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Visit Califorina

Special to Kalamalama by Susan Hwang


Foot traffic on the boardwalk begins to build as late afternoon slipped into early evening. With shadows deepening and the sun inching it’s way toward the horizon, tourists and townsfolk alike crowd onto the bluff-top walkway, jockeying for a front-row spot overlooking the blood-red Pacific Ocean and the crimson-rayed western sky.

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The view is the backdrop of the sleepy town of Cambria on the central coast of California. With a population of 6,500, Cambria is located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on Highway 1, just six miles from the famous Hearst Castle. It is one of dozens of small towns nestled in the Pacific coastal valleys of central California.
For anyone looking for an inexpensive place to vacation, California’s central coast is ideal. Quaint towns, with inexpensive hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, dot the coastline from Santa Cruz in the north to Malibu in the south, some 300 miles along scenic Highway 1 and Highway 101. The unparalleled beauty of the coastlines of central California has something to offer every visitor, from hiking and water sports to vineyards, wineries, missions, and the gardens of Hearst Castle.
Click on image for larger view

Highway 1 is one of the best-maintained roads in the world, but its sharp curves and steep hills preclude high-speed driving. The stretch of coast between the southernmost part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a protected area that extends north to Marin. People strolling along the beach or bluffs generally can count on seeing furry-faced otters cracking shells for dinner, plump harbor seals lolling on the rocks, and giant egrets waiting patiently for unsuspecting fish to swim into range of their beaks.

La Purisima
To the south of Cambria in a town east of Buelton off Highway 1, is the middle mission of a chain of California missions that reach up the coast from San Diego to Sonoma, north of San Francisco Bay. Misión La Purísima Concepción De María Santísima (Mission of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary) occupies 1,928 acres, a mere fraction of its original size. La Purisima was founded by Father Presidente Fermin de Lasuén Dec. 8, 1787, and was the 11th of 21 Franciscan Missions built in California. Today, the mission buildings are actually four miles away from the original site. However, the historical park occupies 300,000 acres of the original mission property.

In the early days of the mission, the Catholic Church baptized thousands of Chumash Indians. Then on Dec. 21, 1812, an earthquake destroyed several of the mission buildings and the aftershocks left the mission complex beyond repair. Father Mariano Payeras, then in charge of the mission, rebuilt it four miles northwest in “La Cañada de los Berros,” the Canyon of the Watercress. The new location allowed a safer access to one of California’s main north-south travel routes, El Camino Real. Visitors to the mission can experience mission life first hand. From grinding corn with a mano on a metate to tending to the gardens, or even weaving wool into cloth, visitors can learn to appreciate how tough life was for the early missionaries.

If living like the Chumash Indian’s isn’t your cup of tea, there is a picnic area and 25 miles of hiking trails surrounding the mission grounds.

Big Sur
North on Highway 1 is the town of Big Sur, flanked on one side by the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains and on the other by the rocky Pacific Coast. Historically, the name Big Sur was derived from that unexplored and unmapped wilderness area that lies along the coast south of Monterey. It was simply called El Sur Grande, The Big South. Today, Big Sur refers to that 90-mile stretch of rugged and awesomely beautiful coastline between Carmel to the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south.

Two Mexican land grants awarded in the 1830s included most of the area north of the Big Sur Valley. However, neither grantee settled on the land. It wasn’t until the last decades of the 19th century that the first permanent settlers arrived in Big Sur, hardy pioneers who staked out homesteads along the rugged coast. At the turn of the 20th century, Big Sur actually sustained a larger population than it does today. A vigorous redwood lumber industry provided livelihoods for many. The Old Coast Trail, which had been the only link between homesteads, was still little more than a wagon trail. Steamers transported heavy goods and supplies and harbored at Notley’s Landing, Partington Cove, and the mouth of the Little Sur River. Electricity did not arrive on this part of the central California coast until the early 1950s, and it still does not extend the length of the coast or into the more remote mountainous areas.

Things to do
The climate along the central coast is mild and the summers are long. In addition to simply experiencing the breathtaking coastline, wine tasting is a popular activity: award winning wineries are abundant and wine tasting is generally free and often includes a guided tour of the facilities. Even with lunch and snacks, a winetasting trip is generally inexpensive, unless the tastors get carried away and start to stock a personal wine cellar. Popular vineyards include the Sanford Winery (950 McMurray Rd.) in Buelton, Monterey Wine Co. ( Alvarado St.) in Monterey, and Chateau Julien Winery (8940 Carmel Valley Rd.) in Carmel.

Another inexpensive treat ($15-30) is soaking in mineral springs at Sycamore Mineral Spas located in Avila Valley, southwest of San Luis Obispo. For years, people have traveled to the spa to take its “curative” waters for ailments like asthma and arthritis.

If that sounds a little too quiet, the more adventurous might try some aerial acrobatics--hang gliding off the dunes overlooking spectacular Monterey Bay. For a view—and a ride—of your life, gliding lessons and information are available from Western Hang Gliders.

Hitting the surf is another way to get your adrenaline rush. There are popular surfing spots in Santa Cruz and Carmel. Wind surf in San Simeon by the Hearst Castle, and you might catch a glimpse of the elephant seals. Rentals are available at O’Neill’s in Santa Cruz and On the Beach Surf Shop in Monterey.

Many beaches also offer bike paths and bicycles. You can rent bikes from Adventures by the Sea and other shops along the coastal recreation trail in Monterey and Pacific Grove. One of the most scenic bike paths begins at the Pacific Grove Gate of the Pebble Beach 17-Mile Drive, which follows the shoreline to Bird Rock.

Lovers Point Beach in Pacific Grove is a popular spot for picnicking, swimming, and diving. Just north, Asilomar Beach is great for surfing, strolling, tidepooling, and watching gorgeous sunsets. Carmel Beach, at the end of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, is known for its cypress trees, fine white sand and spectacular views, and the graceful arc of Carmel River Beach to the south, less crowded, is often the repository of fascinating shapes in driftwood. Both Garrapata State Beach and Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur are great for hiking and retreating.

The array of activities along the central coast are a feast to the senses. Whether you’re looking for a little rest and relaxation or an adrenaline rush adventure, the central coast of California has got it all.

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