The Big Sur Coast of Central California is over seventy miles in length and stretches from the Carmel area on the north, south to the San Luis Obispo County line near San Simeon. The eastern boundary is the western slopes of Santa Lucia Mountains; the western boundary, the Pacific Ocean.
The western slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains, reaching an elevation of 5,200′ at Cone Peak, drop precipitously to the sea. Much of the coast is bounded by sheer cliffs. Great offshore rocks punctuate the dramatic meeting of land and sea. Beaches are few; strong currents, waves and cold water make swimming hazardous. Nearly fifty separate streams flow down the mountains to join the sea. Several of these, such as the Big Sur and Little Sur Rivers, Big Creek, Garrapata Creek and Salmon Creek, have substantial year-round flows and support migrating as well as resident fish. The Big Sur coast is rich in plant and wildlife diversity. Coast redwoods are found in the cool, moist canyons. The Santa Lucia fir and many other rare plants are present. Mountain lion, deer and many smaller terrestrial animals and birds make Big Sur their home. The California sea otter refuge runs the length of the coast, providing safe harbor for the sea otter, perhaps the most playful member of the coast’s diverse marine wildlife.
The climate in Big Sur is mild. Although the winters bring some of the heaviest rainfall in California, the summers are long and dry. Coastal fog is typical on summer mornings near the shore, while inland and at the higher elevations temperatures can get quite high.
The rugged mountainous terrain of the Big Sur coast has had a profound effect on historical use of the area and will continue to serve as a limitation on the kinds of activities that can be carried on and the scale of development. Natural constraints to development, including availability of water, difficult access and unstable soils on steep slopes require extra care and imaginative solutions when contemplating new land uses.
The scenic qualities and the natural grandeur of the coast which result from the imposing geography, the rich vegetative compositions and the dramatic meeting of land and sea are the area’s greatest single attraction. Big Sur has attained a world-wide reputation for spectacular beauty.
Although it has remained a rural area where sturdy pioneering families still carry on ranching, Big Sur’s residents have also achieved acclaim for their cultural contributions. Many well-known writers, artists and artisans have been inspired by the coast’s dramatic vistas and timeless solitude. A strong community identity continues to attract new residents. Today, tourism and private residential development are the strongest trends affecting management of the area.
Approximately half of the areas 150,000 acres lie within the Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness. Nearly 10,000 acres are contained within units of the State Park System. Approximately 60,000 acres are in private ownership.