Big Sur has always been one of those just-out-of-reach destinations I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s magical reputation is overshadowed only by the 5+ hour drive on Highway 1. So I not only jumped at the opportunity of visiting when a group of friends planned a Big Sur camping, but I also decided to take a couple of days before and after the camping trip to bike down California’s Central Coast.
With good buddy Thaddeus Graham as my seasoned guide and my bicycle packed in a cardboard box in the luggage car, we took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from L.A. Union Station to Salinas.
Day 1 _ Los Angeles Union Station -> Monterey
The Coast Starlight is a 35-hour, 1,377-mile passenger Amtrak train route that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles. The double-decker trains are the last vestiges of a period in America when multi-day locomotive trips between major cities were not only efficient, but also accommodating. While most of the passengers are seated on the top deck, the bottom deck featured large game rooms with pinball machines and arcades for children (now empty) and restrooms with powder rooms and lounges (still there!).
Half of the train are standard cars (think of economy class on a plane), while the other half are sleeper cars with private rooms that have a bed and bathroom. The passengers in the sleeper cars also have access to the private Pacific Parlour Car which hosts wine tastings and movie screenings. Very fancy. Thad and I did not stay in the sleeper car.
The best part about the Coast Starlight is the Sightseer Lounge Car, which features floor-to-ceiling windows on the top deck of the Cafe Car. Not only is it where you go to see the awesome landscape as the train hugs the coast, but it is also where you go to socialize and meet other passengers. Most passengers stay (and sleep) in their seats for the entire trip. But a few of the more antsy passengers spend their entire trip up in the Sightseer Car, and are eager to share their stories (and wine) with other passengers.
Salinas Amtrak Station
Each stop is super quick, with just enough time for passengers to step off, and for the conductors to throw off your luggage. After I unloaded my boxed bike and re-assembled the pedals and handlebars, Thad and I biked to the coast of Monterey, mostly along bike trails, for our first night.
Salinas -> Monterey _ 21.9 Miles
Veteran’s Memorial Park _ Monterey
Surprisingly, there is a campground up in the hills of Monterey, next to some exclusive and pricey residential neighborhoods. And the Hike & Bike camping area was filled with 3 other tents, which is crowded for a campsite which requires you to climb uphill with your touring supplies. We were in good company.
Day 2 _ Monterey -> Big Sur _ 42.6 Miles
Thad and I made our way south to Big Sur to meet up with our 30+ group of friends who were driving from both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Paris Bakery Cafe _ Monterey
17-Mile Drive _ Monterey
Thad and I took the long way, deciding to bike around the Monterey Peninsula - which is totally worth it. 17-Mile Drive is the iconic road that passes along the coast of the Monterey Peninsula and passes through some of the most iconic golf courses and neighborhoods, like Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.
The Lone Cypress _ Monterey
After circumnavigating around the Monterey Peninsula, we headed south through Carmel-by-the-Sea before reconnecting with Highway 1, which took us south to Big Sur.
Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo _ Carmel-by-the-Sea
The Bixby Creek Bridge _ Big Sur
Thad and I stopped at the iconic concrete bridge to enjoy a snack and some wine.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park _ Big Sur
Thad and I were the first pair to make it to our campsite in Big Sur. But Sandeep was right behind us (she actually drove past us while coming south from the Bay Area earlier in the day). After setting up camp, Sandeep and I decided to drive a bit south to Pfeiffer Beach to explore the Keystone Rock, the Purple Sand Beach, and the sunset.
Pfeiffer Beach _ Big Sur
The Keyhole Rock.
As always, some creative cuisine. Roasted chocolate bananas.
Day 3 _ Big Sur
With all 30 buddies present the next day, we hiked out to through the Andrew Molera State Park to the beach.
Andrew Molera State Park _ Big Sur
Typical Travis Tarr.
Day 4 _ Big Sur -> Cambria _ 68 Miles
After bidding our fellow adventure scouts goodbye, Thad and I began our bike tour south through Big Sur, with a few stops along the way such as at Nepenthe and the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
Henry Miller Memorial Library _ Big Sur
Not even 4 miles on our journey through Big Sur, Nathan and Ashley drove past us and stopped to give us some beer. Good friends.
Although we were biking along Highway 1, Thad and I didn’t experience any moments of danger or harassment from drivers. In fact, there were very few cars along the highway, and the ones that did pass us gave us plenty of room. Regardless, the shoulder in most sections through Big Sur was accommodating enough for a cyclist to safely ride along - without falling over the cliff into the ocean.
San Simeon State Park _ Cambria
Because of our late start out of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (12PM!), we didn’t arrive into the Hiker Biker campsite until the evening. But we had the full moon to help us set up camp and cook a dinner. There was only one other tent on the site. While eating our dinner, a man emerged from the lone tent, and came up to our table. He introduced himself as Adam. He was on a bike trip from Salinas to San Diego as a break from his medical residency. Almost 15 minutes into our conversation, he timidly asked if we had any food. Thad and I then realized that Adam was bike touring with only trailmix and power bars! Well, Adam was in luck. He ran into two of the more gourmet bike tourers. We fed Adam cheese, bread, salami, and beer. Lucky guy.
Day 5 _ Cambria -> Morro Bay _ 26.2 Miles
Piedras Blancas Fresnel Lens _ Cambria
Thad and I stopped in the little beach town of Cayucos for some lunch.
Upon arriving to Morro Bay, Thad and I stopped by the local corner store for some supplies where we met a very persuasive elderly man who loved to talk up his Segway. He even let Thad ride it in the parking lot.
Morro Bay State Park _ Morro Bay
The Hiker Biker campsite at the Morro Bay State Park is idyllically set under a grove of Eucalyptus trees, next to a golf course. The campsite even had hot showers and firewood. Luxurious.
Turkeys on the golf course.
Morro Rock in the background.
St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beach & Cabbage Dinner @ Hofbrau _ Morro Bay
Day 6 _ Morro Bay -> Los Angeles Union Station
Morro Bay -> San Luis Obispo _ 15.8 Miles
Thad and I set out on our last day of touring with an easy ride inland to San Luis Obispo, where we had some time to eat some bbq and explore the mission before our Amtrak train back to LA.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa _ San Luis Obispo
All-in-all, Thad and I biked 174.5 miles over 6 days down California’s Central Coast.