Are you gearing up for a road trip along the Big Sur coast? Maybe you’re going to visit San Francisco and have some extra time to kill but haven’t decided how to spend it yet, or perhaps you’ve seen someone’s stunning photos of the Big Sur, added it to your destination bucket list, but don’t actually know anything about it. I just drove along that beautiful coastline and to be completely honest, I didn’t know a thing about it until about a week prior to my trip. I was deciding how to spend my final weekend in California and I was looking at gorgeous photos of this place called Big Sur and I knew I had to go. Here are the things I learned preparing for my last minute California Road Trip.
The Big Sur is more of an area than a destination.
The Big Sur is a 120 mile stretch of California’s Highway 1 between Morro Bay and Monterey. The scenery is incredible as you drive between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean stopping frequently for hikes and overlooks; you will spot famous landmarks like Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls and those instagram photos you’ve seen will come to life right before your eyes.
It can take a week or it can take a day, it’s up to you.
Some people will tell you that a day is not nearly enough time to see The Big Sur, but if all you have is a day, take it. You can stay in resorts in Big Sur, you can camp in Big Sur, you can take as long as you need, but you can also drive through it on your way up to San Francisco and experience the twisty roads and the waves crashing onto the cliffs below you, the experience is what you make it. I took two days, I drove from Morro Bay to Monterey, spent the night, and drove back to Morro Bay the next day. Each day took about 6 or 7 hours to drive which can turn into more or less depending on the frequency of your stops.
Here’s what I stopped for in my 2 day trip:
Elephant Seal Overlook
Pfeiffer Falls hike in Julia Pfiffer Burns State Park
The Big Sur Bakery
Henry Miller Memorial Library
Other various hikes along the way
Countless stops just to take in the views
Where Should You Stay?
There are a lot of resorts and nice hotels to stay in along the way that I’m sure are incredible but they have the price tag to match. So if you’re looking to splurge on this trip go ahead and do that, but you won’t find much budget accommodation. You can camp, but from what I hear you need to book your sites far in advance to get a spot. In Monterey there is a Hostellers International Hostel l I tried to stay at, but it was booked. Rooms are around $40 a night and the reviews are good. I booked an AirBnb for about $50 in Monterey, I had a decent experience and there were a lot of options in the area.
Where should you eat?
If you start researching Big Sur you will quickly find that everyone swears by Nepenthe and Big Sur Bakery. There was a big part of me that wanted to try other places for the sake of my blog to tell you what else is out there, but if EVERYONE says these places are so good I decided I couldn’t miss them, and I am glad I didn’t. Nepenthe I’m sure is more affordable for lunch, but I got there right at the turnover time for dinner so it was pricey, but in the words of Tom Haverford, “TREAT YO SELF” and I did. I had the Glazed Duck and it pretty much changed my life.
The Big Sur Bakery was also awesome. I was solo so I decided not to get the famous pizza everyone raves about and settled for an omelette and a salad with a coffee and it was AMAZING! Also, I took an iced latte and made from scratch pastry to-go!
Pack a lunch, seriously. The main thing about having dinner at Nepenthe is the view overlooking the ocean, but there are places to pull over and park along the entire drive with a view just as incredible. Have a picnic, save a few bucks, and enjoy yourself outside!
Where should you hike?
There are a lot of hikes along the drive and you’ll figure out the most popular based on how many cars are parked on the side of the road! I stuck with shorter hikes just off the parking areas, McWay Falls and the trail to the left of that and the hikes inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
FYI: There is a $10 entrance fee to get in Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP but they have a few hikes to do and that’s where you will find the Pfeiffer Falls hike, it’s a short hike with a small but pretty waterfall at the end!
Things to know:
Bring any snacks or drinks you want for the ride because there are not a ton of places to stop for them and they are few and far between.
There is NO cell phone service in Big Sur! It's actually pretty nice not to have it, but you'll want to have things written down before you get there because you won't be able to look them up. I went ahead and bought a map before I left just in case!
Get gas before you get on Highway 1, getting gas on the drive will be a lot more expensive.
Don’t be afraid to take your time, that’s what this drive is all about! Stop every time you want, take any picture you want to take, you’ll never regret the picture you took, only the picture you never took.
I visited in April and one day I was cold and it was windy, and the next I was hot and it was sunny, so wear layers!
The Highlight of my trip
My personal favorite part of this trip was hanging out at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. This is partly because this was one of the only places I actually stopped and took my time. I walked leisurely through the library and looked at all the books and all the tables, I picked one out, and I sat at a table under the sun and read for as long as I wanted.
If I could do it differently…
I would camp somewhere half way through and take a couple extra days. I would do more hiking and spend more time enjoying nature.
No matter how much time you have to take this trip I hope you have an amazing time, it is a truly beautiful and peaceful place to be, I’d love to see it so tag me in your instagram posts so I can see! (@beckwhattheheck) If you’ve already been and have some sweet tips let me know those too, we can all help eachother out!