Outdoor Adventures / Road Trips / Surfing

Beautiful Big Sur

Highway 1 hugging the cliffs of Big Sur

Last weekend, I went on my other favorite road trip in California: The incredible Highway 1, which runs along the coast and offers views like no other.

Jaw-dropping views. Views that make you pinch yourself and wonder if it’s all real. Through the Big Sur region, Highway 1 is a designated American National Scenic Byway and the drive alone is a destination in itself.

The rugged Central California coastline

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Driving south down Highway 1 on the Central Coast is a highly worthy excursion — you’re next to the water, up on a cliff, meandering along a two-lane road that hugs the South Coast Ranges.

Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1

The rugged Central California coastline

Pampas grass in Big Sur

We began our drive in the middle of the night from Monterey, hoping to snag a first-come first-served campsite nearly two hours south at Plaskett Creek. But unfortunately, like every state and county beach from NorCal to SoCal, the campground was completely full. So was Kirk Creek down the road, booked up for the rest of the summer.

We had two choices: Keep driving to Morro Bay where we could check into a motel, or find some free, unimproved forest land to camp for the night. We chose the latter.

It was nearing 2 am. We veered off onto Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a dark, lonely, and sneaky little road perched above Highway 1 that winds through the Santa Lucia Range.

The Milky Way was out in full force. We even spotted the first of the Perseid meteors darting across the sky. We pulled off the road, groped our way down a grassy slope with a headlamp, and found a decently flat spot to set up camp. We just needed a simple place to rest for the night.

It was pitch black and we were so exhausted, we collapsed in our tent a short while later, snoozing on a random patch of land off the side of the road.

When we woke up the next morning, we couldn’t believe our view.

This view.

Rolling hills of Big Sur

Oceanview camping in Big Sur

Somehow, we had blindly ended up on a bluff overlooking a verdant canyon, with the impossibly blue Pacific gleaming in the distance.

Tent perched on a bluff overlooking a verdant canyon

Camping in Big Sur

Oceanview camping in Big Sur

From the bluff, we took in the serenity of Big Sur and watched falcons soar overhead. It was the epitome of one of my favorite sayings: dolce far niente… “sweet doing nothing.” Delicious idleness.

Falcon watching in Big Sur

Only a small handful of cars passed us that morning, none the wiser to our impromptu campsite down the hill.

Camping in Big Sur

Around midday we packed up shop and went in search of surf. The rugged Central California coastline is full of secret spots still to be discovered, and not-so-secret spots that still feel amazingly remote.

Somewhere along that coastline, tucked into a picturesque cove below the highway, were beautiful lines of swell gently rolling into the beach and peeling both directions. The wind was calm and the tide was dropping. I had an inkling that my surf god had set this day up especially for me.

Waves in Big Sur

Waves in Big Sur

We had our pick of peaks and got to surf by ourselves on the most glorious day Big Sur had seen in nearly two weeks. (The region is notoriously foggy in the summer.)

Riding those long waves, under the warmth of the sun, over water so clear that I could see the ocean floor beneath my board — I would’ve been happy just catching one wave.

But I caught wave… after wave… after wave. I surfed until my arms refused to paddle any further, until my legs gave out from under me and I belly-boarded through the whitewater in cobra pose, feeling the foam flick my cheeks and the salt coat my grin, all the way onto the buttery brown sand.

The stoke. This is what surfing is all about.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Andrea
    October 31, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Wow! Which beach did you end up surfing?

    • Linda Ly
      November 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Near our campsite. 😉

  • Paige Puckett
    August 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Wow. That’s so beautiful. I must make it out to the California coast again. I’ve only visited SanFran and never saw sites like this.

    • Linda Ly
      August 9, 2011 at 2:01 am

      This drive is definitely a must-do. My favorite part of Highway 1 is between Monterey and San Simeon – it’s the most dramatic. You will pull over endless times for photo opps!


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