Big Sur, California
Go for a day or go for a week. Both are great options for taking in Big Sur’s beauty.
You have to drive it and it is not a short drive so make sure you prepare with ample time
From South to North:
Elephant Seal Beach:
Fun little stop to check out the elephant seals as they battle for superiority. There are many signs on the road showing you where to stop and there will be a parking lot located on the left hand side for you to visit the beach.
Great spot to spend the day. Check out the full write up about the infamous castle here.
Julia Pfeiffer Beach:
Julia Pfeiffer beach has the infamous waterfall that flows right into the ocean. The turquoise water can lead to the best photographs you have ever taken. There is no way onto the beach unless you take a boat but I do not believe that is legal. While you are at Julia Pfeiffer make sure to keep your eyes to the sky as well because you’ll be able to spot California Condors if they are out for the day.
These are some of the rarest birds that you will ever see as their population is still under 500 total. Catching a glimpse is a one in a lifetime event; I was lucky enough to have them come out on my visit!
If you’re up for it there is also a pleasant hike above the beach into the redwoods and worth checking out.
Pfeiffer Beach is where you will find the highly photographed rock formation sprouting from the ocean. The sun, during certain parts of the year, will actually shine through the tunnel that is in the rocks and provide one of the more stunning features of nature that you will see.
Keep in mind that this beach is hidden and there are no signs to point you to it there is yellow "narrow road" sign and it will be on the left when driving from south to north. If you hit the camping area and little lodge that will be located on your right you have gone to far.
The rock formation is not the only thing to see in this hidden beach. If you happen to catch a low tide you can walk along the beach to catch other scenes. Be wary of the tide rising though! It will rise quickly and you can easily get stranded.
The last thing to see before you head out you cannot miss it as you end up driving over it!
The best time for capturing sunsets behind the bridge is December. The positioning of the sun will better coincide with the location of the bridge.
There are four main angles to capture the bridge:
- The first two are up close on either side of the bridge-- behind the bridge, you will find a couple of small trails that will lead you down the hillside a bit get a better angle on the bridge
- The third is by taking the dirt road to right before it starts going downhill.
- The fourth is another far shot that will give the entire coastline along with a bit of the bridge. There are of course small variations to each shot!
Camping at Big Sur:
The campground at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers a spectacular variety of natural settings to enjoy. Each of the 189 tent and RV sites is located within the redwood groves, oak woodlands, grassy meadows and they even have riverside camping. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, access to drinking water, restrooms and showers.
The campground is situated in the best location for visiting the surrounding attractions. It is twenty minutes to both Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Bixby Bridge and is minutes away from the infamous Pfeiffer Beach.
This campground is one of the most popular in the nation. Some weekends are reserved seven months in advance. Make sure you are planning accordingly! For a Monday-Wednesday trip, you will have a much easier time booking a last minute trip. You can book at ReserveAmerica.com.
- Make sure you have cash on hand if you want to take a shower. Each 3 1/2 minutes is one dollar.
- Each campsite only holds 8 people and a max of two cars.
- It rains frequently so make sure to pack everything away at night.
- Bring your firewood. You cannot collect wood from the surrounding area, and they overcharge you in town.
- Big Sur is a tourist trap. If you forget to bring something or if you have to fill up your gas tank in the town it will cost you.
- Dogs are allowed in the campgrounds but not on the trails.
- There are numerous hiking trails walking distance from the campground.
- Poison Oak is all around. Stay out of the bushes!
- Bring your tent. The only places to stay inside of Big Sur are at extremely high-end hotels. An easy way to avoid the high cost is to camp!
- Bring Warm clothes. The temperature drops substantially at night and the wind coming off the ocean can be a bit intense.
- It is a long drive if you're going to do the entire thing. Plan accordingly
If you're looking for some of this gear I personally use BackCountry to stock up on anything I'm missing! Link is below to check them out
- Bring a tripod you'll need it for shooting sunsets as well as if you want to catch some starry night shots!
- Bring a long lens if you have it-- minimum 300mm. You do not know if the condors will show up until you get there!
- When at Pfeiffer beach make sure to keep an eye on all of your stuff. The tide rises extremely quickly and can sweep your gear into the ocean without you even noticing
Gear used on this trip:
- Canon 6D
- Canon 5DSr
- Canon 24-70mm ƒ2.8 L II
- Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II
- Canon 28-300 ƒ3.5-5.4 II
- Canon 24mm ƒ1.8 II
Non Profit Highlight
Friends of California Condors is this trips highlight. There were 22 condors left in existence in 1987. It was that year that the US government gave permission to conservationists to capture the remaining birds to breed in captivity to try and increase the population. Since then captive breeding programs have been able to boost the population up to 425 condors with many living in the wild currently.
The group partners with the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex and other organizations to help bring awareness to a species that is still very much in danger.