Monday, June 25, 2012

California's Old Coast Road: Big Sur's little-known 'Beatnik Byway'

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook California Coastal Bywayswhich I researched in a Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX450. The guide details non-technical backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. For information about the book, contact Wilderness Press 1-800- 443-7227. If you are unable to acquire a copy at a reasonable price, contact me at:
For a more complete sense of what it's like to explore Big Sur, read my magazine feature, Backroading the 'Big South', published in Road & Track magazine's spinoff, Open Road.

LOCATION Monterey County’s northern Big Sur coast, inland from California’s famous coastal Highway 1 between Bixby Landing and Andrew Molera State Park. Google Map

Bridge on Old Coast Road
HIGHLIGHTS Prepare for an enchanting drive through a misty coastal forest complete with redwood groves, mossy riparian woodlands, ferns and gurgling brooks. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had a cabin in Bixby Canyon that was frequented by Beat Generation writers in the late 1950s, including Jack Kerouac, who described his visits in his 1962 novel Big Sur. This is a peaceful and beautiful alternative, if only for a short distance, to the traffic on Highway 1.

DIFFICULTY Easy on a good, often one-lane dirt road. Occasional tight, blind curves.

Sign on Highway 1
TIME & DISTANCE An hour; 10.2 miles.

MAPS Benchmark Maps' California Road & Recreation Atlas, p. 82 (D-E, 1-2). California State Automobile Association's Monterey Bay (J-K, 1).

INFORMATION Contact Monterey County Public Works.

Old Coast Road @ Bixby Bridge
GETTING THERE If you’re heading south on California's famous Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. Highway 1/Cabrillo Highway), turn off at the north end of that great arch, Bixby Creek Bridge, near Bixby Landing. My description starts there. Set your odometer to 0. But the drive is just as alluring from the south. To go that way, turn right off Highway 1 at Andrew Molera State Park.

REST STOPS You’ll find camping, hiking and fishing at Andrew Molera State Park.

Old Coast Road
THE DRIVE First you get a stunning view of the ocean and Bixby Creek Bridge, originally called Rainbow Bridge. Prior to completion of the bridge over the gorge of Bixby Creek in 1932, when its 260-foot height made it the highest single-arch bridge in the world, Old Coast Road was the transportation link between Carmel and Big Sur.

You wind along a ledge in Bixby Canyon and quickly enter the rugged northern end of the Santa Lucia Range not far west of the Ventana Wilderness. Climb a bit, then descend steeply into a deep, verdant canyon. About 2.8 miles from the bridge the road enters deep coastal forest, where shade and rays of sunlight create a patchwork on the roadbed.

At mile 3.2, where there’s room to pull over, you will feel cool and damp breezes passing like a whisper as a brook gurgles nearby. At mile 3.8, climb out of the forest to be greeted by sunshine and vistas of mountains and sea. Then descend steeply, rounding a number of blind curves and crossing two one-lane bridges. Soon you’re back on the highway.

View Larger Map


Adam Novicki said...

Wonderful description. It's on our to-do list.

Anonymous said...

First time my future wife Debbie (I'm, Joe) drove the Old Coast Rd, I was a sr & she was a jr in hi school. We drove a little white datsun pu. We used to go to Big Sur all the time since we were from Salinas. It was a foggy spring day when I coaxed her into taking the road. We never regretted it. At that time it was poorly signed. And we did not know where it went! Up the twisty dirt road we went above the fog. We could see the ocean. We went past a large ranch home sitting on a expanse of green in plateau meadow. Then we entered an emerald forest. The trees encircled over head on the road and were covered with thick moss, here sun light rarely touched the ground. You could smell the trees, ocean and fog mixed together. There were small creeks crossed by single lane wood bridges. There were old small log cabins around bends and up rugged dirt drives. We did not see anyone on our journey. We lost track of time stopping to walk and explore. It was very silent, peaceful and like a secret. Since then we have come back many times it has hardly changed. Now that she has passed away I remember us exploring our emerald secret.