There’s nothing quite like setting out for the open road – and there’s nowhere quite like sunny California to experience the road-trip of a lifetime.
My love affair with The Golden State all began a few years back, when I took off on an epic adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, all the way to San Diego. It was this experience that really triggered my wanderlust and I’ve been on a mission to discover as much of the world as possible ever since.
I could go on all day about why California should be on everyone’s travel bucket-list but instead I’m going to focus in on one magnificent 90 mile stretch of this beautiful state… Big Sur.
Yes, the almighty Big Sur is celebrated as one of the world’s greatest road-trips and it’s easy to see why. California’s famous Highway 1 winds its way along some of the USA’s most beautiful coastline with non-stop panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean and a dream-like layer of coastal fog to add to the atmosphere.
Throw in giant redwoods, tumbling waterfalls and magnificent beaches and you’ve got yourself a truly bucket-list worthy destination.
But planning a getaway along Big Sur can be confusing to say the least – Google search brings up a muddle of information about how long the journey should take; what stops to make along the way; and even where ‘Big Sur’ actually begins and ends.
To make things a bit easier, I’ve compiled a few of the top attractions that you should factor in before hitting the road.
There are many more to discover and Visit California is a great resource for finding out more. It also provides updates on any road and park closures that you should be aware of.
How much time to spend along Big Sur?
The actual driving distance along Big Sur is less than 3 hours but this is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world and deserves some quality time. I would recommend at least one full day to explore with an overnight stay, if possible, to allow enough time for photos and stopping.
Where to stay in Big Sur?
Monterey or Carmel are great starting points for Big Sur and Cambria makes an ideal half-way stop. This quaint little coastal town is located in San Luis Obispo, ideally situated for a visit to Hearst Castle the next day or for continuing on south to Los Angeles.
Carmel (also known as Carmel-by-the-sea) is technically the start point of Big Sur and is a beautiful place to explore in its own right. This storybook town is full of quaint little art galleries, coffee shops and adorable houses. It’s also home to the understated but ruggedly beautiful, Carmel Beach.
So now you know how to get from A to B, the big question is where to stop along Big Sur? Here’s 5 top attractions that you won’t want to miss.
Bixby Creek Bridge
This is your quintessential Big Sur stop and classic photo opportunity. Just 13 miles along from Carmel, the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge suddenly looms into sight ahead of you. Be sure to pull in before crossing the bridge to get those insta-worthy angles and stunning views across the coastline.
Driving across the bridge is an exhilarating experience in itself but don’t forget to pull in at Hurricane Point for incredible views back towards Bixby Bridge and the winding road behind you.
Ever seen purple sand before? Well here’s your chance…
Pfeiffer Beach is located a little way off the beaten path, making it one of the quieter, less touristy stops along Big Sur. Tucked away at the bottom of a 2-mile seemingly never-ending one-way road, Pfeiffer Beach is famous for its iconic keystone arch and the mysterious purple colour of its sand.
Time it just right and you might be lucky enough to catch the sunset on the beach; a truly magical sight as the rays cast a surreal glow through the keyhole arch.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
This is a great place to stretch your legs and come face to face with some of California’s iconic redwoods. There are a number of easy hiking trails that take you through beautiful woodland and along river banks, including a path directly to Pfeiffer Falls. The park also has camping facilities, lodgings and a restaurant, if you choose to make an overnight stop.
Top tip: Be sure to check out California’s Parks and Recreation website before setting off to check for any park closures.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park / Mcway Falls
Just a short stop off the highway, the main attraction of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is McWay Falls – one of the most magical spots along Big Sur and an absolute MUST-SEE.
Don’t be put off by the crowds – this place really is as stunning as it looks and deserves at least a photo stop (or longer if you have time!)
A short ½ mile trail from the highway will bring you to the most magnificent viewpoint of the Falls and idyllic coves below you. If you have time, continue on the trail down to Partington Cove, where you can spot sea lions and sea otters, if you’re lucky.
This iconic attraction marks the end of Big Sur… and what a way to finish this road-trip of a lifetime.
William Randolph Hearst brought his wildest dreams to life in designing Hearst Castle. This sprawling estate, which played host to Hollywood’s finest back in the Golden Era, overlooks the picture-perfect valleys of San Simeon and is home to 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens, Roman-inspired pools, and even free-roaming zebras!
Tickets cost $25 for the main tour, which includes a stunning 10 minute bus ride up into the hills and a guided tour around the main rooms and grounds. Tickets sell out fast, so be sure to book online in advance.