Big Sur California Central California Coast Photos & Info




Big Sur once was thriving industrial region for redwood lumber. The Old Coast Trail which had been the only link  between homesteads was still little more than a wagon trail.  Steamers transported heavy goods and supplies and harbored at Notley’s Landing, Parrington Cove and the mouth of Little Sur River.   


Navigation was treacherous and in 1889, the Point Sur Lighthouse Station began sending its powerful beam to protect ships from the hazards of the coastline.


Big Sur is located along scenic Highway One approximately 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles.  Historically, the name Big Sur was derived from that unexplained and unmapped wilderness area which lays along the coast south of Monterey. It was simply called El Sur Grande; The Big South.

Today, Big Sur refers to that 90-mile stretch of rugged and awesomely beautiful coastline between Carmel to the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south.  Highway One winds along its length and is flanked on one side by the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains and on other by the rocky Pacific Coast.


Although there were two Mexican land grants awarded in the 18300’s  which included most of the area north of the Big Sur Valley, neither grantee settled on the land.  It was little more than a century ago when the first permanent settlers arrived in Big Sur. In the following decades other handy persons followed and staked out their homesteads. The landmarks bare the names of those early settlers—Mr. Manuel, Pfeiffer Ridge, Post Summit, Cooper Point, Dani Ridge, Parrington Cove and others.  Some of their descendants still live in Big  Sur.


In 1937 the present highway was completed after 18 years of construction at a considerable expense, even with the aid of convict labor.  The highway has since been declared California’s first scenic. It provides a driving experience unsurpassed in natural beauty and scenic variety. 


Electricity did not arrive Big Sur until the early 1950’s, and it still does not extend the entire length of the coast or into the remote mountainous areas.


The proximity of the Pacific Ocean provides for a temperate climate. Winters are mild and rainy days interspersed with periods of bright sunshine.  An average rainfall of over 50 inches fills the many streams that flow down the redwood-lined canyons. Coastal fog cools the summer mornings and usually lifts by early afternoon. The best weather is often during the spring and fall seasons. 


It is wise to include both warm and cold clothing when packing for Big Sur.  A damp, foggy morning can be followed by a warm afternoon.  The interior valleys of the Wilderness Area experience greater extremes in temperatures. The fog bank seldom crosses the coast ridge so the days are likely to be hot and the nights chilly.  

The scenic qualities and natural grandeur of the coast which result from the imposing geography, the rich vegetative compositions, and the dramatic meetings of land and sea are the area’s greatest single attraction to the public.  Big Sur has attained a worldwide reputation for its spectacular beauty.  Hiking, backpacking and scenic driving are major recreational activities.  


Drive carefully. Highway One is one of the best-maintained roads in the world but its sharp curves and steep hills still preclude high speed driving.  The breathtaking stretch of coastline has something to offer every visitor.  So relax and enjoy the awesome beauty of the timeless Big Sur Coast. 


Ancient Redwoods Thrive Along the Big Sur Coast

Redwoods known as Coast Redwoods grow in a very narrow strip along the coast of California from the extreme southwestern corner of Oregon to 150 miles south of San Francisco in the Soda Springs drainage of Big Sur. The area is about 500 miles long and rarely summer fog, moderate year-round temperature and considerable winter rainfall.  Redwood does not grow naturally beyond the belt affected by this combination.


Redwood is a rapidly growing tree with some individual trees measured at more than 360 feet in height, making it the tallest tree species on earth. In favorable situations, trees 20 years old may average 50 feet in height and 8 inches in diameter.  Average mature trees are from 200 to 240 feet high with diameters of 10 to 15 feet at 4 feet 8 inches above the ground.  Exceptional individuals sometimes reach a height of 350 feet, a diameter of over 20 feet and an age of approximately 2000 years.


Redwood leaves are green, flat and sharp pointed.  The brown cones are egg-shaped and only one-half inch in diameter.  Their seeds average about 123,000 to a pound.


The soft, reddish brown bark, six to 12 inches thick is one of the Coast Redwood’s most distinguishing characteristic, and together with the wood, names of the species. On older trees the bark has a grayish tinge and is deeply furrowed, giving the tree a fluted appearance.  Although the thick bark of older trees is relatively fire resistant, repeated fires can damage these trees considerably.  The large hollows or goose-pens frequently found in the base of large trees give evidence of this fact.  Fire can also injure the young growth or kill it outright.  Redwood is exceptionally free from fungus diseases, however, and there are no insects that materially harm it.    Human demand is most responsible for the destruction of first growth Coast Redwood trees.


Adjacent to the Big Sur baseball field at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of Big Sur’s largest redwood trees. The size of the ancient tree, known locally as the Pioneer Tree is deceiving. Due to lightning strikes, it has been severed at the top.