Camping in Big Sur

 A few weeks ago my husband and I packed up the car, grabbed the dog and high tailed it up the coast to beautiful- one of a kind- Big Sur, California.

I count myself one lucky lady that every summer as a child we went camping in either Big Sur or the Santa Cuz Mountains- both breathtakingly gorgeous places. My husband suggested the camping trip and I got such a nostalgic, warm and fuzzy feeling- it was a round trip ticket to my childhood.

Our first stop along the winding road was lunch at Ragged Point. Ragged Point consists of a casual  take out "snack bar", a sit down restaurant, hotel, gas station and mini market. I've never eaten at the sit down restaurant- we've always opted for the "snack bar", which has pretty decent burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs. The environs of Ragged Point are beautiful. Uninterrupted views of the coastline in each direction, bright bougainvillea, well kept walkways and if you're lucky- peace and quiet. Definitely worth a stop! 

A little further up Hwy 1 we made an emergency stop for our poor pup. He doesn't like riding in the car- he gets anxiety and occasionally he gets car sick. The little fella couldn't help himself and got car sick in the backseat. We made our pit stop, cleaned things up and gave our pup a much needed break out of the car. At least if you have to stop and wait for things to dry we got to do it somewhere with a gorgeous view. 

Arriving at Pfieffer Big Sur State Park, the regular campground of my childhood (followed in later years by Ventana Campground also in Big Sur, and Big Basin Redwoods State Park campground in the Santa Cruz mountains), was like turning back the clock to 10 years old- only this time I was in charge of the reservation and my husband and I only had each other to set up camp. It was thrilling to roll down the window and breath in those glorious redwoods, knowing that this would be our home for the next 2 nights.

We found out farely quickly that Finnigan is afraid of heights. As we prepared to walk over this bridge, he dug his heels in and refused to budge an inch. The only way that we could get him to cross was by allowing him to walk in the center of the bridge. Drivers were very kind when it became apparent that we couldn't get him out of the middle of the road and went around us, with lots of waves and smiles.

((Yes, this is how you blow up your air matress if you don't want it to touch the ground and get dirty.)

We also found out in short order that Finnigan didn't want anything to do with the fire or the smoke that it produced. The above picture shows how close he would get. Eventually he would get closer but only with the promise of treats.

Our first morning and we set out for Big Sur Bakery. A few friends of mine, who are regulars in Big Sur told me about the bakery. The last time I had been up in the Pfeiffer Big Sur part of the coastline the bakery either wasn't there or we were driving by too fast to notice. Our Big Sur excursions usually entail only going as far north as Nepenthe, about 30 minutes south of the bakery (we chose to skip Nepenthe this trip- it was far too crowded and parking is very limited).  The bakery was both a yummy and odd experience for me (I'll get to that  story in a moment...). It was quite crowded, as it's well earned reputation has spread far and wide, so we waited in line for a little bit. We decided to forgo sitting down to a full meal and just got pastries to go. I was going to get coffee as well but the wait seemed to be awhile and we had the dog waiting for us in the car. Next time we'll leave the dog relaxing at home, giving us all the time in the world to enjoy coffee and pastries and just maybe a wood fired pizza (yum!).

As we waited in line I took some photos of the lovely interior- it's a cozy little place and I just love the exposed beams and wooden bar. It has such a homey feel and I was hoping that would translate through the photos. I also really wanted to get a photo of the pastry case- this is where things took an odd turn.  As we moved closer to the front of the line I lifted my camera to get a shot of the pastry case between customers. The guy working the register behind the counter had a little mini flip out. He dramatically lifted his hands to shield his face and proceeded to embarass the crap out of me. He saidly loudly and dramtically something to the affect of, "No photos, I don't want to be in your pictures." and gave me a death glare. I wanted to melt into the floor- of course people turned and looked at me- if I hadn't wanted that damn pastry and the cookbook so bad I would have turned around and left, I was mortified. Thank goodness there were 2 people working the registers because if he would have been the one to take our order I think I would have cried. The girl who ended up taking our order was so nice, so she redeemed the experience for me and made me feel less like a jerk.  Despite that experience, it's a wonderful place and well worth any wait you may have in both the line and while you wait for your food. Also the cookbook is a recommeded buy as well. Not only does it have recipes for some of their delectable foods, it also has a history of the bakery and a little insight to what it's like to live in Big Sur year round. A great read!

They were out of the pastry that I'd been recommened (the almond croissant) so I settled for the classic glazed donut and my husband got the cream filled. They were rich and delicious- I completely recommend them. Next time I would like to order a meal and sit down outside the restaurant- after having purchased and read through their cookbook I know that amazing, thoughtful food is waiting for us!

(the brilliant and adorable packaging for the cookbook- great way to use a paper bag)

Our next order of business was Pfeiffer Beach. I'm sure you'll be scratching your head and wondering where the beach photos are. Well friends, there are none. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Why? Because the beach of many a childhood vacation memory now costs $10! I could not believe it. We slowly made our way down the badly maintained, narrow- sometimes one lane- road to get to this treasure of a beach. I assured my husband that the ride down was worth the trouble as we dodged pot holes the size of large puddles and other vehicles coming head on from the opposite direction. I have such fond memories of that beach and I was excited to introduce my husband to it and feast on our donuts with the cool breeze and bright sun. It was not to be- as we pulled up to a ranger booth boldly declaring the $10 fee. I wish they had told us that before we embarked on that 2 mile bumpy journey. I didn't have $10 in cash so it was a wasted trip. A  bit of a disappointment. I guess the lesson here is to research- I have since looked it up online and many sites tell you of the $10 fee- I just never thought to look it  up since it had always been free- lesson learned. 

(as a side note I had a similar experience driving up at Jade Cove. I usually stop there to use the restroom on our way up the coast so when we pulled off and I hopped out to run to the restroom, I was bowled over when a ranger literally chased me down and told me it was $10. I told her I was just using the bathroom and she said I would have to get back in my car, drive back around to the ranger booth and pay $10. I told her I wasn't parking for day use and that I just wanted to use the restroom- I'd be a minute tops and she said, "That will be $10." This, my friends is why I normally never go to Big Sur in the summer. I'm pretty sure the rangers have had it up to here- next time we'll head up in early fall and avoid some of this craziness, although I'm afraid my days of using the once free restroom at Jade Cove and the once free beach at Pfeiffer Beach are over, as I think the $10 fee is here to stay. Just be aware of these fees as you head up there and make sure you have cash on hand.)

Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places on earth and even though we didn't get to partake in the beauty that is Pfeiffer Beach we did have beauty all around us. We were limited to walks around the campgroud since we had the dog with us (they are not allowed on trails, even with leashes), but we knew that before we even arrived and I remembered how very lovely Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is even if you can't hike the trails, just walking to the camp store is beautiful. We're looking forward to coming back without the dog so we can hike to Pfeiffer falls and get off the beaten path a little bit. There is also a beautiful watering hole that we used to swim in as children. There is less water than when I was a child so it's much shallower but it's still a lovely spot for a dip- a great place to take your kids! When California is not in a drought and there's far more water in the river it's fun to just lazily float in an intertube. 

Finny's happy place. He was a miserable camper- he hated everything but the walks. Poor Pup. We have vowed not to subject him to this misery again. He loves his creature comforts.

If you have the opportunity to see Big Sur, whether for the day or for an extended camping or lodge stay, please do! It truly is a marvel, with breathtaking nature and can both invigorate and calm the weary soul. Every season has something to offer- I have been when it's cold with mist, raining with fierce weather, bright with sun- each time was beautiful. Of course if you are limited and are not lucky enough to live within driving distance, summer or early fall will probably be your best seasons. You will get the most out of the weather and the striking views.


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