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Big Sur Braces For Return Of Roadtrippers

This weekend will be the first in more than a year that Highway 1 is completely open through Big Sur. That will bring even more tourist traffic and businesses and residents are bracing it. 

Highway 1 is a drive so varied and beautiful that it is a tourist destination in and of itself.

In Big Sur alone, it runs through valleys of towering redwood trees and along the edge of steep cliffs that plummet into the Pacific Ocean.

At one of the many vista points, Heather Smith hops out of her rental SUV.

“We flew into L.A. and taking the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco,” Smith says.

She’s visiting from Memphis, Tennessee, with her mom, sister, daughter and two nieces. They came here just to do the drive.

“It is beautiful. Everyone has told us how pretty it is and it’s really, pictures just don’t do it justice. It's really pretty,” Smith says.

Smith and her family are the type of travelers that Big Sur businesses rely on.  And without the ability to completely drive through for over a year, business has been sporadic.

At Big Sur Roadhouse, it’s nearly noon and there’s just one couple sitting down for lunch.

General Manager Melissa Morris walks through the restaurant. It’s decorated with redwood tables and leather couches.

“We just want it to be kind of an extension of people's living rooms. Have some coffee, grab something to eat. Lounge around, you know, get your work done, use the internet,” Morris says.

She settles in next to an outdoor fire pit. Summertime usually means the restaurant and its hotel, Glen Oaks, are packed.

“You can call and get a cabin right now whereas normally it's booked almost a year in advance.  And so, it's unusual,” says Morris.

Back in May of 2017, a massive landslide 40 miles south of here cut off the scenic drive. It dumped so much rock and dirt on the roadway that it added 15 acres of land to the coast. The event made international headlines. So while businesses on either side of the slide stayed open, visitors stayed away.

“I'm really hoping that people hear that it's open. There was a lot of press with the closure and I'm hoping everyone hears it's open and they start doing the drive again,” Morris says.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, the California Department of Transportation reopened the section of highway destroyed by the landslide. Caltrans built a quarter mile stretch of road on top of the slide. This clears the way for travelers to complete the scenic drive.   

As more tourists return, there’s a group of locals that hope they’ll tread lightly. They launched a website called LOVE, BIG SUR.  LOVE is an acronym for Locally Organized Visitor Experience.

Out on Pfeiffer Beach, Weston Call says the website is about preparing visitors for the reality of the wilderness that is Big Sur.

“So that they know that there are no services down here. There are a limited amount of restrooms down here. There is not much cell service. So do all your planning beforehand," Call says. 

And so that they know as visitors, they play a role in protecting this much loved landscape.   

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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