How HBO's 'Big Little Lies' Fudges Monterey Geography


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It's hardly the largest deception on Big Little Lies, the HBO drama starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley as a quartet of Monterey mothers, but it's an emblematic one. To dazzle and impress viewers, director Jean-Marc Vallée flaunts area sights like the dramatic Bixby Creek Bridge, the frequently photographed structure along Highway One — not to be confused with the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which has been in the process of being demolished today after it was irreparably damaged by storms, interrupting the highway for the rest of the year.

Beguiled by appearances, viewers might not ask what, exactly, the show's characters are doing driving across the beautiful, 1932-completed Bixby Bridge to take their children to and from school in Monterey. But that's one of the show's many mysteries. The bridge, after all, is almost 20 miles south of Monterey, and about 15 south of Carmel-by-the Sea, isolated along the Big Sur coast.
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"Unless for some reason Celeste and Perry are going to a therapist in Big Sur, I can't imagine why they'd be driving over that bridge," writes one commenter with a working knowledge of the area on a forum at (where you can find commentary on the show from SFist's own Eve Batey.) "Of course, this show is playing fast and loose with geography anyway," the commenter adds, "so I guess it's no big deal that they want to work in as many scenes as possible of one of the more photogenic bridges in the world."

It's not the first such stretch: Carmel Magazine recalls that the Clint Eastwood breakthrough flick Play Misty For Me depicts his character hurrying from Carmel Rancho to the Highlands, driving north on the bridge that's several miles south of his supposed destination.

Big Little Lies, adapted by David E. Kelley from the novel by Liane Moriarty, was transplanted to Monterey from Australia, and as it did in a small town down under, it probes the highly mannered denizens of a picturesque community. As characters deceive one another — and to a degree themselves — with beautiful appearances, from bodies and clothes to homes and landscapes, we too are lured into the deception by the power of these images. In fact, the Monterey Film commission says it's brought in more than $100 million to local communities from film productions since the Monterey County Board of Supervisors created the Film Commission in 1987.

"We get calls all the time from people who saw Monterey, Carmel or Big Sur in a film or on television and say ‘I want to go there on vacation.’ It’s spin-off tourism,” Karen Nordstrand, the Commission’s director of marketing and film production, tells Carmel Magazine. In 2016 alone, according to the commission's website, nearly $6 million came into Monterey County from on-location spending, and more than $2.5 million was from production for Big Little Lies.

Big indeed — but spinoff tourists, do note that you won't get a great view of the Bixby Creek Bridge from your Monterey hotel room, and Big Sur is going to be a bit of a detour nightmare for the next nine to 12 months.

Related: Bridge In Big Sur Gets Wrecking Ball Treatment, Highway 1 To Remain Interrupted For Rest Of Year

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