If you’ve read Big Sur and want to make the pilgrimage to that craggy roaring coastline where Jack Kerouac wrote his poem “Sea,” don’t expect to get up-close-and-personal with the crashing waves that inspired his onomatopoeic verses and shaped the hallucinations of his delirium tremens. Trying to reach the beach will likely result in arrest, shotgun wounds, or a nasty 250-foot plummet to the canyon floor. While you might not be able to sink your toes into the same patch of sand where Kerouac recorded the voice of the Pacific, Big Sur offers endless transcendental wonders beyond that little piece of literary holy ground.

Bixby: big and beautiful

The novel Big Sur is an account of Kerouac’s alcohol-induced madness deep in the Bixby Creek Canyon, where he sought respite in friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s secluded cabin. Between chasing empty delusions of love and feeding apples to Alf the sacred mule, Kerouac ventured to the coast and transcribed the sounds of the ocean. If you’re a Kerouac diehard, the Bixby Creek Bridge is a must-see. But if you’ve never even cracked On the Road, Bixby is still worth a stop and a few photos.

Built in the 1930s, the Bixby Bridge made costal travel along California 1 vastly more accessible, replacing the precipitous dirt roads that carved a precarious route along ridges and through valleys. Standing tall at 280 feet and closing a 320-foot gap, Bixby is a sight to behold.

Next to the bridge, tourists can pull over and snap photos to their hearts’ content. With the ocean crashing against sheer cliff sides to the west and fog enshrouding the mountaintops to the east, there’s enough scenery to fill a thousand different postcards.

Death trap

Kerouac fanatics will want to find a way to the base of the bridge and the beach below, but the journey is near impossible. The Bixby Bridge is surrounded by impassable cliffs that would spell certain doom for anyone foolish enough to make the descent. You can see paths where people have tried, but they all end in treacherous drop-offs. The only reasonable way down to sea level is to tramp down the old dirt road that gradually descends into the canyon. But once you get to the canyon floor, it’s a couple of miles back to the sea — a couple of miles through thick woods rife with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Property’ signs. The canyon holds a handful of cabins, and the owners are serious about their privacy. Deadly serious. One resident has been known to chase down intruders with a shotgun.

If you survive the trip, it should take three or four hours to complete. But instead of risking your life for a few fleeting moments of literary bliss, it may be wiser to experience the canyon from atop and spend some time seeing the many geographic treasures along the Big Sur coastline.

Move on and explore

If you don’t have a travel credit card that gives you rewards on gas, get one. With gas prices always on the rise, the last thing you want to worry about is not having the cash to see the entirety of the California coastline. Just south of Bixby you’ll find breathtaking costal marvels like Partington Cove, Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls. If you’d like to visit some parks with mind-blowing hiking options, check out Andrew Molera or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. You could easily spend weeks getting lost in infinite splendor of Big Sur, scrambling over rocky Pacific outcrops, watching for the spray of wallowing whales, listening to the seals converse in distant barks.

The Bixby Creek Bridge is certainly worth a stop, but no matter how much you want to be a Dharma Bum, don’t let it eat up your day. Big Sur’s majesty is unbelievably extensive, and it’d be a shame to miss out on all it has to offer.

Your thoughts on "Kerouac’s Big Sur: don’t get hung up on Bixby"

  • went to Carmel and never knew Big Sur was so close #LiteraryFail

    on November 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm Reply
  • By far the best book that Kerouac wrote. Dark, tormented and brilliant. I totally must go there!

    on November 5, 2011 at 1:16 am Reply
  • The photos make the place look amazing ... and then the shotgun-wielding locals really make it surreal enough to be something out of a Kerouac novel.

    on November 6, 2011 at 9:42 am Reply
  • I am going, f*** what you say. Jack had it right, life is fleeting and if we die in the process so be it

    on February 16, 2016 at 6:56 pm Reply
    • I agree, some things are worth doing. Be careful, though! Have a great time and let us know how it went.

      on February 26, 2016 at 5:46 pm Reply
  • It was something incredible. We visited and got some great pictures. You are right, it would be a death trap if you try to get to the ocean from the bridge area. The scenery was mesmerizing.

    on August 13, 2016 at 1:43 pm Reply
  • I made it down but yes not recommendable. I went down super early one summer morning to beat the crowds etc. Caught a sunrise in the very early morning. Stay safe and maybe just check out some pics I took! http://wp.me/p2fkUh-5Z

    on January 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm Reply
    • It's definitely worth being careful!

      on January 19, 2017 at 9:31 am Reply

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