The name Big Sur has its roots in California's Mexican history. It was originally called el país grande del sur, which is Spanish for the Big South Country, a vast unexplored and unmapped wilderness south of Monterey. The first permanent settlers arrived in Big Sur little more than a century ago, but the area remains sparsely populated. The coastal highway was completed in 1937, part of it constructed using convict labor. The road follows the coast most of the way, winding in and out of the mountainside, and offering spectacular views over the Pacific.
Although the lumber industry and California gold rush brought some settlers to Big Sur in the nineteenth century, there were no reliable roads and few coastal landings. As a result, the area remained a largely unspoiled wilderness until the completion of the coastal highway. But even the arrival of tourists did little to change the nature of the area, thanks to the efforts of residents and the Monterey County government. Since the 1960s, billboards and other visual distractions are banned on the highway, and no new building is permitted within sight of the road.
For most of its length, the coastal highway clings to side of the mountains that come right down to the ocean, offering spectacular views. During the summer months, the sea is frequently shrouded in dense fog. When the fog comes ashore, it floats up over the road and dissipates up the mountainside, wrapping you in an ethereal mist.