Three favorite stops along highway 1
Whether you are a born and raised Californian, or just a visitor to the Golden State; Big Sur is a must for any surfer. Jaw-dropping vistas, empty lineups, and a true detachment from the urban crowds; here are three spots to hit for the perfect Big Sur road trip.
ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
Heading south from Monterey your first surf break will be Andrew Molera State Park. It sits along the coast where the Big Sur River meets the great Pacific Ocean. Park along the highway or pay the day use fee and take the Beach Trail for the most direct access to the break. Conditions are best with winds from the northeast in the fall with a moderate to larger west and/or south swell on low and medium tides. There can be a great right-hander at the river mouth and a fun point break. You can reserve a camp spot at the park up to six months in advance (reservecalifornia.gov). Alternatively, try Big Sur Campground (bigsurcamp.com) or head back to the Big Sur River Inn (bigsurriverinn.com) for a great meal and a nice bed.
SAND DOLLAR BEACH
Continuing down the coast, the next best spot for surf is the iconic Sand Dollar Beach. This beach is often the most consistent beach for surf and its aptly named sand dollar-shaped bay catches swell from all directions. There is a large lot for day parking, with a fee of $5, and it’s equipped with restrooms. Take the stairs down to the beach. The south end of the beach usually offers up the best shape, as well as an easier paddle out on bigger days. Camping is available right across the street at Plaskett Creek Campground, or down the beach at my favorite Kirk Creek Campground; either can be reserved online at recreation.gov.
Just a few miles south of Sand Dollar Beach is the elusive Willow Creek break. Take the road leading to the Willow Creek picnic ground, which is a narrow road with parking for about ten cars. Conditions here can be hazardous with exposed boulders and lots of hefty bull kelp in the line-up. But if you hit it right, with a moderate to big west swell, medium tide, and wind out of the northeast, Willow Creek can offer a juicy long left-handed point break that can usually hold up to double overhead waves. This break has more power and is best for experienced surfers that crave a meatier wave. You can get lucky and reserve a camp spot at Plaskett or Kirk Creek campgrounds or splurge for a memorable ocean-front room at the Lucia Lodge (lucialodge.com).
If you are wanting to beat the crowds and don’t mind the cold water and stunning views, Big Sur is for you. Always be mindful of the risks; rip currents, rocks, water quality, and sharks are all a factor in surfing. Use good judgment, surf with a friend, and always leave no trace. Hope you get some good ones!
A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER AS YOU HEAD INTO THE WATER THIS SEASON
Red Tides In Monterey Bay, red tides are most common in the warm, calm waters in the fall. A red tide is a naturally occurring, higher than normal concentration of phytoplankton. Pigments in the phytoplankton can cause the water to turn red, brown, or orange. Most red tides don’t pose an immediate threat to humans but can cause skin irritations and burning of the eyes. Certain red tides can create toxins that are harmful to marine life, so be careful to avoid eating shellfish during a red tide. Also, your dog can become ill if they are exposed to the water and ingest it. If you notice the water has a murky, red tone to it, or any type of foul smell, best to take a beach walk rather than a surf. For more info go to: sanctuarysimon.org and click on Monterey Bay.
Sharks Yes, Jaws does live and breed within Monterey Bay and the surrounding California coastline, and recently juvenile great white sharks have been found in alarming numbers. Scientists say this is due to climate change. Unlike adults, juvenile white sharks do not have the ability to retain heat and therefore stay in warm waters closer to shore. Scientists explain that a heat wave, which they named a “blob” of warm water which lasted for several years, caused the warming of ocean surface water that created a swim corridor from Santa Barbara (which used to be the juvenile northern range) all the way to Aptos beaches in Santa Cruz. Young juvenile sharks generally don’t pose a threat to humans as they’re still feeding on smaller prey, however as they get older and transition into adults they are more likely to make mistakes while hunting for larger marine animals. Most bites are investigatory or mistakes in food prey. Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare, with only ten recorded in Monterey Bay since 2003. To learn more visit: ksbw.com and search juvenile white sharks.
Main image: Will Truettner/Unsplash