California coastline is something to admire making it a desirable road trip to experience the central west coast. From Mendocino to Orange County, the CA State Route 1 is 656 miles of highway through San Francisco, Carmel and all the way to Dana Point by Laguna Beach. The central south coast from Monterey to Big Sur is especially memorable passing by the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls in Pfeiffer State Park. You’d want to stop at each point to take in the peaceful sounds of blue water crashing against the steep cliffs and the picturesque view of Pacific Ocean.
Whether you are entering from Santa Barbara or Monterey, it will take you at least 3 to 5 hours to get through this windy path. It’s best to go during the day as it can get dangerous at night if you are not familiar with the area.
Last year, we took a detour through Santa Barbara and Los Olivos for a little bit of wine tasting before heading our way to Elephant Seal Beach, passing by Hearst Castle in San Simeon. We stayed at Treebones Resort, close to Gorda and Plaskett Creek Campground. Unfortunately for us, the excessive fire and rainfall caused major damage to a popular bridge and the closure of popular attractions. If this is your first time, here is a comprehensive list of where to stay, eat, hike, etc.
Where to Stay
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – Rated highly with bathroom and shower access. This site fills up pretty quickly, especially on the weekends. For the best spots, refer to Yelp reviews.
- Kirk Creek Campground – This is the campground if you want beach access. No running water and shower access will prevent me from staying. If that’s not a concern to you then this is a great spot.
- Limekiln State Park – Located closer to the south side of Big Sur. It is tame and less visited compared to its neighboring parks. The showers are clean and there is a small beach access.
Glamping, Lodges and More
- Glen Oaks Big Sur – This comes highly recommended by reviewers. Its lodges and cottages make this a desirable place for those looking to getaway without the hassle of camping. It’s reasonably priced for the area.
- Treebones Resort – It is a family owned accommodations with yurts with ocean view and access to communal showers. It’s also home to the fancy and delicious Ocean View Sushi Bar.
- Ventana Resort or Post Ranch Inn – Think Four Seasons mixed with rustic style with uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean, nestled privately within the tall redwoods. It’s expensive and will cost at least $1K/night.
Where to Eat
- Big Sur Bakery – A must if you are in the area. This bakery and restaurant serves wood fire pizza and other delicious pastries. Line can get long during breakfast but it’s worth the wait.
- Nepenthe – The famous restaurant in Big Sur that sits just above the ocean. The food isn’t memorable but you go for the view and it will make you forget about the meal 😉
- Wild Coast Sushi Bar – Located in Treebones Resort. This bar style intimate restaurant seats 10 at a time. It gets crowded so come by early and place your name in line.
- Big Sur Roadhouse – Located in Glen Oaks Lodge. Traditional American restaurants with breakfast and lunch menu.
Where to Hike
- Ewoldsen Trail – If you want the classic order of sweeping views, waterfall and redwood groves, hike the Ewoldsen Trail out of Julia Pfeiffer Burns. This is also the stopping ground for McWay Falls for the only photo you need in Big Sur.
- Limekiln State Park – For a tame stroll through the redwoods and creeks, with even a small waterfall to enjoy, try Limekiln State Park. There is also a small beach just underneath the bridge that connects Highway 1.
- Andrew Molera Loop – Located in the northern park of Big Sur, this trail has major coastal views and a beach to enjoy.
Where to Stop On Your Way
South: As noted, if coming from Southern California, check out Santa Barbara or Los Olives for wine tasting. It’s worth a visit on its own but a half day would suffice. On your way towards Big Sur, stop by Hearst Castle for a guided tour (approximately 2 – 3 hours) and Elephant Seal Beach for a quick stop.
North: If coming from the Northern part of California, stop by Carmel, a quant little town south of Monterey. It’s got the best dog beach in California. If time allows, make a trip to Point Lobos, a reserve close by for the chance to see Harbor Seals. There is an entrance fee of $10 per car. You can avoid it if you park on the street.
Important Things To Know
- Check Big Sur Chamber of Commerce website for the latest news on closure. It happens more frequently than you think. We’ve experienced cancellations due to unforeseen and unfortunate weather conditions. The website is updated daily should there be such event.
- It’s about 20 degrees colder in Big Sur compared to Los Angeles, reaching to low 30s at night in the winter and 40s in the summer. It can also get foggy like San Francisco, so pack accordingly.
- Watch out for poison oaks when hiking. Yes, those “leaves of 3, let them be” ranging from red to green in color. They are EVERYWHERE. Coming in contact with the oils from the plant will cause you scratch the skin off your body and the itch can last for weeks! Also, you should be mindful of ticks and rattlesnakes.
- No cell service, no internet. Be prepared to unplug. And yes, your wifi connection through your accomodation will be spotty to nonexistence. So remember to bring a book or plenty of games.
- Everything is more expensive in Big Sur. Pack snacks of your choosing and fill your tank in Monterey or Santa Barbara prior the 125-mile stretch through Big Sur.
Big Sur is a destination to remember. If you are only passing by, you’ll want to come back to stay. If you are lucky enough to score a camping spot or rich enough to stay at the luxurious Ventana, you may never want to leave.