It was along the Big Sur coast, at Bixby creek, that the proprietors of a creek side resort discovered a remnant population of sea otters in 1938.  All California Sea Otters (currently around 2,000) are descended from this remnant population which is believed to have numbered between 10 and 50 animals.  California sea otters, which may have numbered as many as 13-20,000 animals, were hunted almost to extinction for their dense, lustrous fur.  Unlike other marine mammals, sea otters do not have a thick layer of blubber, they rely on their dense fur for insulation.  The average human has 600,000 hairs on their head; sea otters have 2 million hairs - per square inch.  This thick fur made warm clothes.

On the other end of the pinniped size spectrum, the elephant seal, was also hunted to near extinction.  But, instead of its fur, the elephant seal was hunted for its blubber, second only in quality to that of the sperm whale.  The elephant seal has staged a remarkable and vigorous come-back.  Thought to be extinct in the 1880's, a colony of between 20-100 seals survived, and current populations number 150,000+.  Elephant seals "haul out" at a rookery near the southern end of Big Sur at Piedras Blancas Beach and can be seen on-shore from December through February in this area.  There is an excellent, well-signed, viewing area adjacent to the highway.

Gray whales migrate along the Big Sur coast from December - April.  December to early February the Gray Whales are migrating south.  Beginning in February, you start seeing whales migrating back to Alaska with their newborn babies by their sides.  On their northern migration, they swim close to shore with their babies on the shore side.  This is when the best viewing can take place because they are moving more slowly because of their young calves and also they are swimming against the current.  Bring your binoculars and enjoy this spectacular sight.

There are numerous memorable land based sights on the highway:

  • Bixby Bridge - one of the ten highest single span bridges in the world.  If the area and road approach to Bixby bridge look vaguely familiar, it's because the area has been used in many automobile advertisements.
  • Point Sur lighthouse - this (haunted?) lighthouse is the only turn-of-the-century lighthouse open to the public in California
  • Nepenthe - a roadside restaurant perched on cliff's edge with an outstanding view of ocean and hills. 
  • Piedras Blancas - Elephant seal rookery
  • Hearst Castle - Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's 165 room Moorish style mansion, designed by Julia Morgan.  Citizen Kane, voted the American Film Institute's #1 American movie of all-time, is about the life of William Randolph Hearst.

The Big Sur coast is linked with many artists:

  • Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth purchased a log cabin on the site that is now the Nepenthe Restauarant.
  • Henry Miller took up residence in the area in 1944, when there were only 60 residents.  The Henry Miler library stands near Nepenthe in a redwood grove on the mountain side of the highway.
  • "The Sandpiper", starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was filmed on the Big Sur coast, including scenes filmed at Nepenthe.  The Sandpiper may have been influential in the hippie influx of the '60's.
  • Jack Kerouac's last novel "Big Sur" was about man's relationship with nature.  Jack believed this area drove him insane.

Bixby Bridge