Big Sur. Another spot that’s not exactly unknown. And by not unknown, I mean EVERYONE LOVES BIG SUR. And this post is going to tell you exactly why you should love it, too, but more importantly, why you should visit in the off-season. So consider this post a plan-ahead kind of post, which is great because the California State Parks website opens reservations exactly 6 months ahead of any date you would like to reserve, and six months from this month will put us in late September, which is a FABULOUS time to go camping. As is October– I think October might be one of my most favorite camping months.
Anyway, enough of the digressions. I’ve also hesitated in writing this post because it’s going to divulge yet ANOTHER secret spot that I kind of don’t want anyone to know about. Because it was amazing and DIVINELY PERFECT for families and I don’t want anyone else logging on six months before I want to go back and grabbing this reservation right out from under my nose. But also, I do want other people to know about the awesomeness that exists in the world. It’s why this website exists.
I think we’ve discussed how much I hate camping in the rain, but additionally how much I hate the idea of not camping for months. It’s why I put together this list of cabins for you. It’s not clear to me how exactly I found the ONE Pfeiffer-Big Sur cabin, because it is not well advertised. If you can get it though, DO IT! It’s roomy inside and sleeps four easily– a double bed and a bunk bed. If you got caught in a rainstorm, it’s not a bad place to spend some time playing cards. Plus, the porch area is large enough that I think it might be possible to cook on a camp stove outside (don’t quote me on this)–definitely big enough for a couple of camp chairs to be outside, contemplating the redwoods, but not having to be wet. So in love.
(There are also many campsites at Pfeiffer-Big Sur and they looked generally spacious and lovely, so it’s not a tragedy if you don’t score the cabin. I would recommend the campsites near the cabin (142-144) if you want to be amongst the redwoods.)
And then, we’re in Big Sur. Which, as everyone knows, is stunning. This trip made me really sorry we don’t spend more time there and we’re definitely figuring out some kid-friendly backpacking trips there in the next year. LOTS of kid-friendly hiking. We got in on Saturday afternoon and walked from the campground up Valley View trail. If you have a very small hiker, the Nature Trail that meanders around the campground is lovely. Valley View is probably about 1.5-2 miles to the end of the trail, which, as promised, offers you beautiful views of the valley, plus some gorgeous hillside (seen above). Valley View definitely climbs, but it’s also pretty enough that distraction works.
The next day, we woke up and headed out to Andrew Molera State Park. The trail out to the beach (Creamery Meadow) is short (1 mile) and very flat, with views of Pico Blanco, the mountain seen above. The one caution is that you must cross the river at the beginning of the trail, and from October 31 to June 15, there is no bridge. You must wade across. This is mostly not a problem, but the water in January (when we were there) is COLD. I also don’t know how high the water might get after a storm–we hadn’t gotten much rain by January of this year so it was fine for crossing.
The beach at Andrew Molera is beautiful. We spent a good couple of hours wandering, eventually getting down to some beautiful tidepools. It’s not a good beach for swimming, though– conditions can be dangerous. Your hikers won’t care, though. Ours might still be there if she had her druthers.
The next day, both of the parents of Bay Area Families Outside headed out for quick runs up Buzzard’s Roost. No one took a camera so there are no pictures, but I can tell you that THIS is a hike worth doing. It zig-zags up through beautiful redwoods from the river, only to pop out in scrub manzanita with a 360° view. Then you can take a loop down to the main trail (creating a lollipop). Probably somewhere between 4.5-5 miles round trip.
For our last hike, we asked the person at Big Sur Station for a recommendation (after hearing him chastise a couple who was looking for places to stop the car– i.e., not walk anywhere. “To see Big Sur, you have to get out of your car!”). He looked at our daughter and said, “Well, if you didn’t have her, I’d suggest Boronda Ridge, but it’s a hard trail for adults.” We said that sounded like a good trail for us. And it was. Let’s be clear– Boronda Ridge DOES go straight up the side of the hill. It’s the opposite of the meander to Andrew Molera. But it’s also SUPER pretty and the views (as well as the speed at which one climbs) can add to the sense of accomplishment, which we have found can keep a small hiker moving forward. If you’re going to hike Boronda Ridge, we recommend looking up directions on the website yourself or asking at Big Sur Station– he had some helpful pictures to point out exactly where the trailhead was. It’s a little tricky to find (although it’s right on Highway 1, between Pfeiffer-Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns) and this should not be your only set of directions. We went up probably 1-1.5 miles and had lunch before heading down and back to the Bay. You can do LOTS of miles on this trail, connecting to a larger network of trails, but they’re going to be steep.
We also have to put in a plug for the Big Sur Bakery and Cafe. We had an amazing dinner there on Saturday night (not the cheapest but worth it–make reservations ahead of time) and some of the best baked goods we’ve ever had. (If you ever want to curry favor with me for life, bring me one of the savory mushroom pastries.) The Big Sur Tap House is also quite fine, with a solid beer selection and plenty of board games (Candyland, for example).
All in all, Big Sur has plenty to offer for a magical weekend, particularly if it’s in the off-season. There were plenty of people there when we went, and it was the middle of January. I’m not quite sure that I would recommend it during the summer. Dogs are allowed on leash at the campground but you can’t take them on any state park trails. (Boronda Ridge, as it’s National Forest land, is the exception to to the trails we described above.)