Exploring California’s Central Coast


After a two-day business trip in Silicon Valley recently, Kongo decided to take his time driving back to LA.  So after the meeting the monkey spent the night in a great little Victorian Inn on Cannery Row in Monterey then got up early and took the scenic 17-mile drive around Monterey Bay before heading south on California Highway 1 as far as he could go.  It’s been awhile (like several decades) since Kongo has been to this part of California and he was keen to see it again.

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For several months Highway 1 has been closed south of Big Sur all the way to Cambria.  Sections have recently reopened but it’s still shut down at the little village of Gorda.  Mud slides did the damage and CalTrans has been working hard to reopen this section of coast.

Before you head for the highway, there’s a lot to see in Monterey.  Since Kongo was staying in Cannery Row (the area named after John Steinbeck’s famous book of the same name) he explored that area first.  It’s actually pretty touristy.  When they have a Bubba Gump Shrimp house that should be a clue that you’re in a tourist place.  Cannery Row is like that.  But the famous Aquarium is here so that’s worth a visit and a chocolate sundae from Ghiradeli’s is not a bad way to end the evening.

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium
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Touristy Fish Houses (Actually the Walk-away fish and chips wasn’t bad)
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Replica cottages from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row era

The 17-mile Drive to Pacific Grove was worth the $10.50 entrance fee.  Yup, you have to pay to drive on this road but Kongo understands the residents get to roll for free.  It’s worth the change.  Even on a foggy, misty Monterey morning the seascapes, rugged coastline, and views of some of the iconic golf courses was worth it.  And the only way to see the Lone Cypress of Monterey is to shell out the dollars and take the drive.

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Spanish Landing Golf Course — Just across from the beach.

The golf course here is pretty spectacular.  For only $525 green fees (carts are extra, of course) you too can savor this Trent Jones designed course.  Alternatively you could just pay $10.50 to drive around and drool like the monkey did.  He didn’t have his clubs with him anyway.

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The rugged coastline is all part of a marine sanctuary with abundant sea life.  Honking seals, screeching birds, crashing waves.  Pretty nice.

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The aptly named Bird Rock — Like duh!

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The drive also takes you through quiet cypress groves that actually need the foggy misty weather to thrive. No worries about that on the day Kongo dove by.  The trees were loving it.

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The BIG THING on the drive is the Lone Cypress of Monterey.  Monterey Cypress trees are only found in Pebble Beach and Point Lobos, a bit farther south on the Monterey peninsula.  It’s a pretty rare species of tree.  The lone cypress stands on a granite outcrop and is over 250 years old.  It’s said to be one of the most photographed trees in the world and Kongo certainly added to the numbers during his visit.  Even on this murky, bleary day it was pretty spectacular.

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After finishing the 17-mile drive you merge on to Highway 1 and head south toward Big Sur. The sun finally broke through the fog and exposed a number of great views.

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The classic Bixby Bridge, built in 1932 during the Great Depression, is one the most scenic bridges in the world and is synonymous with driving Highway 1. It’s named after the creek it spans just before it empties into the Pacific. If you’re a fan of the HBO series Big Little Lies then you will recognize this span.

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Bixby Bridge

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As you drive south on Highway 1 from Pebble Beach there are flashing highway signs about every five miles warning you the road is closed at Gorda. The monkey had a plan, though, and that was to take the Naciento-Fergusson highway from the coast over the mountains south of Big Sur to eventually join up with the 101 Freeway at Bradley.  The turnout for the road is about two miles short of where Highway 1 was wiped out in May of 2017.

The little-used road is pretty much the definition of middle of nowhere in California and it may or may not be open. It passes through some Army land and if maneuvers were planned or there was a rockslide the monkey was going to find himself on a long drive back to Monterey.

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The slide at Mud Creek will cost more than $40M to repair. The highway has been closed since May 2017.  (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

As you pass through Big Sur and continue south there are fewer and fewer cars on the road and more and more CalTrans trucks and equipment. The monkey was getting strange looks as he headed further south. Like, what are you doing here?  Can’t you read the signs? Kongo pressed on. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a red light appears in the road, hanging from wires strung across the highway.  Kongo stops and after about five minutes it turns green.  He proceeds another mile and there, thankfully, is the cutoff.

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The Naciento-Fergusson road is paved. That’s a plus. It’s about a lane to a lane and a half wide with dozens of blind turns and just enough cars coming in the opposite direction to be worried about. It’s a steep, narrow, and very winding road but the view from the top of the mountain looking back at the ocean is pretty cool.

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The other neat thing at the top of the mountain was that a variety of yucca plant known as Spanish Bayonet or sometimes called Spanish Dagger was in full bloom. And by the way, the camera is being held level. That crazy tilt is a good depiction of how steep the mountain is.  And there aren’t any guardrails on the road so if you want to look at the view, you need to pull over when the road is wide enough.

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So all turns out well for good little monkeys. After crossing the summit at about 2,500 feet, the monkey passed through pine trees and live oaks along another narrow, winding, and incredibly steep road and eventually found a wider, flatter trail that led him to the 101 Freeway and a few hours on to home. It was a full day, a bit adventurous, but worth the effort.

Highway 1 is now scheduled to reopen all the way on July 20 so future visitors to this beautiful area should have a better drive.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

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6 Comments

  1. Really did look like a lovely scenic drive there, and a treat that the sun finally broke through. Bixby Bridge looks amazing from a distance, still standing strong beside that ocean. It must withstand those sea breezes very well. Beautiful Spanish Bayonenet.

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    1. Thanks, Mabel!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your photos are so good!! We went to Monterey a while back when the Big Sur road was closed for road/bridge damage. I don’t recall paying the $10.50 fee to do the Pacific Grove road, and we had lunch at the golf course. Somehow, I think we missed noting the Lone Cypress.
    One good thing that came out of the road closure was that we went inland and visited Pinnacles National Park. Then we took that cross over road through the Army land, saw the Spanish mission there and back to the coast. I don’t recall it being paved, at least on the Pacific side. Did they do that recently?

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    1. Hi, Elaine. I missed the San Antonio mission as I was running short on time but it’s on my list the next time I’m in the area. I’d like to see Pinnacles too. The road is paved on the Pacific side but it may be new. There were no stripes on the road.

      I’m eager to head back up there after the road reopens.

      Best.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a beautiful drive – our favorite places! We hope to visit California again next year. We want to drive Big Sur again, and are waiting for the entire drive to reopen to Cambria. Love the fog pictures!

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    1. Be sure to stop by in LA when you come!

      Like

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