WINTER CAN BE A particularly beautiful time in Big Sur — assuming that the area is spared more disasters. Whether bathed in sunshine, rain or fog, the scenery is unsurpassed. Nature pulls out all the stops in this dramatic, unspoiled stretch of California coastline, and there are plenty of indoor diversions to amuse, educate and/or entertain, no matter what the weather.

Outdoor Activities

All campgrounds in the Big Sur area are open. The Los Padres National Forest is closed for hiking north of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road until damage assessment can be made, according to U.S. Forest Service district ranger John Bradford. For updated information on trails, call 385-5434.

Day use areas of Pfeiffer Beach, Mill Creek, Sand Dollar, Jade Cove Beach, Willow Creek and San Carpoforo Beach are open. For additional information on hiking in Big Sur go to www.bigsurcalifornia.org/hiking

Whale-watching and birding are popular activities during the winter months. Monarch butterflies also winter in Big Sur and can be viewed at various locations, including Andrew Molera State Park and Sycamore Canyon in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Visitors are invited to observe the Ventana Wilderness Society Bird-Banding Lab program at their Research and Education Center at Andrew Molera State Park. The second Sunday of every month, the Ventana Wilderness Society also offers a two-hour tour to view California condors ($50 per person). For further information visit their website at www.ventanaws.org.


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Scenic coastal horseback tours in Andrew Molera are also an option. For further information: 625-2486 or 1-800942-5486.

Galleries and Gift Shops

Though the wonders of nature are the real attraction in Big Sur, numerous gift shops and galleries — each with a flavor and character all its own — offer shoppers ample opportunity to take something home that evokes the unique spirit of the area.

Ventana Inn and Nepenthe each has their own distinct gift shops that feature the work of area artists and artisans, clothing, bath products and much more.

The Big Sur Spirit Garden features exotic succulents and plants and local and international fair trade sculpture and art. Dip into the Big Sur Garden Gallery next door for locally made jewelry, particularly jade and other arts and crafts.

Several galleries display the work of local artists as well as others of national and international renown. The Coast Gallery Big Sur, founded in 1958, has one of the largest collections of American crafts in the country, featuring some 150 artisans. The Hawthorne Gallery features the work of six members of the Hawthorne family along with that of internationally renowned metal sculptor Albert Paley.

Landmarks

The historic Point Sur Light House, perched on a gigantic rock just north of Big Sur, is open to the public for guided tours. From 1889 to 1974 families lived and worked in the isolated buildings. Though the lighthouse still guides ships, it is now totally automated. Find out about the "ghosts" of past light-keepers on a moonlight tour. For tour information and reservations: www.pointsur.org.

Culture

The life and work of Henry Miller, the famed and controversial author who spent several pivotal years in Big Sur, is remembered at the Henry Miller Library, which features memorabilia, information on the history of the area, a sculpture gallery and rare books. For further information: www.henrymiller.org

Dining

For a remote and relatively unpopulated area, Big Sur is blessed with numerous high-quality restaurants. For many people a visit to Big Sur wouldn't be complete without a stop at Nepenthe, where diners can sit on the edge of the world looking south at the stunning meeting of mountain and sea while enjoying an Ambrosia burger or other selections from the informal menu. Casual dining in a laid-back atmosphere can be enjoyed at the Big Sur River Inn — to the accompaniment of live music on Sundays. Outstanding baked goods made on the premises and other more substantial fare can be obtained at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant. For fine dining, The Post Ranch's Sierra Mar Restaurant, which has garnered praise from Gourmet magazine and the Zagat Guide, features an organic, seasonal, four-course, prix fixe menu that changes daily. The restaurant at Deetjen's offers quintessential Big Sur atmosphere.


Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.