In This California Town, $8-a-Gallon Gasoline Is the Price You Pay for Beauty

pacific coastline of big sur, california
In Big Sur, Gas Sells for $8 a GallonAnadolu - Getty Images

It’s Monday morning on America’s most scenic roadway and business at the Loma Vista Chevron station — mile marker 48.5 of California’s Highway 1 — is humming along with a mellow buzz. A pair of muddy hikers study the posted map, a threadbare Subaru Crosstrek with California plates pulls up to the pump, while a wizened local holds court from his parked Chevy pickup. “Highway 1 is like the fairway at the carnival,” he says. “Everyone’s trying to get you to stop so they can gouge you on price. $22 for a burger. $6 for a gallon of gas.”

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He’s lived here in Big Sur for close to 50 years — long enough to know not to go on the record with his real name, or to fill ‘er up in Big Sur. This stretch of California coast, the second-most mythologized road in America after Route 66 and among the most glorious, is also home to the most consistently indecent gas prices in the country. (California prices are already the highest in the nation, averaging around $4.50 to $5.00 per gallon for regular.)


On a Monday, the Loma Vista Chevron is charging $6.37 a gallon of regular; $6.70 for premium. It’s a full- and self-service station nestled in the Redwoods with Lincoln Log vibes, the kind that Wes Anderson would pull over and document with the vintage Leica he undoubtedly keeps stashed in the glove box of his pale blue Volvo P1800.

A dusty Toyota Tacoma pulls up, a good 10 feet from the pump. The attendant hops up, grabs a squeegee, and walks it over to the truck. The driver cleans the Tacoma’s windshield, walks the squeegee back to the attendant, waving thanks as he drives off. The Crosstrek finishes pumping and also drives off. I check the stats: 2.03 gallons for a total of $12.95. I guess no one gets rich in the gas business from making the station look cute.

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The natural beauty brings legions to Big Sur every year... and a whole lot of them need gasoline.Brian van der Brug - Getty Images

Three miles south on Highway One is a garden-gallery-organic bakery that also happens to sell gas … for close to eight bucks a gallon. British ex-pat and landscaper Hillary Lipman bought the property in 1995 mainly for the plant life. There’s a robust collection of succulents, a rare Santa Lucia fir, and cacti mingling with redwoods — botanical evidence that this is where Northern and Southern California mix. “The property came with a gas station,” Lipman says, “so we made the best of it.”

Lipman estimates that more than half his business comes from motorists driving up the coast, where they would have not seen another gas station for 40 miles. “We are the first gas station that people see and people recognize Shell, which has to maintain certain standards.” If Shell enforces any aesthetic standards, the Station at 47540 CA-1 is a notable overachiever. Apart from the deep woods architecture and the landscaping (“it’s the only thing I’m good at,” Lipman says) the station sits across from a National Forest with towering redwoods and dramatic bluffs. On the morning I’m there, it’s selling regular for $7.50 a gallon; $7.96 for premium. Lipman has heard his share of grievances. “I tell them it is what it is. I mean, it’s a choice. Nobody’s forcing you to spend your money.”

a car parked in a parking lot at night
A 2022 Subaru WRX fuels up on eight-buck-Chuck in Big Sur, CA.Aaron Brown

Station manager Roberto Rosales started working there 23 years ago and says he’s received at least one grumble every day since. “People complain about the price,” he says, “but they don’t know how much work is involved. How much work we do for the peeps.” He talks about county inspectors, logistics, and the challenges involved in the delivery itself.

Southbound, it’s the last station before Highway 1 is closed, due to a mudslide in February of 2023. Tourists from around the world used to drive northbound straight through, often stopping at Lipman’s Shell station. RV drivers would sometimes drop 300 or 400 dollars at the pump. Since the road was washed out Lipman says business is down more than 50 percent.

big sur, california caltrans employees and contractors work to
Caltrans workers and contractors repair a section of Highway 1 in Big Sur on April 17, 2024, after part of the road collapsed into the ocean.The Washington Post - Getty Images

But for Rosales, selling gas — even at $8 per gallon — is a higher calling, a public service. “It’s good to have gas up here in the mountains,” he says. “Better than walking.”

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