Big Sur, an undeveloped and incredibly scenic stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway, has an endless array of options for the photographer. Official boundaries don’t exist for the Big Sur coastline, but it’s most commonly defined as the area from the Carmel River stretching south to the San Carpoforo Creek; approximately 76 miles. Most locations are best photographed in the late afternoon and during sunset, as the sun covers the rugged coastline in warm light. For those pressed for time, it can be hard to decide your preferred locations as you chase the rapidly-changing light prior to sunset. For me, the following spots are the Top 3 Big Sur Photo Locations.
1) McWay Falls
Named after Christopher McWay, an early settler from New York that arrived here with his son in 1874. Stopping along the Pacific Coast Highway at this location is a must for anyone driving the PCH. The trail doesn’t allow you to hike all the way down to the falls, making this location a landscape photographer’s paradise because you can easily capture photos without anyone in the frame. Furthermore, it helps to maintain the pristine nature of the falls and beach. Good luck finding the right location to photograph the falls – it’s not easy to find this hidden spot along the road.
2) Pfeiffer Beach
Tucked away at the end of a mostly unpaved an bumpy one-lane road, Hidden Pfeiffer Beach is a real gem. Sunsets here will leave anyone in awe, with the sun-drenched rocks and crashing waves. If you are lucky enough to be there on the right days, there are times when the sun on the horizon peeks through the hole in the massive rock formations off-shore. The beach is not very big, and the parking lot only holds a certain number of cars so you may have to wait for access until someone leaves. Most people breeze right past the entrance, not realizing this small road can take them to such an amazing beach. This is what Big Sur is all about – discovering the little-known secret locations with unbelievable views.
3) Bixby Creek Bridge
One of the most photographed bridges in California, Bixby Bridge is an impressive site at 714 feet in length. It can be a challenge to capture a unique view of this bridge, so I decided to hike down a small trail along the side of the cliff on the Northwest corner. Hike at your own risk, and be extremely careful as one small mistake could send you tumbling down. At the right time of day, the combination of a 10-stop neutral density filter with the warm sunset hues, you can capture an otherworldly feeling by smoothing the ocean waves and eliminating the vehicular traffic on the bridge.
Once the sun drops below the horizon, hike back to the top, cross the street and setup your tripod on the Northeast corner to capture the light trails of cars breezing into the night.
If you have the 3 stops carefully planned, and a swift driver, it’s possible to hit all 3 locations in the same afternoon and sunset.