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I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my entire life, and I am a little embarrassed to admit that before March, I had never been to Big Sur before! Sam and I planned a trip last year for the week before Hawaii, but he ended up having to fly to China on less than 24 hours notice. We meant to go later, but it just never worked out. So during our Valentine’s Day Picnic this year, Sam surprised me with a big Sur paper cutout! We were originally planning on staying at a Hyatt, but we ended up camping instead and I’m really glad we did. We had a lot of fun setting up our tent, cooking over a camp stove, and playing with long exposure star photos and shadows. In the style of the Las Vegas Vacation Guide, here’s the Big Sur Vacation Guide with my thoughts on each place.
Pfeiffer Beach – This beach is quite pretty and has an iconic rock that you’ve probably seen in a lot of photos about Big Sur. It’s also famous for its purple sand. Unfortunately, it can be a bit difficult to get down to Pfieffer Beach. The parking lot is small, so at the top, right off of Highway 1, there’s a ranger who will turn you away if the lot below is full. Every so often, he’ll let in 5 cars or so. It’s really a bit of a luck draw. There are technically signs right before the turnoff that say Pfieffer Beach Closed if there aren’t spots, but we checked once when the signs were off and either weren’t fast enough or it was a lie… and when we actually did make it down, it was when the signs were on! The first time we talked to the ranger, he suggest going to Andrew Molera Beach, so we did that… more on that later… before coming back and trying two more times before finally getting lucky! We had considered walking down from the top, which is supposed to be 30 minutes down and 1 hour up, but since we wanted to stay until sunset, it would have meant walking up at dusk/dark, which we weren’t thrilled about. Honestly, I’m glad we didn’t because while the beach was pretty, it wouldn’t have been worth it. It was INCREDIBLY windy. Like the wind whipped up sandstorms that hurt my legs. There also ended up being no sunset due to a huge bank of clouds, but it was still pretty and very cool to see the purple sand. I would say 3.5/5, because I think it would have been beautiful if it were less windy!
Andrew Molera Beach – Technically, I can’t give you a real review for this, because we didn’t make it down there as it requires FORDING A RIVER to get there. No joke. The river is actually pretty fast moving, very cold, and went up to the top of my thighs. We checked it out after being turned away from Pfieffer Beach and after we had paid for parking and everything, we walked down the trail and saw a freaking river. Of course, I was carrying my camera bag, and Sam was wearing pants. So we looked at each other and were like… do we really want to do this?! I knew it was going to be our only sunset in Big Sur and I really wanted to get to a beach, so I said yes. Sam went to change into shorts and I watched a few people cross the river. We were just getting ready to attempt the fording when people came back from the beach. We asked them if they thought it was worth it and they said no… and we realized that if we wanted to see the sunset, we would be walking back and fording the river about an hour after sunset, which sounded both cold and dangerous. 2/5
Pfieffer Falls – Nice, easy hike up to some pretty falls. They aren’t extremely impressive, but they are pretty and you can get right up to the base. The hike is not bad at all, probably took around an hour or so round trip? Lots of gorgeous trees along the way, of course! 4/5
McWay Falls – This is the only waterfall in Big Sur that empties onto the beach. It is GORGEOUS. Unfortunately, you can’t get down to the beach… which is probably a good thing, because it’d be super crowded if you could. It was stunning and absolutely worth driving 30 minutes further south to see it. There are a bunch of outlook points and the water was just so beautiful and blue-green the day we went. It looked straight out of the Mediterranean! 4.5/5
Big Sur Bakery – This bakery is just beyond Pfeiffer Beach and I’ve been wanting to go for a good two or so years now. It did live up to its reputation! It wasn’t as good as Bouchon (and the prices were comparable) but it was quite tasty and the location is charming. 4/5
Old Fisherman’s Grotto – This restaurant is along Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. There are a TON of places that do clam chowder and they all give out samples, so I recommend trying them all. A lot of them give away free calamari if you go eat there, but we found that those restaurants usually had inferior clam chowder, haha. We ended up at Old Fisherman’s Grotto and got their special clam chowder which had crab and shrimp and cheese baked on top. Honestly, I could have done without the crab BUT the top of the bread bowl was covered in garlic butter and it was definitely the highlight of the meal, so it was totally worth it. 4/5
Hope you found this Big Sur Vacation Guide helpful! Overall, my impressions were that Big Sur is gorgeous, and I’d LOVE to shoot a wedding or elopement there… but the coast up here is just as pretty! We both agreed that Point Montara was better than Pfieffer Beach 🙂 That being said, if you’re looking for a Big Sur elopement photographer, contact me or email me at email@example.com!