Driving along the I-1 makes you realise how beautiful California is. State Park follows State Park, and each one has its own unique set of features and attractions. It's understandable why Americans are so proud of their open spaces, and why the fines for damaging them are stringently enforced. The UK should be taking note.
We had a lot to pack into the day, almost all of it outdoor. There was no way we could hit all of the trails on offer so we picked a few, and hoped for the best. First though, there was a stop at a car park area en route so we could look at some squirrels and fat elephant seals. One of the seals was too lazy to come and say "hi", but he did give us a wave:
As the mist drew in, I thought we were in for a dreary drive, but after an ominous start the California weather realised where it was and soon brightened up.
We were heading to McWay Falls to begin with, an 80 foot waterfall located in the heart of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Fun fact, Falls fans: this particular specimen is one of only a handful of waterfalls that empties into the ocean. Looking at it in isolation, it isn't particularly impressive. It's more like a bit of a leaky cliff, where someone hasn't bothered to turn off the stopcock. However, the cove and remote beach that enclose it are lovely.
The falls were a brief stop on the way to the main event: Big Sur. Recommended by Lev and Julie, Big Sur is twenty minutes north of McWay and is famous for its redwood trees. Oh, and did I mention the lions? There are mountain lions in the area, ready to eat you.
Despite my best attempts at a Kim Bauer impression no lions were forthcoming, so I was left to act unconvincingly on my own, before giving up and joining Gilly for a spot of lunch at Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. This was not a good place to eat. I ordered a ham sandwich, and regretted it as soon as it arrived. It seems that the word "restraint" is alien to the locals here, as I was presented with two slabs of bread holding together what looked to be three pounds of sliced ham between them. To date, I have never seen so much meat in a sandwich. They must have slaughtered two whole pigs to make my lunch. No salad or cheese, just meat and bread. Ten years ago, I might have been happy with that, but these days I prefer a bit of variety. And despite us being sat in a bakery, even the bread wasn't up to standard. I managed about a fifth of the thing and had to stop. We had walking to do and I was getting meat sweats.
Big Sur isn't a tourist attraction in and of itself; it's a state park that contains various hiking trails, waterfalls and lookout points. After a bit of research, it seemed like the Pfeiffer Falls/Valley View round-trip hike at about 2.5 miles seemed a reasonable walk and would give us a good overview of the park and its flora (and fauna, if the lions ever turned up).
Coast redwoods are everywhere on the hike. You can't miss them, they're pretty big - some of them have reached over 360 feet in height.
One particular specimen had been dated at over 700 years old, and the markers outlined various historically significant points in its life (Black Death, Columbus landing, the American Revolution...). This tree had seen a lot.
Pfeiffer Falls itself wasn't much cop, even compared to McWay but - lion attacks aside - it's impossible to be surrounded by so much nature and not feel relaxed. There's a reason it's called the Great Outdoors, and Big Sur is very much a champion of that sentiment. I highly suspect the Californian sunshine may also have had its part to play in our enjoyment of the park, since we rarely get any sort of consistent summer in the UK.
All too soon the sunlight was fading, and we had to drive on. Thanks to a very generous gent by the name of Jeremy, we were able to spend the night in Monterey. He'd moved there to study (some form of naval engineering I can't even begin to fathom) and, as it turned out, was a mean poker player to boot.
His recommendation for dinner was the Persian Grill which I can heartily agree with; a huge improvement over lunch. We introduced him to Not Going Out, one of the finest UK sitcoms created in the last decade, and much guffawing was heard, mostly from me. Really, it's fantastic. Jeremy gave us all a lesson in poker which I unfortunately can't blame on the wine - I'm just not very good - and we hit the hay.