There is a road along the Big Sur coast now, but also much that Jaime de Angulo would recognize. Big Sur has a way of perpetually remaking itself yet retaining its essence.
The fog repaints the Pacific, the ocean keeps carving the land, and the land changes from gold to green with the arrival of the rains. Beautiful as it is to look at, I'm not sure any landscape smells as good as Big Sur either. We stop at a canyon, where the first rains have unleashed the oils in the sage, which join the pine spice of redwoods and the salt air of the ocean into a fragrance that should be bottled as Eau de Sur.
I'd like to claim that, inspired by Jaime de Angulo's story, we decided to camp alongside a creek with only the redwoods and stars above us.
But instead we semi-rough it at Treebones Resort, where we stay in a yurt―complete with electricity and a hardwood floor―that overlooks the ocean at the southern end of Big Sur. The yurt's canvas walls and wooden lattice supports rise to a roof, where a round skylight opens to views of the night sky. Becky sleeps soundly, lulled by the rhythmic crashing of the waves, but I wake up frequently to watch the passage of the stars across our private galactic porthole.
Big Sur to Hearst Castle (65 miles)
We drop down from the cliffs of Big Sur and go south to the more open coastline of Point Piedras Blancas and San Simeon.
William Randolph Hearst wasn't satisfied with just gazing out on the universe. He wanted to own it too. La Cuesta Encantada, better known as Hearst Castle, is the California dream writ large: a Mediterranean fantasy, created by the great Berkeley architect Julia Morgan, where Hollywood stars and the San Francisco elite were brought together by perhaps the only man colossal enough to stand astride both worlds.
We're basically newcomers to California, but I think we've heard the call of this coast. It's a call where many parts harmonize: the wind, the waves, the high cries of seabirds, and the low moans of elephant seals. You never know. One day our question may change from "What if?" to "Why not?" and this gorgeous coastline of ragged bluffs, sea stacks, and mountains could become home. Or maybe not. But there's certainly no harm in dreaming, right?
Trip planner: California central coast road trip