The (crowded) California Coast   Leave a comment

A late afternoon winter's sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

A late afternoon winter’s sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

I’ll say right off that California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A., and is arguably one of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever been in the world.  But I wish I had been born earlier and could have experienced it in the early 20th century, no later than the 50s.  While I’m in the wishing mode, I’d actually like to have roamed around here in the missionary days.  Or trapping and exploring with Jedediah Smith!

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

Other than the desert, and the far NE and far NW corners of the state, California is really too crowded and developed for my tastes.  The coast has about three times more traffic and people than I prefer.  And so despite its physical beauty, it falls down on my list of favorite states.  It’s not in the bottom half, but it doesn’t quite crack the top 10 either.  Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon are the top 3, in case you’re curious.

An Anna's hummingbird feeds on flowers in a garden on the California Coast at Big Sur.

An Anna’s hummingbird feeds on flowers in the garden at Big Sur Coast Gallery.

The traffic and pollution in southern California are pretty bad, and the traffic in the Bay Area is a big turnoff as well.  I particularly don’t like the fact that in southern California both the air and immediate offshore marine environment are polluted.  Light pollution, the disappearance of stars from the night sky, is also a huge negative for me.  All that said, the high Sierra, the Redwood Coast, parts of the wine country (the Alexander Valley for e.g.) and of course the Mojave Desert are places I will return to again and again.  These are very worthwhile destinations for anyone who loves the natural world.  Mostly these places are not very crowded.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

I am currently on the Monterrey Peninsula. I had traveled almost all of the California Coast before now but had missed out on the section north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Cruz.  So on the way home to Oregon now, I am taking the opportunity to drive up this coast.

It’s a very beautiful piece of coastline: rocky headlands, crashing waves, mountains which plunge directly into the ocean.  It reminds me strongly of the Oregon Coast.  But here is the problem, as far as I can see.  If you want to travel a coast that has abundant natural beauty, along with quaint towns, picturesque lighthouses, etc., why not go to Oregon?  It’s less crowded, there is more of the spectacular stuff, and beach access is much much better than in California.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Granted, this time of year, between Christmas and New Years, I should not be surprised that it’s crowded.  Many people take off during this week, families with kids on school break especially.  But I’ve been on the Oregon Coast at this time of year, and it is nowhere near as busy as the Big Sur/Monterrey area.

I have seen so many folks from other countries, particularly Europe, while traveling this coast over the past few days.  While for Californians this is closer than Oregon (so I get why they are here), I don’t really understand why I don’t see so many visitors from other countries on the Oregon Coast.

Have a Seat

Those from other countries are planning this as a travel destination.  Of course they also want to see San Francisco.  But why not fly into that city and travel north?  I simply can’t understand why anybody would want to see L.A.  The San Diego area is awfully warm this time of year, compared to Oregon, so that makes sense.

I am sure this part of the California Coast would be much more calm and uncrowded during a different week.  When I was south of Big Sur, on Christmas night, the highway north was blocked by a landslide.  It was deserted, and I loved being perched high up on a cliff, camped while the wind and rain from an overnight storm buffeted my van.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

The day after Christmas was beautiful, and the number of people on the road stayed low.  But over the next few days, and as I moved north, the car numbers increased steadily, until now on the weekend before Christmas in the Carmel area it is downright overcrowded.

When the road finally opened (I snuck through at night after the workers were gone) boy did the cars ever come from the north.  Just north of Big Sur I watched long lines of cars heading south, and was glad I got in a hike and otherwise enjoyed Big Sur before the rush.  It’s a little frantic around here, and I’m not used to it.  Now before you write a comment and point out that I am one of those visitors, I am already well aware of this.  I had to see this area at least once.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

I am going to post a strong travel recommendation.  I would never do this if I had a legion of followers.  I prefer that people continue to come here and leave Oregon alone.  But if you are considering a trip along the California Coast, reconsider.  If you started in Portland, Oregon and headed south to San Francisco, or began in the south and headed as far north as the central Oregon Coast, that would be an epic trip.  If you don’t want to do the one-way rental car, you could always return via the quicker Interstate 5 inland.

So that’s enough of my whining.  I will end by saying that it would be much much worse if the people were not so darn friendly here.  Most everyone I’ve met, travelers and locals alike, has been nothing but warm and friendly.  So there!  I’ll post some recommendations next time.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

 

 

 

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