Big Sur – Pfieffer State Park and Point Lobos

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Bixby Bridge and the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur

Over Memorial Day weekend, my sister Sarah and her boyfriend Dylan came from Chicago to see Dylan’s brother, but since we were in town they hung out with us too.

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Here’s our Big Sur team, including my sister’s boyfriend Dylan and his brother Mark. You can see that Caitlin is not sure about Sarah and me yet.

They were up for some camping, so Mark recommend and organized a night at Big Sur. The drive down Route 1 is famous, and Big Sur is known for steep bluffs overlooking the ocean. I’m glad we had a chance to experience it, since our original route into SF from Yosemite was from the east. Jump to the park basics, camping, hiking, or feeding a crowd at camp.

The Parks: Big Sur is a loosely defined area of California where the Santa Lucia mountains closely border the Pacific Ocean. Route 1 follows that coast between Carmel and San Simeon. It includes a national forest and a network of state parks. The parks were about 3 hours south of San Francisco, without traffic.

In the map, you can see the parks we visited in red. The campfire icon is Pfieffer, where we slept, and the blue icon is Bixby Bridge, where we saw live BASE jumping.

Point Lobos is a nature preserve known for dramatic views and ocean wildlife. We enjoyed views of the Pacific there, and also spent a little time watching the sea lions on the beach. Gray whales and sea otters are also known to frequent the area. If we’d had more time and could find thick wetsuits, I would have loved to scuba dive here.

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If you look closely you can see TONS of sea lions basking in the sun.

Fun fact: If you camp at one of the parks, bring your receipt and you don’t need to pay the $10 parking / entry fee for the other parks. Similarly, fees are $10 to enter any state park, but fees paid at one park will get you into another park, too. Most parks sell individual maps for $2.

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From here, you can see the brown kelp that grows from the ocean floor. Sea otters tangle themselves in the kelp so they can sleep without getting swept away.

Hiking: In Pfieffer, we did one small hike of about 2 miles round trip up to a waterfall and a view point. The trail was short, but moderately strenuous. The trail was well marked but we had a hard time originally finding a map or a sign that listed the mileage.

We also hit up Andrew Molera state park, about 5 miles north of our state park. We walked past the campsites there and out to the beach. We couldn’t quite get to the beach without doing some serious wading, so we climbed up to a great path up to the bluffs that has stunning overlooks.

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I think these pelicans were posing for me.

Our Trip:

We drove down from SF in the morning, stopped at In and Out burger so we could go “animal style” on our burgers, and then continued to Point Lobos. The parking lot was full, so we had to park out on the highway and then walk maybe a half mile down to the park entrance and then out along the trails. Within the park, there are a few small loops, which have incredible scenery. For a Memorial Day Monday, I didn’t think the park was too crowded, though we hit a good bit of traffic on the drive there, largely due to people pulling in and out of turn outs along the way. This was especially exciting because California drivers don’t seem to bother with turn signals, they just slam on their brakes and dart on and off the highway.

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Tent Colony!

Camping: 

We camped at Pfieffer Big Sur Park, in a nice wooded loop. The campsite was $35 a night plus a $8 reservation fee. The campsite immediately next to us was unoccupied, despite the reserved sign. We’ve seen that in a few of the state parks around. I’m sure it happens because you’re required to make reservations months in advance, but I’d love to see the “system” figure out a way to enable late walk-ins if people don’t show.

I was glad we camped at Pfieffer since the campsites at Andrew Molera were not as nice. They were walkins, about a quarter mile from the parking lot, and they were all scattered around a field, rather in the woods where we had a little more privacy and shade.

Campsite Eats:

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Hot Fajitas!

Since there were six of us, I went fancy with dinner and loaded up some foil packet fajitas. They’re really easy to make – just put chicken, red and green peppers, and a fajita spice packet in a tightly wrapped, double lined foil packet. I worry about food poisoning people, so I made the packets the night before and stored them in the freezer overnight, then kept them in the cooler all day.

When you’re ready to eat, get your campfire going and pop the packets onto the coals or the grate, if you have one. The packets cooked anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on how hot the fire was burning. Since the contents are steamed in packet, the chicken stays moist and delicious. I recommend bringing tongs for managing hot packets, though Adam swears it’s just as easy to use two sticks. Tortillas are optional, but they really make the meal and eliminate the need for cumbersome forks. Next time, we might get even fancier with some sour cream.

Just kidding we NEVER EVER get tired of each other.
Just kidding we NEVER EVER get tired of each other.

Other Random Items:

Adam and I don’t usually make campfires when we’re on our own. It’s a good amount of work, we don’t mind going to bed when it gets dark so we can get up early, and, honestly, sometimes we run out of things to talk about by the end of the day.

The last really cool thing we saw was on the way home. We were driving past Bixby Bridge and Sarah and Adam noticed that there were three guys there wearing Go-Pro helmets and parachute harnesses. We stopped the car and walked back just in time to watch them each BASE jump from Bixby Bridge. The bridge is 279 feet high and it’s illegal to jump from it. This is a very dangerous activity and there is no way I would ever engage in something like that but if enough people really wanted to see a blog post about it, I might do it…

And now for the bonus photos…

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Here’s Adam sporting trendy trail fashion – Big Sur Camouflage – consisting of grey, blue, and an actual camo hat, plus a kelp colored and textured beard. So hot right now.
Our hike in Pfieffer ended at this overlook. Even though it's a little cloudy, you can see Route 1 winding up the coast to the Pacific.
Our hike in Pfieffer ended at this overlook. Even though it’s a little cloudy, you can see Route 1 winding up the coast to the Pacific.

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