Big Sur Adventures 2012


Big Sur-prises

Spanish settlers referred to it as "el país grande del sur" (the big country to the south); but most of us know it as Big Sur. With summer crowds thinning, now is a good time to head for its wilds!

Esalen Hot Tub

Midnight Dip

It’s 1:00 a.m. in Big Sur: Time to relax, unwind, and get naked (or not—get naked, that is.) Whether you prefer to hit the hot springs in your swimsuit or your birthday suit, when night falls along the rocky, wave-thrashed coast and the fog rolls in, the baths at cliff-side Esalen Hot Springs heat up. Perched on a ledge 50 feet above the Pacific, the famed (and famously private) Esalen Institute moonlights as an open-to-the-public mineral spa retreat from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m daily. Upon arrival, an attendant leads visitors—a maximum of 20 per night—across the dark, mysterious resort grounds and drops them off at natural baths. Then the soaking begins. Guests move among the shadows from bath to bath or lounge almost invisibly in the still water. The spa features seven oases ranging from mid-sized indoor pools that guard guests from the midnight mist to serene outdoor baths poised against windows for prime viewing of the waves below. Water temperatures are a whopping 110 to 115 degrees, but are cooled significantly by the coastal air. The spa also features six individual, claw-foot tubs for a temperature-controlled solo dip. Total darkness keeps this sanctuary shrouded in secrecy. Shy bathers beware: Many visitors opt for the non-clothing option, so anticipate the occasional bare bottom silhouetting against the night sky. Some full moons are totally Sur-real!

The Esalen Hot Springs cost $20/person and are located along Hwy 1 at 55000 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920. Public bathing runs seven nights a week from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. barring certain holidays and special events. Reservations must be made in advance; group size is limited to four people/party and total attendance is limited to 20 people/night. Book ahead from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (except on Fridays and Sundays when booking lines close at noon) by calling 831-667-3047. No dogs.

Partington Cove

Cove Uncovered

According to local lore, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s Partington Cove was once a Prohibition-era port for buccaneer whiskey runners. Today it offers treasure of a different kind: A tranquil, turquoise, tide-pooling haven nestled between Big Sur’s signature behemoth cliffs. Reach it via a 0.5-mile hike that travels down a broad dirt trail to the rocky playground. At the bottom, rock-hop toward a waterfall on the southeastern end or perch on a large boulder and gaze at the Pacific waves. Keep an eye out for the California Condor soaring overhead. Or spot a rare colony of Smith’s blue butterfly (one of only 18 surviving colonies on earth and identified by their azure color and black rimmed wings), fluttering near a coast buckwheat flower. Climb back up the path you came in on, and this time steer beyond an information sign to continue across a footbridge and through a 60-foot tunnel once used as a lumber passageway. On the other end, you'll find Partington Cove—and maybe a curious sea otter or harbor seal. Scour the stones for a glimpse of the sea stars, abalone and urchins common to the kelp beds here, then continue up the 0.2-mile trail to Partington Point and a prime view of the Pacific.

Park at a large pullout on either side of Hwy 1 located 2 miles north of the turnoff for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, or 9 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The trailhead is on the side of Hwy. 1. No dogs. 

Tanbark Trail Big Sur

Tanbark Thigh Burner

Hardcore hikers, lace up your boots! The 6.5-mile (round-trip) Tanbark Trail—closed for rehabilitation and repair after the 2008 fire—recently reopened; and it’s ready to rock your thigh muscles. The upside? Well, that’s kind of the whole point. This challenging trek up Partington Canyon rises steadily via switchbacks on a fern-flanked, single-track trail. You can always chalk up the huffing and puffing to the breathtaking scenery. The path edges both a creek and a peaceful redwood forest whose charred sections offer a sobering reminder of the fire damage. When the trail splits you’ll veer right, passing the towering redwoods of Donald H. McLaughlin Grove. Time to get your glutes in gear. The trek ascends rather relentlessly, for 3.2 miles along the canyon’s edge. Serene clover valleys offer an attractive distraction. When you peak, follow signs to the Tin House where you’ll find the remains of a spooky old building (listen for its groan in the mountain air). Okay, maybe the sound comes from the tin expanding and contracting in the famous coastal fog, but you never know. One thing is for sure—on clear days the sweeping views of the Pacific from this vantage are otherworldly. Keep the good scenery rolling on the 2.1-mile descent along the dirt fire road. The ocean and cliff views are pure Big Sur.

WHERE TO STAY: The 1-mile hike-in campgrounds at Andrew Molera State Park are first-come, first-serve, offering 24 sites clustered around a sycamore grove. For drive-in camping, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has over 200 sites under towering coastal redwoods. For a real rustic charmer in the heart of the redwoods, stay the night at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a not-for-profit organization listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Twenty rooms in log cabins, built from the 1930s to 1960s, harken to Big Sur days of old and are favored by the hipster set.

To arrive at the Tan Bark Trail, park at a large (and free) pullout on either side of Highway 1, located 2 miles north of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park turnoff, or 9 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance. Note: After descending the hike you’ll land back on Highway 1 south where you’ll have to take a short (0.8-mile) roadside jaunt north (remember to keep with oncoming traffic) to reach the trailhead where you began. No dogs. 

Take the Train to Reno-Tahoe for 25% Off!

You know the phrase "window of opportunity?" In honor of fall getaways and seeing autumn foliage, Amtrak just made taking the scenic route to Tahoe easier, greener, and cheaper than filling the gas tank! And Weekend Sherpa readers are getting an exclusive deal: Book your ticket between now and September 30 for a 25% discount aboard the popular California Zephyr—one of the best routes for catching great fall scenery on the way to Reno-Tahoe. Trains depart from all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco! Skip the hassle of the usual Tahoe traffic. Instead, kick back in your cozy seat as you roll from the valley to the foothills and all the way up to the Sierra Nevada. This fall, take the scenic route and save!

BONUS: Amtrak rarely offers discounts on the California Zephyr so getting this deal is…well, a big deal! And it won’t last long (the chance to save 25% on your ticket ends September 30), so book now for your fall getaway to Reno-Tahoe.

Offer valid October 15 through November 15 for travel dates on the California Zephyr from Bay Area stations—some restrictions apply. See terms and conditions.

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