the modern tourist economy began when Highway 1 opened the region to automobiles in 1937, but only took off after World War II-era gasoline rationing and a ban on pleasure driving ended in August 1945.
Big Sur residents and business owners are concerned about the impact visitors are having on the region.
Along with the ocean views, the winding, narrow road, often cut into the face of seaside cliffs, dominates the visitor's experience of Big Sur.
The highway has been closed more than 55 times by slides, and in May 2017, a 2 million cubic foot landslide blocked the highway at Mud Creek, north of Salmon Creek near the San Luis Obispo border, to just south of Gorda. The region is protected by the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan which preserves the region as "open space, a small residential community, and agricultural ranching." The program protects viewsheds from the highway and many vantage points, and severely restricts the density of development.
The interior region is uninhabited, while the coast remains relatively isolated and sparsely populated with about 1,000 year-round residents and relatively few visitor accommodations scattered among four small settlements.
The state of California designated the 72 miles (116 km) section of the highway from Cambria to Carmel Highlands as the first Scenic Highway in 1965.
The first American use of the name "Sur" was by the U. Coast Survey in 1851, which renamed a point of land that looked like an island and was shaped like a trumpet, formerly known as "Morro de la Trompa" and "Punta que Parece Isla" during Spanish times, to Point Sur.
The English-speaking homesteaders petitioned the United States Post Office in Washington D. to change the name of their post office from Arbolado to Big Sur, and the rubber stamp using that name was returned on March 6, 1915, cementing the name in place.
It receives about the same number of visitors as Yosemite National Park which has led to ongoing, lengthy traffic backups and parking issues, especially during summer vacation periods and holiday weekends.
The region does not have specific boundaries, but is generally considered to include the 71 miles (114 km) segment of California State Route 1 from Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands south to San Carpóforo Creek near San Simeon and the entire Santa Lucia range between the rivers.
About 60% of the coastal region is owned by a government or private agency that does not allow any development.