Big Sur: Tent Camping In December

Beautiful Central California blesses us with sporadic days of sunshine, even in the dead of winter. Back in December, I noticed an upcoming heat spell and 72 hours later, we were driving down to Big Sur for the night. Our hometown of Santa Cruz is just 90 minutes drive from the world famous coastline— so of course we spontaneously planned a 1-night camping trip!

Driving down Hwy 1, the car thermometer hit 81° F… in mid-December. Although an exciting weather spike for us sun-bathers, it’s obviously problematic for the environment and a clear indicator of climate change. Simultaneous with our camping trip, the Santa Barbara & Ventura fires were roaring just a few hours south with the enormous wall of smoke obvious in the distance.

Coincidentally, a wildfire actually broke out in Big Sur in the middle of the night while we were camping. We heard (what must have been) helicopters all nights—but we dismissed it as strong winds. The next morning, the entire sky was full of a burnt haze, but we assumed the winds had picked up from the southern Santa Barbara fires and were pushing our direction. Thankfully, the Big Sur fire was restricted to 2-3 acres and was put out within hours, before we even woke up. There was no evidence of the overnight blaze, no leftover firefighters, and no burn damage visible from Hwy 1. (We were essentially oblivious until we came home that afternoon to the local news.)

We camped at Plaskett Creek campground, part of the Los Padres National Forest. The campsites are usually booked out in-advance throughout the summer and usually every weekend through spring/fall. There’s a handful of “first-come first-service” sites, but you have to arrive incredibly early to snag one of these during peak season (7am or 8am?). In the winter, there were only a few other campers. The campgrounds have 40 campsites, and there were literally only two other sites occupied. It was incredibly quiet, calm, and worlds away from the typical summer camping experience. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and you can enjoy Big Sur year-round…

Half of the photos below are from our 35mm film camera, half are from my iPhone 6s—

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