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36 Hours in Big Sur

Big Sur coastline and Bixby Bridge

Big Sur is one of my favorite places to go, with it's rocky coastline, sandy beaches and giant redwoods. I've been there several times but had never taken my kids. So we decided to pack up the car and venture out on one the best drives in the country, up the Pacific Coast Highway. We left LA later than anticipated (I sometimes wonder how we ever make it out of the house!), and hit the road, driving north on the 101, determined to make it our campsite before dark so that we didn't have to set up the tent in the pitch black night.

There are so many great places to explore in between Los Angeles and Big Sur. We hoped our first stop would be in El Capitan State Beach just north of Santa Barbara (and another beautiful place to camp) to stretch our legs and have a quick pit stop. However, our planned was foiled by a wildfire that had begun not too much earlier. Luckily, we were able to get past that stretch of road before they had to close it to fight the fire.

On we went towards San Simeon, where Highway 1 starts to become road you've seen in pictures. The drive itself is beautiful but slow. My husband kept saying "Well, we are only 45 miles away" to which I would point to the twisting road ahead of us and respond "Yes, but it's 45 miles like this!". We finally hit Big Sur right as the sun was setting, hoping we still had enough sunlight to find our campground and set up.

Big Sur sunset

Alas, we did not make it to the campsite before dark since we lost service on our phones and our map had us directed to Pfeiffer Beach in stead of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where the campground is! By the time we did find it, it was very dark and we pulled into the campsite only to notice two eyes shining back at us. Skunk! Bundles and I recently got sprayed by a skunk so we do not mess around with them. The critter finally retreated into the woods above our site and we were able to set up our tent. By the time we got everything ready, we were all so tired and frazzled by the skunk that we threw some sandwiches together, ate them and went to bed!

The next morning, everything that had been scary the night before was now beautiful in the morning light. We had a lovely breakfast over campfire surrounded by giant redwoods, then took a walk along the Big Sur River, which runs through the campground. There is a gorge you can hike to that is supposedly beautiful and well worth the hike but they do not allow dogs on the trail and we couldn't leave poor Buns behind. So, instead, we went to the beach! Pfeiffer Beach is just a few miles down the 1 from the campground and is a beautiful beach with a little inlet that the kids can play in and they let dogs come too!

Bundles and Otis on Pfeiffer Beach

Otis and I on Pfeiffer Beach

The beach is my happy place. I could spend all day laying in the warm sun or splashing in the waves and my kids love it almost as much as I do. Pfeiffer beach is beautiful and has a big sand hill that my kids loved climbing where you can get a great view of the Pacific. And the rocks! My son had so much fun climbing on the rocks, that is, until he cut his toe (it was a small cut and he was back in action quickly after).

Did I mention that we love basketball?? Well, we do. It was game 6 of the NBA Finals so after our day at the beach, we set out to find a good spot to watch the game. It seemed that the locals in Big Sur were just as excited about it as we were so finding a spot wasn't difficult. We had a glass of wine and some appetizers at the campsite and then headed to the Big Sur River Inn, where they had TV's, a kids menu and an outside patio for Bundles to hang. After the game, we went back to our campsite, built a fire and made s'mores, the best part of camping!

Our campsite

The next morning was our last in Big Sur so we had to pack up the tent and reload the car for our drive to San Francisco. We stopped at the Big Sur Lodge and shopped around, getting a sticker to add to our Thule car carrier (we get one from every place we go). Then, we headed to Ripplewood Cafe for breakfast, where I had some delicious huevos rancheros (seriously, don't miss them). And, then, it was back in the car!

Our trip to Big Sur was a great way to cap off our first year in California. It has been a crazy year, with so many ups and downs. I have questioned every decision we have made this last year, wondering if it was the 'right' one. We have all been happy, sad, stressed, anxious, lonely, fulfilled, sometimes all at the same time! But we did it together and I really believe that it has made us stronger as a family. Camping in Big Sur, just the five of us (yes, we count the dog), was such a relaxing, beautiful re-charge. Would I have wanted to spend more time there? Of course! But I am so grateful for 36 hours I did get to spend there. And now we just have an excuse to go back!

More Places to Explore in Big Sur:

Henry Miller Library - This place is one of coolest things in Big Sur. My husband got to play there several years ago with The Walkmen and the Fleet Foxes and it was probably the most magical show I've ever been too, mostly because of the setting. Nestled under giant redwoods, there is a small stage with string lights and people watching from the grass on their blankets. Seriously, amazing. There is also a bookstore and arts center, all celebrating the late writer, Henry Miller, who was a Big Sur resident.

Big Sur Bakery - Apparently, we really missed out by not going to the Big Sur Bakery. Everyone, I mean everyone, has asked me if we ate there. It looks delicious and I can't wait to try it the next time we go.

Andrew Molera State Park - This is another great place to camp and beach to visit. But the campsites fill up quick, especially in high season, so book early. Or if you procrastinate like I do, then just keep checking back in for cancellations. We got lucky on this trip and found a campsite two weeks before.

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