself in peril. Sometimes the perfect picture is the one everyone else took too.
The rest was simply breathtaking views and an appropriate focus on keeping the car on the road. Every turn brought another stunning view, and at some point you stop taking pictures of waves crashing onto massive boulders and cliffs and simply enjoy the drive. The Pacific Coast Highway is an embarrassment of riches in its beauty and a national treasure. Make sure you have a full tank and the time to enjoy this experience.