Coastal Chronicles: “It’s like Narnia out there,” says the ranger at Andrew Molera State Park. To get right into the heart of this storybook landscape, hike the park’s 8.4-mile Ridge Bluff loop. Duck through sturdy oaks and imperious redwoods as you climb high above the world on a ridge, where you take in the Pacific’s blue waters to the west and the wild Santa Lucia Mountain Range to the east. Be sure not to miss Spring Trail, a short 0.1-mile offshoot to one of Big Sur’s most remote beaches, where the mineral almandine adds unusual color. Kick off your shoes and run your feet through swirls of pink and lavender sand. Magic.
The moderate trail can be hiked in either direction. From the parking lot, cross the bridge (which is removed in the winter) over the Big Sur River and head west on the Beach Trail. Then go southeast on the Bluffs Trail; Spring Trail is reached after 1.7 miles. Continue climbing on Panorama Trail (a butt kicker!), and then descend down the Ridge Trail. Take the Hidden Trail down to the River Trail, which goes back to the parking lot. Or you can make a shorter six-mile route by hiking out to Spring Trail and back along the Bluffs Trail. Dogs not allowed on the trails.
Tide Pools ‘n’ Prohibition: According to Big Sur locals, Pardington Cove was once a Prohibition-era port for buccaneer whiskey runners. Today, it offers treasure of a different kind: With just a short 0.5-mile hike from your parking spot, you can find tranquility away from the crowds. Walk down a wide fire road, cross a bridge over a stream, and slip through a 100-foot burrowed-rock tunnel. At the other end you’re immediately greeted by the intimate turquoise waters of the cove and possibly a resident sea otter. Take a break and bust out your own Pirate’s Booty. You can also climb on the rocks that extend into the sea—just be careful if the tide is coming in, or you may take an unexpected dip.
The cove is six miles south of Nepenthe. Just after mile marker 38, you will see a large pull out for cars on either side of the road. On the west side of Highway 1, walk past the gate and down to the cove. Dogs not allowed.