This may be where the phrase “California Beautiful” was coined, or at least it should be…
Drive along California’s Highway 1 for any distance past the sleepy beach town of Moro Rock and you quickly realize why the California Central Coast pulls thousands of visitors from around the world. On one side, the road winds along rugged coast with gorgeous expansive scenic views, and on the other, it bends past rolling fields and jagged mountains. Every car turnout has a worthwhile vista; there’s high cliffs covered with colorful ice-plant, whales, seals, dolphins and otters in the ocean waters, and birds gliding in cool breezes of fresh salty air. The climate is mild, excellent for trails to be accessed year round. And, there are many hiking trails up into the hills and down to the sea coves and beaches.
Places of interest along the coast are numerous, and may be accessed from easy walks to lengthy climbing trails. In fact visitors spend anywhere from four days to two weeks, and still find they haven’t had enough time to see it all. There is Lover’s Point, a large rock formation protruding into Monterey Bay, only a short distance from parking. Or for the more adventurous, the Pine Ridge Trail in Los Padres National Forest leads into the Ventana Wilderness and Santa Lucia Mountains with access to rivers, waterfalls and thermal springs. There are stands of rare, endemic Santa Lucia Firs visible at higher elevations.
Point Lobos is also a popular destination offering hiking trails along its shoreline that lead to hidden coves. (Note: Get there early as parking is limited and this California State Natural Reserve is well-known. Also, make sure to adhere to parking signs as I watched a ranger leave tickets on unsuspecting windshields. Really this applies to the entire coast.) There is also Andrew Molera State Park with hikes winding along the Big Sur River, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with groves of Colonial Redwood Trees. Nearby is Pfeiffer Beach with a wonderful stone arch in the sea, excellent for photographs, especially at sunset.
There are many waterfalls along the California Central Coast. One not to be missed is McWay Falls. The falls are nestled in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There is a short trail past the falls and into a pristine beach cove. Experiencing this beautiful trail, the hiker understands why Big Sur is often called “the greatest meeting of land and sea.” South of this state park, are Big Creek Park, Limekiln State Park, Mill Creek, Prewitt Creek, Sand Dollar Beach and Jade Cove. All worth a stop if you enjoy varying hikes and coastal scenery. Towards the southern end of Big Sur, near San Simeon, lies Piedras Blancas Rookery, an Elephant Seal sanctuary with excellent wildlife viewing and coastal hikes. Read more about this preserve in last week’s journal, Elephants of the Sea, and watch the XplorMor Big Sur Expedition Slide show.