Lonely Planet Writer

California's Big Sur: still stunning and open for business despite the landslides

Navigating the sinuous Highway 1 that hugs California’s rugged coastline between Salinas and Monterey through Big Sur is iconic for a reason. However, news of the collapsed bridges and massive landslides that have plagued the region this year has tourist numbers dropping. But despite these setbacks the area is still accessible and is as stunning as ever, perhaps even more so.

Coastline near Big Sur
Big Sur coastline, California. Image by Kan Khampanya/500px

“The Big Sur River is flowing so big and deep because of the rain,” Stan Russell, executive director of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, told Lonely Planet Travel News. “Hiking along it is just perfect.”

The 26 miles of twists and turns north of the demolished Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge are open and hold the region’s largest collection of businesses as well as the impressive Bixby Bridge, according to Russell. There is a designated area on the bridge’s north side for visitors to pull off and snap photos of the famous landmark. This area is also home to Big Sur Valley which is peppered with streamside campsites and river hikes.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Bixby Bridge on highway 1 near the rocky Big Sur coastline of the Pacific Ocean California, USA. Photograph by Pgiam/Getty Images

Plans to open the by-pass trail are in the works. In a few short weeks, visitors will be able to take a shuttle from the parking lot of Andrew Molera State Park and access the one-mile hike into Pfieffer Big Sur State Park, explore the area and even venture to the famed Nepenthe, according to Russell. On the other side of the by-pass trail a shuttle will be available to take visitors to businesses staying opened south of the Pfieffer Canyon State Bridge, like the Big Sur Deli and Taphouse.

Coming up with ways to keep tourists coming and businesses opened spearheaded the idea of slowing traffic to the area in general, Russell explained. Conversations regarding a bus system that lets people park their cars in Monterey and bus to Andrew Molera State Park are underway as the project would relieve a huge burden on the overcrowded Highway 1. “It might be a blessing that will come out of this,” Russell said.

What happened in Big Sur?

After heavy winter storms delivered more than 60 inches of rain to the area, The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge started to crack and slide downhill several feet prompting the California Department of Transportation to condemn and demolish the link between the north and south parts of the Big Sur region. In addition, small landslides started washing piles of rubble onto Highway 1, culminating in the largest which dumped some one million tonnes of rock and dirt over 12 miles of the road in May. The mound of dirt, up to 40 feet deep in some places protruded 250 feet from the shoreline into the ocean. No one has been injured in the slides this year but it will take months to repair the damage. The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is under re-construction scheduled to be reopened in late September, 2017.