Great Drives: Route 1 Through Big Sur
I shouldn’t have looked over the edge. A few miles back, we had passed a sign recommending that trailers and RVs were not advised on the next sixty miles of Route 1 past San Simeon. Seemed like an overreaction at the time. Then we were in it. Route 1 along the Big Sur coast, approaching from the south, starts with a couple miles of steep 25 mph curves. We’d been driving 60 mph along a flat, mild beach, then we suddenly hit this steep wall of cliffs. We wound our way up and within a few miles, were high, high above the ocean.
We stopped at an overlook, and that’s when I made the mistake of looking over the edge. Without saying anything, I carefully turned around and got back in the car. My head was spinning, I felt nauseous and panicky. Paul spent a few minutes capering around, during which time I pondered what I would do if he tripped over the cliff (would I jump, or not?), then he came back to the car. “I thought we were going to explore?” he said. “I shouldn’t have looked over the edge,” I said.
The section of Route 1 that passes through Big Sur wasn’t opened until 1937 (the cost to build was a little over $10 million). Earlier explorers had a hard time getting through the area, instead choosing to head inland and go north through the central valley. Until 1937, a scant footpath was the only thing that passed along this section of coast. Even after the road was built, the first houses didn’t get power until the 1950s. Power still doesn’t stretch along the entire coast, and you feel quite remote in the midst of it. If this was an expensive road to build, it seems even more expensive to maintain. It’s constantly being washed out by mudslides and rockslides, which regularly put sections out of commission for months, if not years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned this into a toll road to combat the maintenance costs.
So if you’re in the position to drive the 1 through Big Sur, and you can have your choice of car, I’d recommend something that Jeremy Clarkson would choose, something low to the ground, with a wide wheelbase, and fast (to outrun the mudslides), like the Bugatti Veyron. Shouldn’t be too hard to get your hands on one of those. If it does prove difficult to rent from the local Enterprise, then anything else will do, even, say, a Toyota Sienna.
Here’s a sampling of the things we saw along the 1.
It might seem like we’re showing you all there is to see, but there is much, much, much more to see and lots of pull-offs to see it from. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the horizon. The pull-offs seem to be spaced to accommodate the vistas, and any cliff-inflicted panic attacks.