Camping Above the Clouds: Big Sur

Five miles down a one-way dirt road, I found myself gripping the door handle so tight my fingers lost blood flow. My fear of heights put me right into panic mode upon every twist and turn driving up the mountain. Wobbling out of the car the minute it was put into “park”, I resumed my relaxed state of being after realizing what was surrounding me. A view so high above the earth, it almost looked as if the clouds consisted of the ocean stretching out into the horizon. This is the magic of Big Sur. An entire stretch of land, removed from any cellular connection, waiting to show its beauty to whoever is passing through.

big sur, travel

When I’m not traveling or playing abroad, I spend my time in California. However, the U.S. volleyball training facilities are in Anaheim. In the three summers I’ve spent in California, I have not had the chance to see what has been claimed to be “one of the most beautiful drives in the world.” With the weekend free from any type of training, I took the opportunity to see it for myself and cross it off my bucket list. Brian is big into camping (my family’s idea of camping is a hotel near a forest); so, I let him take the reins on any type of planning for this trip. We headed north on Friday afternoon hoping to make it to Big Sur by sunset.

big sur, travel

The best part of the trip was leaving every plan or detail open ended. We had a few spots mapped out that we wanted to check out, but besides that, we went into the weekend with the intentions of getting lost. On the drive up, we stopped just outside of Big Sur to enjoy a couple of Brian’s specialty margaritas with the sunset. If you make the drive, I highly recommend stopping as much as you’d like! There are plenty of scenic overviews to pull over and marvel at the surroundings or grab a quick photo. After sunset, we drove a little further and found a cozy spot to set up camp along Highway 1. Bring a ton of blankets! Even though its summertime, California gets cold at night.

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

We were lucky enough to wake up to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks below us, which is a nice change of pace from our typical alarm clocks. Next stop: breakfast. There are few restaurants in Big Sur to choose from so bring food. Especially if you have an appetite like us. We packed an entire cooler, not really knowing what we would need, but were so glad we did. A little bit further north on our route was Big Sur Bakery. A cute, wooden cabin complete with surrounding gardens, the bakery offers homemade breads and a tea/coffee selection for travelers passing through. One bacon wrapped croissant and a couple lattes later, the next adventure was calling.

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

In Big Sur, there are plenty of trails, hikes and mountains to climb so do a little research before you go. Our selected Tanbark trail couldn’t have been more perfect. For most of the morning, we had the entire five-mile trail to ourselves. From fog covered trees and mini hidden waterfalls, we weaved through an enchanted forest finally making it to the top. The view is as described.

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

We wandered around for a while, and then we hiked back down and decided to drive to Nepenthe Restaurant for lunch. A little touristy in my opinion, but a nice stop to rest a little, grab a beer and enjoy the company. Nighttime was approaching and we wanted to set up camp before sunset. We didn’t have any plans for where to camp, which I think is one of the best parts of Big Sur. A couple of random right turns and a steep dirt road up a mountain, we decided to call this camp for the night. I can honestly say, while being fortunate enough to enjoy sunsets around the world, this by far was the best I’ve ever seen in my life.

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

In the morning, we stopped for one last croissant at Big Sur Bakery and hit McWay Falls for the standard Pinterest/Instagram photo and made our way back towards Santa Cruz. If you have the chance, take a minute to stop at 17-mile drive. Well worth the extra time driving to see the infamous scenic golf course and have great ocean views. The weeks end was approaching and our last full day was spent exploring Santa Cruz. From breakfast burritos, acai bowls, bike rides watching the surfers and the cutest downtown, it was the perfect way to spend the day together. The most planned unplanned weekend has me dreaming of my next trip back! If you’re headed up to northern California be sure to check out San Francisco!

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

big sur, travel

 

Trip tips:

If you aren’t into camping, check out Post Ranch Inn. This is a great option for a honeymoon or romantic escape. The rooms are tucked into the cliffs and hills along the ocean. It’s a little pricey and you must make a reservation in advance!

If you’re looking for a place to eat, stop by Industrial Eats. My coach, Karch Kiraly, recommended it to me before we took off, and it was great. It’s a hidden restaurant in a warehouse that didn’t disappoint. Stop and try multiple dishes, as we didn’t have a bad one.

There are many trail options in Big Sur. But if you only have one day to hike and see the best Big Sur has to offer, take the Ewoldsen Trail. It is located right across from the famous McWay Falls. It’s a 4.6-mile route that will take you past Redwoods, waterfalls and scenic views. One of my favorite trails is Limekiln Trails. There are a couple branches of this trail so you’ll have plenty to see. Additionally, this is one of the easier trails.

The Hiking in Big Sur website has a great overview of all the trails.

On your drive there are multiple places to stop to eat, take Instagram-worthy pictures, or even rent four wheelers to take on the sand dunes. Brian and I stopped at Pismo Beach Sand Dunes to play around while traffic died down.

big sur, travel

 

Have you been to Big Sur? What’s your favorite trail?

Check out more of my 24 Hours Series here.

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