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Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, & Big Sur

Travel Stage: After San Francisco Area, Before Ventura
Date Range: December 5-7, 2016
Summary: We take a trip along the famous Highway 1 through Monterey, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and along Big Sur to find out what all the commotion is about. ​Stories of the famous Highway 1 drive’s scenic beauty and winding curves along the Pacific cliffs sparked a strong desire to see it…as well as to not drive our house on it.

  Given these conflicting desires, we decided to drop the fifthwheel at a Thousand Trails campground in the small village of Paicines (pie-seen-es) about an hour inland while we took the truck, the pups, and some camping gear for a little longer excursion along the coast.


​We started our day off early and drove west to Monterey. We stopped along the sand dunes just east of town to admire the bay. Just off shore is one of the largest marine preserves along the coastline Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, that has a shore length of 276 miles from north of the Golden Gate bridge to Cambria, and a total area of over 6,000 square miles!  

  ​It was here we were introduced to the ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) – a succulent plant native to South Africa brought to the sandy dunes in an attempt to stabilize the sand. Unfortunately, the ice plant did very well in this climate and spread like wildfire. The park organizations continue to try to beat back this plant with little avail as it destroys the native plants and habitat for local wildlife.   

  ​We drove into town and strolled along the beach and the shoreline walkways. We particularly enjoyed Lover’s Point, a jagged outcropping jutting into the insanely colorful ocean.  


​The road then took us to Carmel-by-the-Sea. This upscale, oceanside community had the narrowest, windy, and hilly roads! Every house looked like a million bucks, and high end cars packed the driveways. From the beach we could see the famous PGA tour golf course, Pebble Beach.  

  ​As you can see by the pictures, the place was gorgeous! But this was December after all, and it was a bit on the chilly side, despite the tropical looks. 

The Greatest Meeting of Land and Water

Big Sur is located 150 miles south of San Francisco and was historically an unexplored and unmapped wilderness area. It was mostly impassable because of its ruggedness: permanent settlers didn’t come to the area until around 1900, and even then only a few of the hardiest settlers made homesteads here. Many of the first settlers’ names are born on the landmarks throughout the Big Sur area.      

  ​In 1937 the present highway was completed after eighteen years of construction. The highway was declared California’s first Scenic Highway. Electricity did not arrive in Big Sur until the 1950s, and still does not extend the length of Big Sur.

  ​We stopped several time along the coast to take pictures and admire the beauty. We stopped at the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its graceful architecture. 

​“Prior to the opening of the bridge in 1932, residents of the Big Sur area were virtually cut off during winter due to the often impassable Old Coast Road that led 11 miles (18 km) inland.” -Wikipedia

  ​When we stopped at one of the State Parks they told us much of the park and the Los Padres National Forest behind the parks to the east was closed due to the recent wildfire damage from the previous summer and fall. This was not good news to us – we had been planning to camp overnight in the Los Padres National Forest!  ​A little further down the road, we found our favorite part of Big Sur – McWay Falls at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. 

McWay Falls

  ​The trail takes you out to a jaw-dropping viewpoint of the quintessential waterfall and cove. The viewpoint is in the place that Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown had their house, and the view of the waterfall had been out their bedroom window. Could you imagine!  

  ​The cove used to look different, with the water falling directly into the waves. However, just a short distance away a landslide took a good section of the road and hillside down into the ocean below. Sand from the slide was carried around the point and into the cove, filling it with so much sand that the waterfall now falls onto a golden beach.

To camp, or Not to Camp?

​After watching the sunset on McWay Falls, we needed to find a place to have some dinner and make camp. However, the temperature was dropping fast…it was going to be a cold night in a tent! We truly were spoiled having our furnace and comfy bed in our home on wheels.

  Campgrounds along Big Sur were right on the shore and did not offer electricity. They cost around $30/night for a place to pitch your tent. Call us frugal, but that was just too much to freeze our butts off for. If the free boondocking camping in the Los Padres Forest was open, we would have toughened up and done it. But $30 would easily get us home from where we were and we could sleep in our nice warm bed. 

  ​On the map there was a road that snaked up and over the mountains from Lucia to Jolon. It turned out to be a narrow dirt road that wound up along the cliffs above Highway One. We were glad it quickly got dark, because to see the cliffs dropping away would have been too terrifying to go on! (This cracks me up, because on a lot of maps this road just looks like any other road.)

  ​We stopped at a pull off and used our generator that we brought with us to make some dinner and some hot tea – the truck thermometer was now reading in the 30s. We were so glad we weren’t trying to set up a tent right now.

  ​A little while later, we ran into a huge scary sign:

  ​At first we thought it meant we couldn’t pass, but then figured out the part about not leaving the paved road. Regardless, it was a little nerve-racking driving through a military base at night!

  ​It was a long drive in the dark, but we made it home safe before 9PM and went to bed warm and comfy, and got to see Big Sur without towing our house on wheels. Success! 

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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