Northern California’s stunning Monterey County is home to some of the most iconic vistas in the country. But for many local residents, that comes with the price of sluggish traffic and an influx of Instagramming tourists along portions of Highway 1.
Tourists in recent months have descended with particular frenzy on Big Sur, where Bixby Creek Bridge is located. The 87-year-old bridge is featured in the opening credits of HBO’s “Big Little Lies.”
On the Fourth of July, a video posted to Vimeo showed a three-mile long traffic jam leading up to the bridge. At a scenic overlook, visitors had parked haphazardly along the shoulder and walked casually back and forth across the highway to, presumably, capture the perfect photo to post online.
“The barrier between appropriate and inappropriate behavior … has melted away in a lot of ways and I think that is a result of normalizing things” via social media,” Butch Kromland, a representative for the Community Association of Big Sur, told KSBW in a recent interview.
Less than a week after the video was taken, a group called “Take Back Big Sur” hung a sign over the side of the bridge reading: “Overtourism is killing Big Sur.” An Instagram page with the name “Big Sur Educates You” shared photos of the banner, calling it “brilliant.”
The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office promptly removed the sign, which the California Department of Transportation said hadn’t been placed with the required permits.
“Caltrans has the responsibility for the safety of the traveling public along this well-traveled corridor,” Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the department, told the Los Angeles Times. “In the interest of public safety, it is essential there are not unregulated or unapproved signage or banners within the state right-of-way, which could prove to be a distraction to the public.”
Big Sur falls within a gorgeous 100-mile stretch of Highway 1 along the California coast that, according to estimates from Caltrans, attracts roughly 5.8 million visitors annually.
Tourism in the region has grown significantly over the last decade, and much of it has been positive.
“The popularity of season one of ‘Big Little Lies’ among visitors had a huge impact on local businesses and the economy of Monterey County,” Tammy Blount-Canavan, the president of the local visitors bureau, told Travel Pulse in May. “And once the show aired, the gorgeous scenery inspired people to visit.”
But many local residents and officials are frustrated.
“There’s been an increase in negative impacts and poor visitor behavior that’s being felt by the community,” John Olejnik, a Caltrans transportation planner, told the Times.
As Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News last year, many visitors aren’t treating the region “with the respect that it deserves.”
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