Tourist Tuesday, Bixby Bridge Memorial Day weekend

Most of you have heard, by now, of the fiasco that was Bixby Bridge this weekend. This was Saturday, by Adam Slawter. At 6:30 pm, it was backed up from Bixby to Palo by cars going south. That is 2.2 miles of idling vehicles.


This is the video taken by Tim Huntington on Saturday at 2 pm of the cars headed south, as he was heading north:

This was what it looked like early – as in 9 am – on Sunday, in the rain. Martha Diehl took these photos. Note the door opening into traffic immediately before another vehicle in the last photo.


Imagine that there is an emergency, which is much more likely with the influx of clueless people from out of the area. What happens then? How do emergency vehicles navigate through this quagmire? They can’t. How are the Cal Fire engines and others supposed to get to us when there is a fire this summer? Or cliff rescue, or serious injuries? This is a life-threatening situation that must be resolved.

Monday, a temporary solution presented itself. MCSO stationed THREE officers here at Bixby and they managed to keep traffic moving, at least until early afternoon, one source told me. So we need to pressure the County to assign 3 officers every weekend and holiday to manage the traffic at this bottleneck.

On the brighter side, CABS was there educating and interacting with the tourists on Monday morning, raising the awareness of our visitors to treat Big Sur with respect.


(Photo by Patte Kronlund)


(Photo by Lisa Kleissner)

Let us start preppering our Supes to take action, now! We don’t need to come up with a “perfect” solution, I don’t have one. But we could try a variety of things to see what will work, short of painting the bridge puke green. We could experiment with running shuttles, or the current MST buses, allowing only them to park, or to drop off and pick up visitors to the bridge from a staged area north and south. The County of Monterey could pass an ordinance, for health & safety reasons, prohibiting parking on both eastern and western sides and OCR, assess BIG fines, and enforce it! If you have another idea, I am all ears. Toss those ideas out there, no matter how crazy they seem. It might just give someone else the inspiration they need to find a solution that will work.


25 thoughts on “Tourist Tuesday, Bixby Bridge Memorial Day weekend

  1. Oh, that’s too crazy.

    Just remove all turn-outs, cover with big boulders.
    Station a CHP there for a month (or whatever) to move traffic along.

    The idiots will soon get the idea, social media will publish the update.

  2. Imagine if the weather would have been nice. It would have been even worse if you can begin to imagine that. This situation has passed what would be considered ridiculous and is now at a dangerous level. When is enough, enough. I heard when the waived tourist through Bixby it just moved the nightmare south to Hurricane Point. Then there’s Point Lobos and McWay Falls and now Soberanes. It’s all so exhausting to think about. This has been happening in other parts of the world for some time, what has been there solution? I’m going to start by writing Mary Adams, The Monterey County film commission etc.

  3. Make Highway 1 from Rio Road to SLO a toll road for all but locals.


  4. They could start by having a 365 day moratorium on filming movies, Netflix series, commercials highlighting Bixby Bridge. The Big Little Lies series had a big impact on that location. Call or write to the Monterey Film Commission at (831)646-0910 to let them know they need to stop promoting this are. Spoke to a CHP officer that was at Bixby all weekend and he said their agency is super frustrated with what is happening in Big Sur and feels drastic measures need to be taken to protect public safety. He himself was almost hit by two vehicles yesterday while doing traffic control. I’ve been saying for years now that the increase volume of traffic is going to get so much worse. This weekend was ridiculous! Let’s stop marketing Big Sur and start managing it instead!!!

  5. I strongly agree with Lyndall – make it a toll road. The Govt. (or some other entity) could start with weekends and the summer months. Issue passes to all the locals and charge everyone else $$ to access the area. In other words, treat it like what it essentially is, a national park(way). Big Sur might have to incorporate to accomplish this or at least consistently and viciously lobby the state and/or local government bodies – maybe even institute road blockades now and then. A few of you might get arrested, but in the end it might just be worth it. Or, all Y’all can continue to do nothing but moan about it and live with the consequences that ‘action’ brings.

  6. What are the locals doing on the Highway at 3pm on a holiday weekend, anyway? It was just as bad, maybe worse, in 1970. And before. The weekend traffic jam backed up two-lane Highway One to Santa Cruz and Gilroy. The crush in Big Sur Valley was memorable. No?

    I say make Big Sur a National Park. All of it. Big Sur has not fared well under the pressure of tourism and the all-too-numerous entrepreneurs, legal and otherwise, scheming to make a buck off them.

  7. We were just up in Yosemite. I disagree. It was fabulous. The park is like a toll road, there are gates and fees, which has been suggested by many here. The parking and turnouts are well improved, strictly delineated. There are restrooms, Visitor numbers are limited. The accommodations are very nicely done and accessible to all classes. The vistas are preserved…there is no roadside clutter from the seemingly endless (and tasteless) expansion by residents.

    It was heartening to see many people parked at the Boronda trailhead, for example. So some visitors are getting out into a better Big Sur experience,

    It is a little sad the we residents here would eventually be forced to sell to the park. But for what Big Sur is, it should seriously be considered as perhaps the best thing to do.

    It is easiest to blame the outsiders, certainly. Yes there is sometimes a crowd at Bixby Bridge, McWay. But what about the five cars always coming and going from a neighbor’s one-bedroom cabin. The sixteen party production trucks often lining the highway here in what used to be a sleepy Big Sur neighborhood. The weekday morning crush of apparently hundreds of contractor pickups and housekeepers racing down the highway. At least six of the two dozen parcels hereabouts are now blatant non-conforming commercial enterprises: Rent-a-resorts, short term rentals, glamping…ugh. It has been uninterrupted growth for my fifty years here. It is not turning out well.

    Kate, that is my rant. I totally support your efforts and forum discussion.

  8. Good to know, as I have heard from Big Surians who now live up by Yosemite what a nightmare it is up there. Also, the concessionaire we have here, are barely taking care of its areas of responsibility, so I am not confident it would change.

    STRs are part of the problem and will be addressed separately, and as soon as I can get an article researched a bit more thoroughly and written. Maybe next Tuesday for Tourist Tuesday. Take the Big Sur pledge

  9. Lyndall has it right, I believe. I haven’t lived here as long as many, (7 years) but my family was here for decades and I visited often. The huge increase in traffic started in 2012, exploded in 2013 as I recall, and has gotten worse every year— with the exception of Christmas 2014, the dates lined up for about a 10 day holiday, no snow in Tahoe and gorgeous sunshine here. 8 mile back- ups on Highway 1, just a never ending fiasco. CHP so ticked by the end that they didn’t ticket me for passing someone on a double yellow , just commiserated. They need to be specially funded for this area in the meantime, instead those tourism bucks just disappear into the Vacuum of County Govt.
    Wally n Cats, great idea but CalTrans will not use boulders to block a turnout Without a toll road I think we need a sign that says “ Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”

  10. I agree with Hawkwatcher about the benefits of a special designation for Big Sur but not a National Park! Good God, look at who is in office! Still not a great idea in any year, for many reasons, or as Kate points out, that option was ruled out many years ago.
    Extending the protections of Pt Lobos to the area controlled by the State, which includes the highway, the shoulder and turn outs, plus any state land and all air space ( oh, right, the already designated Critical Viewshed of the Coastal Zone!) with restrooms and designated picnic areas like Pt. Lobos, no Smoking or fires, no disrupting or taking from the natural habitat, with huge fines for violating same, with a Toll Road to control. Limit traffic as required- think Mt Everest this past week as cost not always a sufficient deterrent- and preserve Big Sur.

  11. The road should be a toll road for all drivers except locals, delivery/repair people, empolyees and people with reservations to stay in Big Sur. Want to drive through? It needs to be a privilege that costs money.

  12. Something drastic needs to happen. Why not make it a toll road by way of needing a permit to be on it? Checkpoints at each end. That way through tourist traffic could be managed by amount of day permits sold, with limits per day. Reservations sold online like camping permits. Residents, employees and contract/delivery people would have a special permit to allow anytime use.

  13. Hello Kate, Is there a way I can send a NYT article to you? Email?
    Thanks for your great blog.

  14. We don’t have near the problems with traffic and numbers that you do, but the increase I notice doesn’t bode well. Just in the short time I’ve been here, more and more RVs park for the night at turnouts leaving disgusting trash and filth behind. We tend to avoid the beaches this time of year for that reason until the autumn rains clear things up a bit. I can easily seeing us heading to where you’re at. Hard to imagine what the solution might be to the sheer numbers.

  15. if anyone was JUST in Yosemite they missed the REAL tourist crunch which starts later. I used to go at least twice a year until the place became so filled with litter packed into the ground and I found myself chasing down people dropping soda cans, etc. even though there was an appropriate receptacle three feet away! Now I understand they have improved the Mariposa Grove situation for the better and that’s a good thing. However, there are still over four million tourists visiting Yosemite Valley alone every year. That is just way too many.
    Just as there are an excessive amount of cars on Hwy.! in Big Sur. I have driven that road for over 50 years and have seen it get progressively worse. But nothing has compared to what the changees have been since the internet. Just yesterday on my laptop there was a”news” story about the places in the USA you need to take your kids before it’s too late. DAMMIT! #1… BIG SUR. You don’t even want to know what I started screaming. And I don’t live there, but my sister does!

  16. Kate and all,

    We are spending 2 weeks on the north shore of Kauai, another area that is being loved to death, so to speak, both the “coral” reefs (more dead than alive, from sunscreen and being stepped on by careless snorkelers) and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail into the Na Pali Coast wilderness (whose “parking lot” would make Bixby look organized).

    Kauai had their Mud Creek incident a year ago when they received 50″ of rain in one day, 70″ in two days. Imagine that…the one road to the Ha’ena area washed out in multiple locations and many bridges were destroyed. It has been 14 months and only now are they allowing non-residents back in, but it is strictly regulated by permit.

    What the state has done (besides repairing the road and bridges) is to take this break in the action to install a clear well-designed parking lot for both the trail and the nearby Ha’ena State Park, with a plan to issue permits for entry to both the lot and the trail, and strictly enforce it. Many locals were against opening things up at all, a sentiment held by many in Big Sur as well (boulders, highway patrol). What the state is doing here is recognizing that access must be provided, and to provide it well, but on a regulated basis. Could that be done in Big Sur?

    OK, Bixby is not at the end of a road as is Ha’ena and Kalalau, but what about creating a turn out/parking lot somewhere around Bixby…I think of the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. An excellent viewing place is created but then regulated. I know nothing of land ownership around Bixby (other than Ferlengetti’s one-time place down in the canyon below), but I wonder what could be created. It would require major construction and closure of the site for a year or more, but then a system of reservation or entry fee is required. Yes, such a turn-out structure would detract from the beauty of the place, but that is part of the trade off necessary when over use is destroying a place.

    Toll road is certainly a way of regulating, although I doubt that will ease traffic, only create a long delay at the gate.

    I expect a federal/state collaboration would be necessary to pull it off. Conversations with the Kauai representatives would be helpful.

    Seth/Big Creek

  17. My wife and I stayed at the Big Sur River Inn for the holiday (Thursday evening to Monday morning), and thankfully did not encounter this much traffic. I suspect it helped that we did most of our picture taking at the popular stops on Friday, while most folks were still at work. We did see the police directing traffic at Bixby Bridge on Monday, and avoided it accordingly, electing to take pictures that day closer to Rocky Point. Conditions were such most of the weekend that you really didn’t get “Golden Hour” lighting for really good photos around sunset anyway. We knew Saturday and Sunday were likely to be quite busy north of the woods, and planned our activities to avoid the crowds. That said, it wasn’t quite as busy as I feared it would be.

    The McWay Falls turnout was a bit of a mess on Monday on the way home, and I’m not sure whether the trail being closed made it better or worse.

    Other than a bit of picture taking on Friday and Monday and some shopping in Carmel on Friday, over the long weekend we mostly enjoyed hiking at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and supporting the local businesses in Big Sur. We make a point to make sure to visit the various stores and restaurants in the area rather than just passing through; of course, many people are not in the position to be able to afford accommodations and meals for several days in Big Sur – for many years I was only able to afford day trips with lunch and dinner in Big Sur from other places.

    Personally, I would prefer to come during the slower winter months, but our employer dictates that we take some of our vacation time as extra days around certain holidays (Memorial Day being one of them), not to mention that wet weather can play havoc with the roads and trails. I’ve come to love Big Sur ever since I first visited in 2011, and do my best to be a good steward when I am there.

    On a happy note, we didn’t encounter litter or waste outside of someone who left their ice cream bowl and spoon on a ledge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park not ten feet from a trash can. Obviously I picked it up and threw it away, but that was the only incident of that I saw.

    I think the limited number of permits (aside from residents, workers and those with reservations for accommodations within the permitted area) is a good idea in theory, but the geography of the area is such that there aren’t great alternative routes – you’d essentially need the gates to be at Carmel at the north end and at CA 46 between Cayucos and Cambria on the south end. If your destination is anywhere in between, you essentially have to take CA 1. Additionally, I would hope the number of permits would be high enough to support the local businesses in the area.

    Realistically, I think some sort of sustained police presence at the Bixby Bridge is going to be necessary to prevent double- and triple-parking messes like those pictured above. I agree with Seth, maybe some sort of remote lot with only shuttle buses running directly to the bridge turnout would be of help.

    Overtourism is a problem with no easy solutions – it’s a natural consequence of the rise in standards of living in various parts of the world; many millions more people can afford to travel than could even ten years ago. The trick is going to be encouraging folks to go places they’re not currently going now. I know my original hometown in coal country in eastern Pennsylvania would welcome a lot of these tourists. The problem is that area is frankly not pleasant to go to or pretty to look at. But for folks who want solitude – they’ll find it there!

  18. PS – I didn’t encounter the CABS folks, unfortunately. I would have loved to have a quick chat with them, but wife and I weren’t about to brave an overfull turnout!

  19. 5-30: Kate, I’m reading your VOMB feature story written/posted today on its forum.

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