Starting Out 2019 in Big Sur

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Jan 4, 2014
After A Few Days in Yosemite, Colleen and I packed up her stuff (most of mine still being in my car) and my roadtrip picked up a partner to enjoy some nice weather. Luckily Colleen could get plenty of time off to match my between jobs unemployment fun time.

So it was that we rolled into the Monterey Bay area for New Year's Eve. Excitement burst forth as we saw the ocean. Having an AirBNB lined up for the night, we decided to take our time to enjoy the afternoon by visiting Fort Ord Dunes State Beach. Colleen is a huge lover of the ocean while I've had little experience so the next few days were lining up to be a bit entertaining.

The dunes were interesting. Mellow coarse sands were covered in a succulent plant that we later learned is known as ice plant. It could apparently be invasive, but it was neat so at the time we didn't think of it. It had yellow and purple flowers.


One the other side of the dunes was the ocean! This spot was pretty exposed to the energy of the sea so big waves were thundering away. At least.... they seemed big to me. I certainly did not want to swim. I barely even wanted to get my feet wet, trying to get pictures of any worth with my phone had me scampering in and out of the line of the waves' reach. Along with a selection of beach detritus like shells and sea glass, we watched birds and the play of the sun on the waves.


On New Year's Day we went into Monterey to visit its amazing aquarium. It lived up to my childhood memory. I was going from tank to tank with more excitement than the children in attendance, seriously, I had children giving me WTF looks. One girl looked like she was one squeal away from asking if I was okay at the sea otter viewing. It was a fun time. I could watch the creatures of the ocean for days, especially the jellyfish. They are so pretty.


After wandering a surprisingly shutdown Monterey looking for food (the area sure seemed busy in my opinion, so why were so many places closed?) we headed south, down into Big Sur. The drive was splendid, dramatic cliffs and setting sun lighting up clouds fascinated the eyes for a while. We did however find that much of the coast was lined by private or closed off lands, so it took a while to find a public road to camp by. It turns out we didn't even camp where we could, we had missed a sign saying no camping and a grumpy person woke us up in the morning to shoo us away. He claimed to be Forest Service, but he sure didn't act very official and we never actually saw him. Whatevs, he got us up to enjoy the day! We drove down to the coast and found a spot with many cars parked at it. We had no idea where we were headed, but there was a trail going towards the ocean, so we went.


Cutting through a hill, we found ourselves above a beautiful little cove.


The trail did not go down into the cove however. It instead followed the hill out to a point in the rocks. Being right at wave level and exposed to the ebb/flow of the waves unsettled my desert rat legs, a fun feeling while scrambling around on rocks and checking out tidal life. Being a slightly less accessible place, the tide pools had lots of life in them and seemed quite healthy to me. I was in a bit of a seventh heaven. We enjoyed the spot for a while.


From there we headed to the official Big Sur State Park. We weren't sure what we would find, but we luckily found a sign that gave us some ideas of what to do. We ended up going to a beach managed by the state for the sunset. It was a beautiful spot with mellow sandy beaches and crashing waves. Multiple sea arches sat right at the break of the waves. The "lamest" of the arches was also the most popular with photographers, so we had the cool ones we checked out to ourselves. It was a lovely spot to enjoy the sunset.


After another night, we set out for more state park fun. Unlike my home state of Utah, when you buy an entrance fee at a California State Park it is good at all others for that day, so we could visit a few for the price of one! We started off with a visit to McWay Falls. I guess this spot is an icon of the Big Sur area, but it wasn't that great.


From there we headed back up nearly to Monterey to visit Point Lobos State Reserve. We could have spent a whole day there over our half day, it was absolutely beautiful and amazing. We hiked around taking in all the sights. Seals dotted the rocks, pelicans soared by. Standing and watching the massive surf crashing upon rocks we spied a couple of sea otters and watched for close to an hour. Sea lions yelled at each other on a distant rock as we raced toward a dramatic sunset spot. It was truly magical and I think cemented that I love the sea. Its life and energy is enthralling. I could come back to this place again and again, but alas, plans were such that we would move on from here, south to Channel Islands National Park. You have to stay tuned for that one ;)

Wonderful! The tidal pools are fun, you even saw starfish. It can be tricky to time a good tidal pool visit and sometimes the tide is still too high at "low tide" to see the critters well. You were lucky! Point Lobos State reserve looks pretty cool, I marked that. I'm looking forward to the report from Channel Island NP too- never heard of it :rolleyes:. In one of your last photos there is a sea otter (I think) with maybe a stone on it's stomach. Did you see it smack a clam onto the rock to open the clam?

You were lucky to be able to sneak in that night of camping along the coast, nice!
In one of your last photos there is a sea otter (I think) with maybe a stone on it's stomach. Did you see it smack a clam onto the rock to open the clam?

We totally watched that otter smack things on that rock. That was actually how we first discovered that otter. We heard a weird sound and attributed it to a bird until I saw a small flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. Whack whack whack whack whack! Every time it dived down to get another tasty morsel it would surface with a rock too.

You were lucky to be able to sneak in that night of camping along the coast, nice!

We were more appropriate our next couple of nights. We honestly had really nice campsites in the area EXCEPT for that first night. Twas basically a wide spot of the road.
Great pics! Thanks for sharing. Point Lobos is a hidden gem. We stopped in for an afternoon just because we had some "free time". I wish I had planned a day or two in there.
Great share! So jealous of all the sea critters you saw. I always seek them out to take photos and can never find them. Haha
Glad you two had fun! Monterey Bay Aquarium is always exciting.
Cannot wait to see your report on Channel Islands!
So jealous of all the sea critters you saw. I always seek them out to take photos and can never find them.

I was so stinking amazed by how much we saw, I never expected that. We were helped somewhat by it being seal pupping season, although we saw no seal pups. We also got really lucky and visited some tide pools that seemed more off the beaten path. Fewer people poking = more biodiversity?

Then there is the sea otter. I nearly died I was so happy.
Green crab, seals, sunset crashing waves, and excellent all around.
Nice contrast to see given the winter outside.

Hoping to see more.
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