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  • Coastline Mountains and monoliths
  • Coast life At one in a beatnik retreat

This rugged edge of California’s coast is a preserved piece of pioneer fantasy, where nature rules over man…

Big Sur is the 90-mile stretch of Pacific shore swooping between Carmel and San Simeon. Craggy cliffs peer out to sea with towering green mountains behind them and giant redwoods grow alongside cacti. The hair-raising Highway One will have you winding along the rocky ridges of the cliff’s edge, stopping to take in the natural epic around you. This final frontier has been hard to tame and remains isolated – electricity didn’t arrive in Big Sur until 1950 and the population still dawdles at 1,500. The awesome coast is lined with ancient forest and magical mountains, and its special-scale beauty means it’s considered sacred by Native Americans. Big Sur can also count Henry Miller as a fan – in his eyes, this is ‘the face of the earth as the creator intended it to look.’

Do go/Don’t go

In summer, it can be foggy in the morning, though this usually clears by afternoon. Beware of tailback traffic, which might spoil your ocean drive, between Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September). For the clearest views, opt for spring or autumn. Remember, the elevated coastal position means it can get quite cold, even for California.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes The region’s main hub is in Monterey. United Airlines (www.united.com) flies from San Francisco; American Eagle (www.aa.com) will get you there from Los Angeles. If you’re coming here to kick off a road trip, aim for an international airport in LA or San Francisco and then pick up a hire car.
  • Trains There’s an Amtrak-served station in Salinas, which will hook you up with Napa, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego (www.amtrak.com).
  • Automobiles A car will come in handy for cruising down the coast. The curving, cliff-hugging Highway One is breathtaking and beautiful – you’ll want to stop often, so it’s a good idea to be in charge of your own vehicle. The region is roughly 130 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles.
  • Taxis There aren’t many streets you’d walk along flagging down a cab – it’s far wiser to ask the hotel to book one for you. In Carmel, call +1 831 624 3885.