Big Sur History
A Wild Past and an Eclectic Present
From its beginnings as an unmapped expanse to its more recent history as a hippie hideaway, Big Sur has embodied the American experience: wild, free and unrestrained. Once called el pais grande del sur by Spanish settlers, “the Big Country of the South” referred to the unexplored wilderness along the coast south of Monterey. The region more formally adopted its current identity in the early 1900s, when residents petitioned the government to officially name the post office “Big Sur.”
The first inhabitants of the Central Coast were three separate tribes of coastal Native Americans – the Ohlone, the Esselen, and the Salinan. Spanish explorers established their first mission in the area in 1770, when Mission San Carlos was built at the present-day site of Carmel River State Beach. The region was transferred from Spanish to Mexican to American rule over the course of the next century as settlements emerged across the area.
In 1937, Highway One brought artists, beat writers, hippies, tourists and yuppies to the gorgeous Central Coast. Hippie and Beatnik culture thrived in the 1940s, 50s and 60s across the region, leaving a legacy of nature-attuned spirituality and experimental psychotherapy. Today, Big Sur is populated by an eclectic mix of approximately 1,000 residents, allowing the region to maintain its romantic mystique.
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