Ah, the iconic “Follow the Way of the Love Dog” sans comma sign at McWay Falls, a true gem in Big Sur. Set against the backdrop of the vibrantly indigo Pacific Ocean, the sign serves as a gentle prompting to listen to your heart. And listen one does as Big Sur has a way of tugging heavily at your heart strings.
Perhaps it’s the hug of the fog and the way it hides the coastline enveloping some of the most majestic and inspirational views California boasts behind a mysterious and cloudy curtain. Or perhaps its the ever changing weather and tides along the shore that remind us too of the fleeting nature of our lives.
Whatever it may be, a visit to Big Sur will take ahold of your heart and never let go, and I highly recommend that you let it.
Meander with me here as I go through some of Big Sur’s secret spots, what I love about it and how you too can learn about the magic of this beloved and cherished spot.
McWay Outlook, accessible by a well-marked path along the 1, is the most well known and visited trail and for a good reason. The trail leads to McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall set against a backdrop of Maple, Pine, Cypress and Eucalyptus trees and a sandy beach.
It’s best to avoid McWay Outlook during the rainy season since parts of the path are in the process of being restored due to coastal erosion (note: this was written in May of 2019 so rehabilitation plans may have been updated).
McWay Outlook Guide: What You Should Know
- Tens of thousands of visitors come here each month to witness the waterfall and take photographs. If you want to skip the crowds aim to visit the spot very early in the morning or during a less crowded time of the year. Avoid summertime if you can.
- No, you cannot climb down to the sandy beach. You will get fined and/or arrested.
- Slow your pace and really take in the scenery when visiting. This spot is home to a wide variety of vegetation, animals and insects, so get to know the area.
Limekiln State Park
Spoiler Alert: did you know that Big Sur is home to four lime kilns from an old lime-calcining operation from the 1880s? Easily accessible after entering Limekiln State Park, the trail winds you through lush redwood forests, running creeks and an active waterfall.
- Park across the street from the park’s entrance along the 1 to avoid paying the parking fee.
- There are 3 paths that offshoot from the entrance and take you to different destinations each under 1 mile and easily hike-able.
1. Hare Creek – Home to some of the oldest and tallest Redwood trees in Big Sur.
2. Limekilns – The Rockland Lime and Lumber Company used these kilns to create lime and the structures are still very much intact.
3. Limekilns falls – Path involves some rock scrambling and leaves you at the base of a 100-foot waterfall!
If you want to be a bit more adventurous, keep on trekking once you pass the lime kilns and you’ll find secret pools along the path. Please be mindful though stick to the trail, try not to harm any plants and/or wildlife and take your trash with you.
Andrew Molera State Park: Ridge Trail
This at times a little strenuous 8.8 mile loop hike doesn’t appeal to that many Big Sur visitors and for a couple good reasons: it starts with an incline and is favored by poison oak vines. If you can get past this though the path, which takes you up and above the ocean, promises breathtaking views of the water, Redwood forests and hidden beaches. Here’s what you should know so you don’t miss anything!
Ridge Trail: My Favorite Secrets
- Incredible coastal views. This trail weaves you in and out along the coastline and the results are just spectacular. Honestly, my photographs do not do this hike justice.
- Redwood, oak groves and a pigmy redwood forest. The belly of the trail will take you through peaceful redwood and oak forests and the end of the trail presents you with the option of exploring a pigmy redwood grove, which turned out to be quite an adventure. The creaking of the little trees was actually really scary!
- Access to secret beaches. Where Panorama and Bluffs trail meet there’s a path that leads you down to a stretch of the beach which is rarely visited. Please keep it that way.
- The change in sand tone colors. On the way back around the Ridge Loop once you’ve reached the beach take advantage of the bold color changes in the sand. Dark brown, soft reddish beige, yellow, light purple and burnt orange can all be seen here.
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about why Big Sur holds a special place in my heart, I hope you’re inspired to plan a trip to see it for yourself. Just remember to treat this place with love and respect as its beauty needs to be preserved for generations to come. Safe travels!