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Big Sur in California.

 

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Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the central California coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name "Big Sur" is derived from the original Spanish-language "el sur grande", meaning "the big south", or from "el paĆ­s grande del sur", "the big country of the south". The terrain offers stunning views, making Big Sur a popular tourist destination. Big Sur's Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states, ascending nearly a mile (5, 155 feet/1571 m) above sea level, only three miles (4.8 km) from the ocean.

Although Big Sur has no specific boundaries, many definitions of the area include the 90 miles (140 km) of coastline between the Carmel River and San Carpoforo Creek, and extend about 20 miles (32 km) inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucias. Other sources limit the eastern border to the coastal flanks of these mountains, only three to 12 miles (19 km) inland.

The northern end of Big Sur is about 120 miles (190 km) south of San Francisco, and the southern end is approximately 245 miles (394 km) northwest of Los Angeles.

Although some Big Sur residents catered to adventurous travelers in the early twentieth century, the modern tourist economy began when Highway 1 opened the region to automobiles, and only took off after World War II-era gasoline rationing ended in the mid-1940s.

Most of the 3 million tourists who visit Big Sur each year never leave Highway 1, because the adjacent Santa Lucia mountain range is one of the largest roadless areas near a coast in the contiguous United States. The highway winds along the western flank of the mountains mostly within sight of the Pacific Ocean, varying from near sea level up to a thousand-foot sheer drop to the water.

Because gazing at the views while driving is inadvisable, the highway features many strategically placed vista points allowing motorists to stop and admire the landscape. The section of Highway 1 running through Big Sur is widely considered as one of the most scenic driving routes in the United States, if not the world.

These breathtaking views were one reason that Big Sur ranked second among all United States destinations in TripAdvisor's 2008 Travelers' Choice Destination Awards.

The land use restrictions that preserve Big Sur's natural beauty also mean that tourist accommodations are limited, often expensive, and fill up quickly during the busy summer season. There are fewer than 300 hotel rooms on the entire 90 mile (140 km) stretch of Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel, only three gas stations, and no chain hotels, supermarkets, or fast-food outlets.

The lodging options are rustic cabins, motels, and campgrounds, or costly, exclusive five-star resorts, with little in between. Most lodging and restaurants are clustered in the Big Sur River valley, where Highway 1 leaves the coast for a few miles and winds into a redwood forest, protected from the chill ocean breezes and summer fog.

Besides sightseeing from the highway, Big Sur offers hiking, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities. There are a few small, scenic beaches that are popular for walking, but usually unsuitable for swimming because of unpredictable currents and frigid temperatures.

Big Sur's nine state parks have many points of interest, including one of the few waterfalls on the Pacific Coast that plunges directly into the ocean, located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, although visitors are not allowed on the beach itself to preserve the natural habitat.

The waterfall is located near the ruins of a grand stone cliffside house that was the region's first electrified dwelling. Another notable landmark is the only complete nineteenth century lighthouse complex open to the public in California, set on a lonely, windswept hill that looks like an island in the fog.

List of state parks (north to south)

* Carmel River State Park
* Point Lobos State Reserve
* Garrapata State Park
* Point Sur Lightstation State Historic Park
* Andrew Molera State Park
* Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
* Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
* John Little State Reserve
* Limekiln State Park

Federal Parks

* Ventana Wilderness

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