The Old Coast Road was the main coastal road north in the Big Sur area before US 1 was built. The road is rated as a 1 in dry weather but can be impassable in wet weather.
California’s Old Coast Road: Big Sur’s little-known ‘Beatnik Byway’
LOCATION Monterey County’s northern Big Sur coast, inland from California’s famous coastal Highway 1 between Bixby Landing and Andrew Molera State Park. Google Map
HIGHLIGHTS Prepare for an enchanting drive through a misty coastal forest complete with redwood groves, mossy riparian woodlands, ferns and gurgling brooks. PoetLawrence Ferlinghetti had a cabin in Bixby Canyon that was frequented by Beat Generation writers in the late 1950s, including Jack Kerouac, who described his visits in his 1962 novel Big Sur. This is a peaceful and beautiful alternative, if only for a short distance, to the traffic on Highway 1.
DIFFICULTY Easy on a good, often one-lane dirt road. Occasional tight, blind curves.
TIME & DISTANCE An hour; 10.2 miles.
INFORMATION Contact Monterey County Public Works.
GETTING THERE If you’re heading south on California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway(a.k.a. Highway 1/Cabrillo Highway), turn off at the north end of that great arch,Bixby Creek Bridge, near Bixby Landing. My description starts there. Set your odometer to 0. But the drive is just as alluring from the south. To go that way, turn right off Highway 1 at Andrew Molera State Park.
REST STOPS You’ll find camping, hiking and fishing at Andrew Molera State Park.
THE DRIVE First you get a stunning view of the ocean and Bixby Creek Bridge, originally called Rainbow Bridge. Prior to completion of the bridge over the gorge of Bixby Creek in 1932, when its 260-foot height made it the highest single-arch bridge in the world, Old Coast Road was the transportation link between Carmel and Big Sur.
You wind along a ledge in Bixby Canyon and quickly enter the rugged northern end of the Santa Lucia Range not far west of the Ventana Wilderness. Climb a bit, then descend steeply into a deep, verdant canyon. About 2.8 miles from the bridge the road enters deep coastal forest, where shade and rays of sunlight create a patchwork on the roadbed.
At mile 3.2, where there’s room to pull over, you will feel cool and damp breezes passing like a whisper as a brook gurgles nearby. At mile 3.8, climb out of the forest to be greeted by sunshine and vistas of mountains and sea. Then descend steeply, rounding a number of blind curves and crossing two one-lane bridges. Soon you’re back on the highway.