Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Sur -- avoiding Vertigo!

Hi Jamie

We're looking at doing the Pacific Coast Highway stretch from San Francisco to LA in September next year. I'm writing as both my husband & mother in law are pretty scared of heights. How bad is the route across Big Sur? Are there 2 lanes of traffic or just one?

To put my question into some perspective; We have done several road trips, one in New Zealand where we frightened them quite badly climbing up a mountain outside Queenstown where the road was quite narrow. However, as we then did a route where we went down into a canyon where the road (track!) was single lane (permit drivers only) looked something out of Lord of the Rings (probably was!) with sheer drops and no barriers to speak of and quite frankly terrified most people on the bus then would Big Sur seem quite civilised?

Also, thank you for the book, we had been given a Lonely Planet book on Coastal California and I read that with despair as it seemed quite condescending and although agreeing there was spectacular scenery made it feel that it was a complete tourist trap the entire route.

Thanks for the book



Hi Ariane --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA. Thinking of your wild New Zealand experience, I wanted to say I've just been watching the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and I can assure you that the Big Sur drive is nothing like as treacherous as the paths they had to follow in those movies. (And while there are lots of white-bearded hippies in Big Sur, to the best of my knowledge there are no evil sorcerers to worry about, either.)

The Hwy-1 / Pacific Coast Highway road is fully paved, mostly level and a broad two-lane all the way, and hundreds of big wide RVs and bus tours make the drive every year, so it is definitely not a challenge for drivers. There _are_ some serious cliffs and fairly sheer drops, however, so I might suggest you do the drive from south to north, which will keep you on the "land" side all the way, rather than feeling suspended in mid-air out over the Pacific Ocean.

Big Sur is definitely beautiful, and very far from a tourist trap -- there is almost no commercial development between Carmel and Hearst Castle, apart from some very small-scale motels and cafes, many of which are truly historic in their own right. There is a concentration of tourism around Carmel, but it hardly spoils any views and certainly doesn't detract from the experience (apart from what I consider an eyesore of a resort at the golf resorts of Pebble Beach, along the "17 Mile Drive").

So, brave the vertigo and have a great trip -- it truly is a world-class drive, and the rivers and redwoods are well worth getting out of the car to explore, as well.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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