The Pacific Coast Highway is the quintessential American road trip for its stunning views as it travels up and down the United States’ west coast. Of all the many, many fantastic photo ops along the drive, Bixby Canyon Bridge may just be the most stunning photo op along the PCH. In fact, it may be the best road trip photo op in the entire country…
Today the Bixby Canyon Bridge is known for being so very dang photogenic, but when it was opened in 1932, it represented a lot more to the Big Sur community. Until the bridge was opened, the folks of Big Sur spent their winters virtually cut-off from the rest of the world since the Old Coast Road was pretty much impassable in bad weather. The bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the entire world, connected Big Sur to the world just as the automobile’s popularity was taking off.
The Bixby Canyon Bridge is named after Charles Henry Bixby, a New Yorker (and cousin of President James Polk) who came to the Monterey Peninsula in the late 1800s where he bought up a big chunk of land and harvested the lumber.
The famous bridge, however, was almost never built. Engineers originally considered connecting Big Sur with an inland route, but when they realized they’d need 890 feet of tunnel cutting into the Santa Lucia Mountains, the plans for the bridge we all know and love today won out.
Instead of using steel, like most large bridges, the engineers opted for concrete to save on cost, blend in more with nature, and provide more money to the workers, which during the depression, was a big selling point for the bridge’s concrete construction.
Before the concrete could be poured, crews had to basically build an entire bridge from Douglas fir. This falsework would help keep the sections of the bridge up as more sections were being poured. The work wasn’t for the faint of heart… The falsework stood over 250 feet high and was constantly fighting high winds and terrifying shifts in weather. The falsework took 2 months to build before the bridge itself could even be started.
It took a whopping 45,000 sacks of cement to build the Bixby Canyon Bridge, all sourced from nearby Davenport, CA. When it was all said and done, the bridge would cost $199,861 to complete.
It would cost much more to retrofit the bridge for earthquakes… In 1998 California spent a staggering $20 million to make sure the bridge was equipped to handle seismic loads. The high cost was largely due to retrofitting restrictions intended to keep the bridge looking the same as it did when new in the 1930s.
Today, the Bixby Canyon Bridge is not only one of the most photographed bridges in America, but also one of the most popular bridges in pop culture. For starters, it’s been in countless TV episodes, movies, and commercials such as the first season episode of NBC’s “Heroes”. Stamp collectors will recognize the bridge from the 2010 U.S. Postal Service Express Mail Stamp that bears its likeness.
And, of course, all you video game addicts will recognize it as the bridge that crosses Cassidy Creek in Grand Theft Auto V. (More real-life GTA V locations here.)
Tips for photographing Bixby Canyon Bridge from See Monterey:
Most visitors stop in the pull-off on the west side of Highway One just north of the bridge to capture their take-home Bixby Bridge shot, but local photographer Michael Troutman of DMT Imaging says there's a much better spot. The Old Coast Road, a well-maintained dirt road that forks off from Highway One just north of the highway, "has a very dramatic view looking back toward Bixby Bridge," he said.
For that perfect Bixby Bridge shot, visitors only need to drive a half-mile down, but Troutman says there's many more great photo opportunities along the rest of the Old Coast Road, which reconnects with Highway One 10.5 miles south at Andrew Molera State Park.
If you’re headed to California on your next road trip, the Bixby Bridge should be on your bucket list. Share your photos of the bridge with us by mentioning @roadtrippers on Instagram and Twitter.
Cover photo: Flickr