Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Summer in Big Sur, California, usually means traffic jammed with iPhone-snapping tourists driving absurdly slow down the famed coastal cliffs of Highway 1. But this summer, it’s a different story. A giant mudslide took out a chunk of the highway in May, and heavy winter storms destroyed the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge earlier this year, shutting down access to whole stretches of Big Sur. While a new road is planned for the area, for now this rugged coastal zone remains more than a little tricky to get to—locals have taken to calling the unreachable parts of the coast “Big Sur Island.”
But here’s the thing: Access to the northern stretch of Big Sur remains open, with parks, trails, and businesses ready and waiting for tourists, and the area has gotten creative with access to the closed zones. The only thing you won’t find in Big Sur? The crowds. “It’s beautiful here right now,” says Kendra Morgenrath, who works at Big Sur’s Nepenthe Restaurant. “It’s not like what it was—there are less people, and those who are here are the ones willing to hike in.”
Here are five reasons to go to Big Sur right now.
#1. You Have to Hike In
A shuttle service that launched on July 1 picks up travelers at Andrew Molera State Park and brings them to a temporary half-mile hiking path with more than 300 feet of elevation gain that lets you bypass the closed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. The route leads to Nepenthe, a favorite Big Sur lunch spot, with killer views of the coastline. Get the Ambrosia burger with a spicy tomato sauce.
#2. Or You Can Take a Helicopter
The recently reopened Post Ranch Inn, a remote spa-like resort with daily yoga and a gourmet breakfast spread, is accessible via the new bypass trail—or you can fly in on a helicopter. In August, the four-star establishment is offering a free helicopter flight from nearby Monterey if you stay three or more nights. If you’d rather hike in, you can still send your luggage in via helicopter if you don’t want to carry your belongings on your back.
#3. You Can Now Cruise the Coast Via Electric Bike
A new locally owned e-bike business has popped up in the wake of the road closures. You can now book an e-bike from Big Sur Adventures for a half-day ($75) or a full day ($105). You’ll have to take the shuttle and hike in to reach your e-bike, but once you’re there, you’ll have access to some 40 miles of relatively empty roadway and up-front views of the 80-foot McWay Falls within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is open for limited day-use only.
#4. You Can Camp and Hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park opened on July 1 after nearly 11 months of closure due to wildfires and storms. The campground and several of the park’s trails are now open, including the Liewald Flat Trail, Nature Trail, and Redwood Deck, which means you can hike among massive, ancient redwood trees and walk along the Big Sur River, which flows through the park. Campsites are filling up fast, so book soon if you want to stay overnight. There’s no beach access from here, but there are plenty of good views of the area’s craggy coastal cliffs.
#5. You Can Sleep in a Cottage or Yurt Overlooking the Coast
Sadly, you can’t get a chocolate croissant from the Big Sur Bakery, which is closed while the highway is being repaired. But plenty of other favorite spots along Big Sur’s coastline are open and ready for you. Big Sur Lodge, which you can access easily from the north by driving south from Carmel, has cottages available and is serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week long. Treebones Resort, where you can pitch a tent or sleep in a well-appointed yurt, is unreachable via Highway 1 in either direction, but you can access the resort via a windy alternate road from the east. It adds about an hour to your drive time but is keeping the crowds at bay.