Sometimes you know right away that a place is special.
Three years ago, as we drove along the Central California coast on Highway 1 through Big Sur, we were hooked.
The impossibly dramatic highway climbed cliffs hundreds of feet above the crashing Pacific Ocean, twisting and turning for 71 miles between San Simeon and Carmel with gorgeous view after gorgeous view.
At that time, we stayed in our RV at Limekiln State Park, tucked in a deep cove. It was a decent place to stay, but during the drive we noticed a couple of Los Padres National Forest campgrounds that looked much better at Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek.
The next year, we booked a stay at the popular Kirk Creek, perched high on a bluff with incredible views overlooking the ocean. We were excited to visit.
But then, as our camping date approached, a major winter storm closed the highway, washing away our planned stay.
We kept trying. Last year, we booked a stay at Plaskett Creek. And again, our visit was canceled, this time by the worldwide pandemic.
Big Sur was proving elusive.
Fast forward to this spring, when we had the chance to go back for a family celebration. We flew down to San Luis Obispo and took our rental car up the coast to the town of Lucia, where we stayed at the scenic Lucia Lodge.
We weren’t RVing, but we were thinking like RVers. We used the journey to scout the best places to stay at Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek.
California Highway 1 through Big Sur is legendary. The route was completed in 1937 and is frequently closed by landslides caused by rainstorms that hit the coast during the winter.
The highway, considered one of the most scenic stretches of road in the United States, is challenging in a rental car, let alone an RV. But the effort pays off in jaw-dropping beauty.
The Plaskett Creek Campground, 35 miles north of San Simeon, has 44 camping spaces. We cruised through the campground and checked out the best sites, then went to beautiful Sand Dollar beach across the roadway, one of the few places you can get down to the water in Big Sur.
Next, we checked out Kirk Creek, another beautiful campground with 33 spaces perched on a bluff high above the Pacific Ocean. As we walked through, we took it all in: The views, the nearby trails, and looked closely at the best sites. Number 9 is a sweet back-in, with loads of privacy and a stunning ocean view.
Make no mistake -- the campgrounds of Big Sur are pretty basic, with no hookups or dump stations. Still, we saw lots of hardy RVers tucked in off the grid, taking advantage of these scenic spots.
We continued north to Lucia Lodge, a gorgeous location in its own right. As night fell, we ate a picnic dinner and looked out over the Pacific as the sun settled low on the horizon. And then, it got even better, as migrating gray whales swam by along the rugged coastline.
In a word: magical.
And even though we enjoyed this and many other moments at Lucia Lodge, we couldn’t help thinking we’d rather be in our own RV, camping in Big Sur with the same views at a fraction of the cost.
That’s right: We’ll be back.