Big Sur, which has no specific boundaries, is generally thought to include the 90 miles of coastline between the Carmel River and San Carpoforo Creek. It extends about 20 miles inland to the Santa Lucia mountain's eastern foothills. The northern end of Big Sur is approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco, and the southern end is about 245 miles north of Los Angeles. It is about 26 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Who are the residents of this beautiful place? How did an area with so few inhabitants become such a magnet for tourism? Big Sur's residents include descendants of the original settler and rancher families, creative types such as writers and artists, and wealthy homeowners from the entertainment and commerce industries. Early tourism involved residents who catered to adventurous travelers. However, tourism did not become Big Sur's economic base until Highway 1 was constructed and the end of World War II, which ended gasoline rationing. Easy access and lower gas prices made it appealing for people to visit Big Sur.
Most tourists do not venture far from Highway 1 because the Santa Lucia mountain range is roadless. The winding highway runs along the western flank of the mountains within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Because gazing at the scenery while driving can be dangerous, the highway has a number of overlooks.
Although tourism is quite important to the area, it is not overly accommodating to tourists. Perhaps this is the appeal to visitors. For instance, land use restrictions that are designed to preserve Big Sur's natural beauty limit tourists' lodging options. Thus, accommodations are often expensive and fill up quickly during the summer. There are less than 300 hotel rooms in the 90-mile stretch of Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and no chain hotels, supermarkets, or fast food restaurants. Lodging consists mainly of rustic cabins, motels, and campgrounds, or expensive and exclusive five-star resorts for the rich and famous.
Camping is one of the most popular activities in Big Sur. Visitors can choose from a number of camping venues located in state parks or privately owned campgrounds. For instance, Big Sur's valley offers streamside camping, while its southern end offers bluff camping.
Other activities include:
Hiking along streams in cool, tree filled valleys or into high ridges that boast spectacular views of the coastline
Watching the California Gray whales as they make their migration from Baja Mexico to Alaska
Dining in exquisite restaurants
Doing absolutely nothing but taking in the fresh air and natural beauty of the place
Whether you are planning a romantic get-a-way, relaxing trip, or an adventurous trek into untamed land, Big Sur provides an excellent opportunity to delight in the glorious beauty of California's central coastline.