Driving the Big Sur and Sonoma Coast
and NOT driving in San Francisco

The past two weeks found us winding our way over Highway One along the beautiful Big Sur Coast. I finally saw San Francisco (the easy way), then we continued our drive north along the rugged Sonoma Coast.

While the Big Sur drive offers stunning views around every turn (and to say there are a few turns on the coastal highway would be an understatement) none is more beautiful than McWay Falls. I've never seen a more perfect cove or more perfect waterfall than in this paradise-like setting.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls..hard to see in this shot but look for it....a perfect stream is pouring onto the perfect sand beach.

North of San Simeon, an elephant seal viewing area took us very close to this group of female elephant seals basking in the sun. Had we been earlier in the spring, we could have witnessed the birth of pups.

elephant seals on Big Sur Coast

elephant seals on Big Sur Coast

Big Sur Coastline

The rugged Big Sur Coast

We splurged a bit ($24.00 each) and toured Hearst Castle - furnished with items purchased from much older castles in Europe. Fascinating.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

The ocean view from the castle's courtyard was nice. But the view from our free campsite the following night was just as good, don't you think?

Hearst Castle Courtyard view

Hearst Castle Courtyard - ocean view.

Camp View Big Sur Coast

Our ocean view campsite.

But alas, this campsite was an exception along the coast; legal free camping is almost non-existent in this area. We did manage to find some campgrounds that are more affordable than others and got away with a few "stealth camping" nights. Still, during our brief trip up the coast, the total in our camping expenses column for the trip has doubled. Yes, camping costs over these two weeks equalled that of the three previous months - proof, that even WE can't find free camping everywhere. But this coast is so absolutely beautiful it's worth it. (Five nights were about the same as one night at a coastal hotel.)

We visited Monterey complete with a walking tour of Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf. We sort of regret not taking in the world famous Aquarium but it was pretty pricey, too. and we have to leave something for a future trip.

Cannery Row, Monterey

"Cannery Row in Monterey"

Monterey -Randy's fishing trips

Oh yes, and Randy decided to go into business.....ha, ha! (He doesn't even fish).

I'd never been to San Francisco and wanted to experience it. We had an invitation to stay with friends on the outskirts so this was our opportunity. Central San Francisco is also best done on foot so we rode BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into the city. I would definitely never suggest driving here. The streets are narrow and soooooo steeeeep! Walking them was exhausting but driving - for us - would have been impossible!

San Francisco

A typical city street view. The cars have to park at a right angle to the street. No parking brakes could ever be trusted to hold them if they weren't. Even so, it looked like they were ready to tip over sideways.

Crookedest Street

The Crookedest Street. The switchbacks on this street are actually a tourist attraction - people drive it just to say they did!

Golden Gate Bridge

This was the best shot we managed of the Golden Gate Bridge. The marine layer - a thick fog (very common, apparently) covered the bridge all day.

We had to see City Lights Books, meeting place of The Beat poets, still in the original building. Across the street, we had a beer in Vesuvios - another monument to The Beat generation and another regular haunt of poets, artists, and mucisians then and now. Apparently the family who owns the bar (and the decor) haven't changed from the original. It's definitely a true "bar." We laughed at the sign in the window: "If you're looking for lunch, bring your own."

City Lights Books

City Lights Books



A trip through Muir Woods followed by a private visit at Audubon Canyon Ranch was a real highlight. High powered scopes are set up on a hillside platform to offer amazing views directly into the nests of egrets in the tall trees below. We watched adult birds, nests, eggs, and young egrets learning to fly. The Ranch is usually only open to the public on weekends and closes for the summer when the birds leave but our San Francisco friend volunteers there and was able to arrange entry on a weekday. What a treat! Thank you, Gary and thank you, Jane!

Audubon Canyon Ranch

Audobon Canyon Ranch

Egret Nests

Looking down into the nests

There's lots more coast to see - back on the road, heading north of the city, along the Sonoran Coast. But first, Point Reyes National Recreation Area.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes Lighthouse - it's on the foggiest point of the Pacific coast.


Fort Ross, a Russian fort, was another interesting stop.

At Salt Point, we marveled at miles of sandstone rocks, "honeycombed" by the salty ocean spray.

Salt Point

Salt Point sandstone

ocean gardens

Rich, wild ocean gardens cover shoreline cliffs.

The Sonoma section of the coast is every bit as rugged and beautiful as in the Big Sur area and the farther north we got, the beaches were more accessible (meaning no day-use fees). No swimming though. While the combination of rocks and surf are beautiful, they are treacherous. The water temperature (still frigid) didn't tempt us anyway.

Beaches-Sonoma Coast

Sonona Coast beach

At times, we've been wearing jackets along the shore (in July) and not complaining. Temperatures twenty miles east, in The Valley, have been in the high 90's. We're leaving the coast and turning east now. Hopefully, we won't regret it.

Pacific sunset

Our last sunset over the Pacific - sorry to leave it behind.

Days On The Road At Time Of Writing: 135
Camping Costs To Date: $240.00

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