This town is the real star of 'Big Little Lies'
Editor’s Note — Spoiler alert! For those who haven’t watched any of the episodes yet, this story contains a few plot lines from the first season.
Originally set in a fictional Sydney, Australia, suburb, the story’s setting was moved to California’s Monterey Peninsula for the television series, and the location also plays a starring role on the show.
Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern (from left to right) star in ‘Big Little Lies.’
When Meryl Streep signed on to star in the second season, which premieres Sunday, June 9, on HBO, the peninsula got another chance to shine. (CNN and HBO share parent company WarnerMedia.)
Streep, who plays the mother of a character who died in the first season, isn’t convinced the death was accidental, and her piercing gaze and pointed questions upset the balance of the newly-named “Monterey Five,” the women who were all present at her son’s death.
She carries her unease on her visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to the local cafes, to her daughter-in-law’s house overlooking the ocean.
A sense of impending doom hangs over those rugged cliffs, the crashing waves and the sometimes foggy towns along California coast, and we wonder if Streep might uncover the truth behind her son’s death.
Meryl Streep (right) joined the cast as Nicole Kidman’s mother-in-law.
“We wanted to make an American version of the story, and specifically in California, as it matches the feel and tone of the book’s locale,” executive producer Gregg Fienberg told The Hollywood Reporter. “Monterey is one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and probably the most beautiful spot on the California coastline, so it was the perfect match.”
And many other movies and television shows have shot on location here. Now it’s just a little more famous because of all the lies that were told in this tiny little bit of paradise.
Bixby Bridge and Highway 1, Big Sur
Bixby Bridge in Big Sur is part of California’s famous Highway 1.
Bixby Bridge is one of the visual signs of the peninsula in the show’s opening credits, and it also serves a local road for the rich and even richer families taking their children to their local elementary school. (In reality, it’s 20 miles from the bridge to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.)
If you’re heading north from Los Angeles on coastal Highway 1 to Monterey, stop in a pullout in Big Sur to take pictures of one of California’s most beautiful bridges among the stunning cliffs and Bixby Creek Canyon.
Garraparta State Park and Beach, Big Sur
Locals swim and sunbathe at Garrapata State Park in Big Sur.
Production designers from the show added new stairs to Garrapata State Park, where some scenes showing the cliffs, powerful Pacific Ocean waves and lovely shoreline were shot. It’s also where wildflowers are in season during spring and summer. Tourism officials recommend the western coastal trail that begins at gate 19 off Highway 1.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey
The view from Old Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown Monterey was often part of the scenery for Blue Blues, the fictional café in the first season.
Courtesy Michael Troutman/DMT Imaging/Monterey CVB
Wait, that coffee joint isn’t real?
Get your coffee and jam on at Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove.
Our current favorites are strawberry summer jam and the oh-so-tart pink grapefruit marmalade. And if you look carefully as you’re watching the first episodes of season 2, you can spot Happy Girl jam jars in Madeline Martha Mackenzie’s (Witherspoon’s character) kitchen.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s spectacular “Open Sea” exhibit is magical.
Courtesy Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium
This world-famous aquarium, where one character works during the second season, is home to more than 35,000 plants and animals representing more than 550 species found locally and in other marine habitats around the world.
Get there before the aquarium opens: It’s often packed daily just an hour after opening. And check local hotels for discounts, or consider becoming a member if you’re planning on visiting more than once annually.
Lover’s Point Park, Pacific Grove
Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove is a local hangout.
Courtesy Michael Troutman/DMT Imaging/Monterey CVB
Lovers Point State Marine Reserve has served as the set for several scenes, starting with the first episode when Witherspoon’s character, Madeline, meets Jane, played by Shailene Woodley. For locals, Lovers Point Park has long been a place to hang out, picnic above the beach and swim — and even pose for wedding pictures.
Del Monte Beach, Monterey
Locals, visitors and actors all like to run on Del Monte Beach.
A beach popular with locals for swimming, sunbathing and surfing, Del Monte Beach is part of Monterey State Beach. The show had a lot of joyous and dramatic running and dancing along the beach, and this is where some of those scenes were filmed. Visitors can just pack a bathing suit, towel, sunblock and some water.
Other joints we like