Big Sur and Carmel California – Wedding, Hiking, Dining, and Driving (July 2-5 2012)

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Bucket List, Family and Friends, Full Life, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, Vacation
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California Highway 1 sceneThe road trip from San Diego to Big Sur was over. Now it was time to enjoy Big Sur, get married in Carmel (Pacific Grove actually) and kick-off the honeymoon!

Although our road trip to Big Sur was over, driving along the coast in Big Sur is a big part of the appeal. We put the top down and loved every minute of it. The Big Sur coastline starts to rise above the Pacific as you drive north of San Simeon State Park.

Big Sur Coastline

Some of the views were better if we pulled over but the views were non-stop even while we were driving!

Driving in Big Sur along California Highway 1

Part of the beauty of Big Sur is California Highway 1. It is an amazing road with some spectacular bridges. I loved the look of both the classic arched Bridges…

Classic Arched Bridge Big Sur California Highway 1

and the modern bridges.

Modern Bridge Big Sur California Highway 1

It is not all about the road though, the natural beauty of Big Sur is simply overwhelming! Whether it is the classic of mountain silhouettes meeting the ocean through the sun backed haze…

Big Sur silloutte in the haze

or the same point viewed from the north side 30 minutes later. As we looked south with the sun behind us, the blue sky and ocean took over the scene.

Big Sur coastal view with blue sky and ocean

If the weather is clear, this drive will not disappoint you! We timed our drive so that we could eat dinner during the sunset at Nepenthe Restaurant which is about 2.5 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the Big Sur Lodge where we would be staying for the next three nights. Every single person we talked to about Big Sur when we were planning this trip recommended eating at Nepenthe. We echo that recommendation. The food was very good, the staff friendly, the service was spot on, and the views were unforgettable!

View south from Nepenthe

The only downside was that the sunset was not visible from the dining area. I’m sure it would be visible for a large part of the year, but not on 2 July. It was too far north and the dining area is on the south side of the restaurant. Not that we were disappointed. Not in the least. While the sunset was missing, the moon rise to the southeast was visible from our table on the patio.

Moon rising over Big Sur south of Nepenthe Restaurant

Big Sur Lodge has very comfortable rooms/cabins. Since we were there in July we skipped getting a room with a fireplace. The rooms are walking distance to hiking trails, but more about that later. We also saw some local wildlife wandering around the lodge, a couple of deer were not unexpected, but the wild turkey was a surprise.

Wild Turkey wandering around Big Sur Lodge

On the morning of July 3rd we ate breakfast at the lodge, got dressed up for our big event, and headed toward Carmel. This was one of the few times we decided to leave the top up. We arranged the wedding with Kathee from Carmel Weddings. Because it was only going to be us there, all we had to do was show up and enjoy the ceremony. The fact that it was a holiday weekend made arranging a location more difficult, but all we had to do is tell Kathee we wanted the ocean, a beautiful cove, and some trees and she delivered. It was a very special ceremony, and we both got a little emotional… I’m a very lucky man. Here are a few of our favorite pictures.

Eric and Jenny Rial

Eric and Jenny Rial -got to love the trees, sea, and that pose

Eric and Jenny Rial wedding Berwick Park Pacific Grove California

After the wedding we opened a bottle of champagne, sat on a bench near the water and toasted our love for each other, our life together, and our family and friends. As we left the park we met an older couple. The gentleman asked if we had just gotten married and mentioned that they had been married 53 years. I told him we had been married for about 53 minutes and congratulated them. We decided to put the top down again and drive along the 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach. My favorite parts of the drive was stopping at the Lone Tree for some pictures…

The lone tree 17 mile drive Pebble Beach California

and dipping our feet in the water at a small beach along the road. My wife has a rule that she can’t go to the beach without getting her feet wet!

Jenny getting ready to dip her feet in the water

We wanted to stop at the Pebble Beach Lodge but it wasn’t quite time for dinner, so we had a drink and dessert on the back terrace. Then we drove back through the 17 mile drive, took some more pictures and headed toward Carmel. We had gotten some recommendations from Kathee and crew after our ceremony on good places to eat in Carmel, but decided to wander around the village area before picking a place to eat. Eventually we started to get hungry and decided wandering was not very useful, too many options. I did a Google Maps search and found one of the places that had been recommended, Casanova’s. When we got to the front of the restaurant we had second thoughts. It looked like a small 2-3 bedroom cottage on a residential street at the north edge of the main business area. Not what we were expecting. Luckily we decided to go in to “check it out”. Casanova’s is a very cool place with unbeatable of atmosphere. Despite it’s appearance from the outside it is not a small place. It winds completely through the block! We were seated in a small courtyard. It was the best food we had all week – by far! We had a great day in Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, and Carmel and look forward to another visit soon.

On the 4th of July we decided to skip the fireworks and to explore Big Sur. Although the weather had been perfect for the last 3 days, the 4th of July was overcast and about 10 degrees cooler. That worked fine for some hiking, and another drive up the coast. The trail-head for the Pfeiffer Falls & Valley View hike was about a quarter-mile from our room so we started the day with this hike. The southern section of what used to be a loop trail is closed. This is a shame because it looks like it used to go directly through the redwoods on the way to Pfeiffer Falls. However, the first part of the trail and the last part of the trail go through the redwoods and the falls are definitely worth the hike.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - Pfeiffer Falls

We also hiked to the Valley View lookout bench, but the morning fog had not burned off yet. Still a very fun trail. On the way back down the lighting through the trees was perfect. The ferns and clover covering the slopes under the trees could not have been a brighter shade of green.

Pfeiffer Falls trail through the redwoods

Now it was Jenny’s turn to drive on California Highway 1 through Big Sur. We had planned to have lunch at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn in order to check the place out for a future trip, but somehow we passed it right up. It is only about 3-4 miles south of Big Sur Lodge, which was sooner than we were expecting. Of course my Android’s Google maps and navigation were useless because there is little to no cell phone coverage along the Big Sur coast. I recommend printed maps with places of interest marked. An old fashion Satellite Navigation system will work too, we had one in our car, but you have to know the address you want to go to. I am way too used to being able to search for a location on Google Maps by name, not address to launch the navigation. I need to add printed maps and addresses to my plan if cell phone coverage may be questionable. Anyway… we ended up driving 48.5 miles. We knew we had passed our planned lunch spot, but decided to just drive! We stopped for a very late lunch at the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. We had a couple of sandwiches and enjoyed the views.

View North from Ragged Point Inn and Restaurant

I have to admit that driving along Big Sur was not all enjoyment for me. I have a fear of heights, that has been dormant (or at least less intense) for the past few years. Over the last couple years I’ve hiked across the Grand Canyon and climbed the cables at Half Dome, and I experienced very few issues with the extreme heights I encountered. However, this drive brought my fear of heights back to the surface more than once. Being a passenger was worse. By the time we stopped to eat, even the fact that Ragged Point is slightly sloped downward made me nervous. My behavior as a “nervous passenger” finally got on Jenny’s nerves. When we turned back toward home Jenny suggested that I drive. Most of the road, either as a driver or passenger, did not bother me. The blind hairpin curves did though. Partially because I was worried that a biker would be “just around the corner” which was a valid concern. But also partially because I was concerned there would be “no road” just around the corner – a little less valid, but not impossible. If fact there were a couple of areas where half of the highway was no longer there! As I approached these areas I could see where they had sprayed a foamy material below the edge of the road to stabilize the material below the road. I had to wonder why was the remaining lane any safer than the one that had recently fallen hundreds of feet into the ocean! Despite the nerves, I enjoyed the drive.

We stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the drive back. It was a busy weekend and parking was challenging, but this short hike has to be one of the most scenic in all of Big Sur. The hike takes you to a view-point for McWay Falls, which was originally the site for one of the homes of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. I can’t imagine having such a gorgeous view of the falls right out my bedroom window, but that is exactly what they had. Helen Hooper Brown donated the land to the state of California for a park in honor of her friend Julia Pfeiffer Burns a member of one of the original Big Sur pioneer families.

McWay Falls Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The view from the other side of the house wasn’t bad either!

The other cove north of McWay Falls

On the way back to Big Sur Lodge we decided to get an early start to San Francisco the following morning. This was the perfect place for us to get married, we had a great time, and look forward to another visit and more hiking, but we were both ready for a change of pace in San Francisco.

A few more pictures…

McWay Falls view through a tree

McWay Falls view through a tree

Enjoying McWay Falls and a relaxing day in Big Sur

A little tired on day 3 of our trip, but enjoying McWay Falls and a relaxing day in Big Sur

View from our table at Nepenthe

View from our table at Nepenthe

On to the third post for this trip: Quick Visit to San Francisco – (Honeymoon Part 2 – 5-7 July 2012)!

Back to the first post for this trip: Road Trip – San Diego to Big Sur (July 2012)

  1. Beautiful, Eric! It brings back memories of the place. Every picture is postcard perfect. Congratulations to you and your wife!

    • eric.rial says:

      Thanks Amy. These will be great memories for us too. It’s a unique place and we’re looking forward to going back with family and friends.

  2. What a beautiful place.
    Great memories to look through…..for years to come.

  3. Allison says:

    How much did you pay for the site fees in Carmel for the ceremony? Sounds like a fun relaxing elopement and trip! Congrats!

    • eric.rial says:

      We did everything through the wedding coordinator. The options for location were limited because it was a holiday weekend. The site was in a city park. I don’t believe there was any fees for the site we used.

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