Thursday, April 30, 2015

Waterfalls, Bluegrass and Lobster: Baby's First Trip to Big Sur

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Big Sur is one of my favorite places on earth. Luckily, it’s right down the road from my home Santa Cruz. Our new baby kept us from visiting rugged and isolated Big Sur over the past 16 months. Finally, this month we spent an entire weekend at Fernwood Resort and in Pfieffer Big Sur State Park. Having a baby limits what you can do in Big Sur, but not by much. Wilder was happy as a clam during our three day trip. 

Lupine in the meadow at Fernwood, where it meets Pfieffer State Park

Fernwood Resort - Fernwood is the party campground at Big Sur - not the obvious choice for a family with a baby. It (kind of) worked for us because our family friends were having a big birthday celebration at Fernwood, and we wanted to be close to the action. Unfortunately, Friday night the campsite across from us was party central. The wanna-be frat boys and girls drunkenly yelled into the wee hours. The baby slept right through it, but it kept me up. It’s the third time I’ve been kept up all night by noisy partiers at Fernwood. Seems to come with the territory.

Keeping warm
Fernwood can be noisy, but there’s lots to love about it. For starters, it’s right on the river. Many of the sites have spots to set up your tent within feet of the river, letting you fall asleep to the sounds of rushing water. Kids can explore the river, and adults can set up chairs to chill in the water for hours on hot days. The river is just deep enough to swim in a couple spots at Fernwood (but it doesn’t compare with the gorge swimming hole at Pfieffer State Park). 

Our family has camped with the Howdy gang since I can remember at the Strawberry Music Festival, lots of the crew were at Fernwood, so the sign went up
Fernwood is an easy place to camp because they have a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, and general store. You could get away without cooking at all! You can walk right into Pfieffer State Park from Fernwood, accessing all the hiking trails, waterfalls, views, and river swimming. 

Mom with her hotel room bar, Fernwood Resort

Pfieffer State Park -  This park feels like the center of Big Sur. It’s where everybody goes, either to camp, hike, or swim. We hiked up to the waterfall on Saturday, mingling with tourists from all over the world, many of them commenting in unrecognizable languages on our cute baby in his carrier. 

Breakfast muffin at Big Sur Bakery
Pfieffer is truly the family campground of Big Sur. Reservations go quickly, so you have to plan many months in advance. I’ve been able to drive up and get a campsite on the spot in the past, but we can’t live like that now that we have a baby. We need to KNOW we have a place to sleep. 

Wild Iris in Pfieffer Big Sur State Park

At Pfieffer, you will see families set up for 7-day stretches, making bacon and pancakes breakfasts for 12 people every morning. Packs of children bicycle around the grounds. If you’ve got older children, a trek down the river to the gorge swimming hole in river shoes and bathing suits is a must-do activity. The trek itself takes you through mini-waterfalls of fresh cool water over smooth stones. The gorge itself is a deep pool flanked by large rock faces and a pebble beach. A swim between two large rock overhangs brings you to rushing waterfalls you can climb into. The gorge is a fantastic swimming hole, truly not-to-be-missed. Unless, that is, you have a one-year old baby. The trek is too treacherous with a baby or toddler. 

The patio at Big Sur Bakery

We hiked all the way to Pfieffer Falls from Fernwood, which I would not recommend. We did it because it was “possible” to do, not realizing that we packed two hikes into one day, which exhausted us. I would recommend driving across the road to the entrance of Pfieffer State Park in order to hike to the falls, cutting the hike in half, and making it more manageable, especially with a baby. 

So, we got exhausted. But, the hike was just gorgeous - through oak ringed meadows, cool moist redwood groves, over the Big Sur River, along Pfieffer Creek, up above the redwoods past buckeye and manzanita in the sun - and finally to the falls. 

"The place where the bacon meet." 
The Bakery - “Mmmmmmmmmm, the place where the two bacon meet!” That’s Kimo, waxing poetic over a bacon croissant. 

Yum yum yum. Need I say more? Ok, I will…coffee and an almond croissant the size of my head, and a bran muffin (which I bought for Wilder, and turned out to be my favorite). We sat on the sunny patio, full of succulents and flowering plants, with views of the towering Santa Lucia range above. 

Big Sur Bakery serves brunch at 10:30am, with dishes like avocado toast with watermelon radishes and mixed green salad (mmmmm) and dinner, for which you need reservations. Or, like us, you can just show up and order from the counter. 

Bacon Croissant, Almond Croissant, and Bran Muffin at Big Sur Bakery

Wilder's first bluegrass jam

Bluegrass Birthday - Both Friday and Saturday nights my mom and her friends played bluegrass at their campsites on the river. On Saturday we had a huge potluck, overflowing with foods, like The Bakery bread, brie cheese, taco salad, tom yum soup, foraged stinging nettle soup, pasta, and fruit. The most memorable dish was fresh lobster, caught that day, served to us by the fisherman himself on toothpicks. I popped some in Wilder’s mouth when he grabbed for it, before realizing we didn’t know yet if he had a shellfish allergy. Big Sur is not the place to find out you have a new food allergy, there is no medical care nearby, and cell phone service is spotty. Luckily Wilder was just fine. The rest of us were more than fine, dining on fresh lobster in butter while camping. 

Birthday boy Jim, mom, and Jonie
After dinner, my mom started fiddling with Randy on mandolin, Zeke on guitar, and Martin on washtub bass. The man playing steel pedal guitar up at the restaurant later, came down to jam with them. Wilder hadn’t heard grandma play fiddle before. He loved watching her perform. 

Monkey flowers, Pfieffer State Park
Big Sur is a great place for a family vacation. If you’ve been before, just keep in mind that you won’t be able to keep up the pace you did before baby came along. That doesn’t lessen the experience, because you get to experience the beauty of Big Sur with your little one, and nothing is more exciting than watching them see a beloved landscape for the first time. Grandma’s fiddle and fresh lobster doesn’t hurt either. 

Spring meadow in Pfieffer

Pfieffer Falls in Pfieffer State Park

The campsite, Fernwood Resort
Gear Guide:
Our portable pack and play was a lifesaver. Wilder spent lots of time in it, in our campsite, in friends’ campsites, down by the river, and in the middle of the crowd at a bluegrass jam. He’s at the age where he needs some physical freedom, yet, as a crawler, I can’t let him crawl in the dirt all day and night. 

A baby carrier for hiking is also essential. The Baby Bjorn hurts my back, but works just fine for dad, so he carried Wilder on hikes. He can face in (for naps) or out (for the view) in the Bjorn. We also used the stroller on a short hike. Our Britax B-Agile stroller is almost off-road. We take it on trails all the time.

With Grandma, Big Sur River
Fernwood Resort 
Pfieffer Big Sur State Park
Big Sur Bakery

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