The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

California Bucket List

Here’s your daily travel guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State. Each of these essential California adventures has been tried and tested by a Travel section staffer or contributor.

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Central Coast

Drive the narrow, winding, spectacular back-door route to Big Sur: Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

On the western slopes (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
On the western slopes (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: It’ll quicken your pulse, drop your jaw and demand your full attention. There’s no more dramatic passage from Central California’s blond hills to the Big Sur coast than this 24-mile route.

What: Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a winding, two-lane highway, begins in the Salinas Valley countryside north of Paso Robles, next to the often-overlooked Mission San Antonio de Padua and the Army’s Ft. Hunter-Liggett. From there it creeps through forest and chaparral to the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains, about 2,800 feet above sea level. Then for 7 miles, via dozens of switchback turns, it wends its way down the western slopes to Big Sur.

It meets Highway 1 at Kirk Creek, about 4 miles south of Lucia and 10 miles north of Mud Creek, where landslide repairs have closed Highway 1.

Mission San Antonio de Padua (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
Mission San Antonio de Padua (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
 (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Motorcyclists have loved Nacimiento-Fergusson Road for years, and traffic has been relatively thin. But with Highway 1 closed at Mud Creek until at least Sept. 30, this rugged detour is attracting some northbound drivers who’d rather not go all the way up to Carmel on Highway 101, then double back, just to reach Big Sur.

The road’s westernmost 7 miles, descending via multiple sharp turns to the coast road, are as spectacular as can be — and might start a three-alarm panic attack if you’re afraid of heights. (When a route is featured on, you know it’s special.)

Given the absence of lights or guard rails or cellphone reception, I’d never try it after dark. On my midday drive in December, I took care to ignore the views until I’d safely pulled into one of the many turnouts along the way. (For a tamer ride with similar scenery, take Highway 46 west from Paso Robles to Cambria.)

Where: To reach the eastern end of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, exit Highway 101 at Jolon Road, about 23 miles north of Paso Robles. Follow Jolon Road west, then turn left onto Mission Road, continue 4 miles, then turn left onto Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Because the road passes through the Army base, drivers may need to show license, registration and proof of insurance.

Give the drive at least two hours from the 101 to the 1. You don’t want to be in a hurry here.

How much: Free.


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