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Explore Big Sur

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Although some Big Sur residents catered to adventurous travelers in the early twentieth century,[12] 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-1940's. Most of the 3 million tourists who visit Big Sur each year do not venture far from Highway 1, because the adjacent Santa Lucia mountain range is one of the largest roadless areas near a coast in the lower 48 states.

The highway winds along the western flank of the mountains almost completely within sight of the Pacific Ocean, varying from a few dozen to a thousand-foot sheer drop to the water. Since gazing at the views while driving is not advisable, the highway features a number of strategically placed turnouts allowing motorists to stop and admire the landscape. Indeed, 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.

The land use restrictions that have preserved 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 stretch of Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel, and no chain hotels, supermarkets, or fast-food outlets.[13] Lodging tends to be rustic cabins, motels, and campgrounds, or costly, exclusive five-star resorts frequented by Hollywood types (and those who can afford to live like them), 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 chilly ocean breezes. 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 only waterfalls on the Pacific Coast that plunges directly into the ocean, the ruins of a grand stone cliffside house that was the region's first electrified dwelling, and a nineteenth century lighthouse complex on a lonely, windswept hill that looks like an island in the fog.

The Big Sur Chamber of Commerce can help modern travelers in Big Sur.

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