Molaviajeros! Welcome to one of the routes we like most to do on the West Coast of the U.S.: The Big Sur of California. You could already see some of its attractions in the map of California that we took out recently, right? Well, that’s nothing… Let’s start with the route!
Index of Contents
What places does the Big Sur of California include?
Technically, the Big Sur of California corresponds to the stretch of highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeón. That said, since this section is included in the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or vice versa), we will contemplate in this post all possible stops between these cities. So you can see the charms of the Big Sur and also of the surroundings. We leave you geolocalized each point within each section, ok?
Do I need to go through Big Sur in California to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice versa?
No, not at all! What happens is that it is highly recommended because the Big Sur is beautiful. Many of you have heard that “All roads lead to Rome,” right? Well, in this case, it happens similarly.
To get from San Francisco to Los Angeles, there are several feasible options:
A journey of a little more than an hour and a half by plane: Boring, but practical. 6-hour journey along the 600 km separating the two cities along Interstate 5: may be a little cheaper than the plane, but just as boring… And not so fast, not … An unforgettable route along Highway 1 along the Californian coast. This means something less than 800km and a whopping 10 hours of pulling driving.
How long does it take to see the Big Sur of California?
In view of the above, one day is very short to complete a stage Los Angeles-San Francisco by highway 1. Tell that without visits, it already takes 10 hours by car.
A few years ago, we toured the whole area when Daniela was little. We did it in a week, but it is a tour that depending on how much time you have, can be done in two days.
The way to make fun of time at such a stage is to adjust the hotel nights to the most appropriate places. For example, if you do the route from north to south, a good idea might be to do our geek route through Silicon Valley and go to sleep in Monterrey the night before starting the descent through the Big Sur. So you can start from the very beginning and avoid km that do not contribute much (compared to what comes). The next night, if you are in a hurry of time, you can do it in the vicinity of Santa Barbara. We leave you more information at the end of the post.
Outside Big Sur but cool: Monterrey, 17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach
Before arriving at our first stop in the Big Sur of California, we recommend you do a preview at Monterrey and 17 Mile Drive.
Monterrey is a small coastal town from which, among other things, you can make sightings of various animals in the sea. If you have ever wanted to see gray, blue, humpback, killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, elephant seals… This is your place. For more tour information, go to Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterrey. There you will find several offers and they will inform you of which species can be seen according to the time of the year.
This pier is small and very cozy. There you’ll also see a lot of restaurants that serve local fish and, hopefully, you’ll even be able to have a free tasting of some of their dishes. Many times the waiters invite you to try it in the same door of the restaurant.
Monterrey is much more than a port. Don’t be surprised to find you with some special event: car auctions, food festivals… The Laguna Seca car circuit is very close, so it is a city linked to motoring. However, the more events there are, the cooler, but the higher the prices of the accommodation. One tip is that before looking for accommodation there, google “Monterrey California events”. In this way you will know beforehand what is cooking in Monterrey during your travel dates.
We in Monterrey recommend you visit Fisherman’s Wharf, the Cannery Row shopping area, the aquarium (if you like this kind of plan) and little else. The best thing is to enjoy the coastal and calm atmosphere. If you want to collect information and maps, you can do so at the visitors center in Monterrey.
17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach
First stop of payment of the route by the Californian coast. Yes, you have to pay a toll, but this scenic drive is an aperitif of what the Big Sur of California has in store for us.
17 Mile drive, is a pay road that crosses a private area. It starts here and runs along the coast between stunning houses and golf courses, with incredible views!
The fee for crossing this road today is 10.50 USD per vehicle. At the entrance you will be given a map where you can see the main points where it is advisable to stop.
In addition to this map, there is the possibility of downloading a free application for your mobile. You’ll find her searching your store for something like Pebble Beach Resorts. The good thing about it is that it offers an audio guide and information about each point you stop at.
Along the road you’ll see a couple of very elegant spots to eat at, though, knowing that this is the second most expensive toll in the entire U.S… We don’t guarantee they’re cheap. Ji, ji, ji…
Along this scenic drive, you will be able to see beaches, number of animals, trees that adopt the shape given to them by the wind, wild nature…
Big Sur de California: Here we go!
As you can imagine, here we are going to break down the most important points where we like to stop between Carmel by the Sea and San Simeón. Will you join us?
Carmel by the Sea
If 17 Mile has made you fall in love, Carmel won’t be left behind. Let’s go with a round of gossip. Do you know Clint Eastwood? Do you know that he was mayor of Carmel between 1986 and 1988? It must be a great pleasure to live here in these fairytale houses. It’s as if the Android gingerbread cookie we saw in the Google garden of Silicon Valley was going to come out of one of them at any moment.
Our recommendation to visit Carmel is to park as close as possible to Ocean Avenue, which is the commercial avenue that crosses Carmel. You won’t be short of tents (mostly expensive) for souvenirs or clothes. There will also be cafeterias with cookies and muffins that will make your mouth water.
At the end of this avenue you will have the sea, Carmel Beach. It must be a luxury to be able to spend a few days here enjoying the beach!
Soon we will speak to you in another post of the route of the missions in California. In order to get into the matter, we inform you that in Carmel you will be able to find the second mission that took place in California. It is known as the mission of San Carlos Borromeo, and was founded in 1770.
As soon as you leave Carmel-by-the-Sea, you will have a very nice spot to stop for a walk surrounded by nature and the coast. We’re talking about the Point Lobos state reserve. If you are just in time or want to walk, we recommend that you park in one of the 150 sites within this state reserve. This costs about 10 USD per car. Unfortunately, having the annual pass does not prevent us from paying this fee, since Point Lobos is not a national park, but a state reserve.
If you have too much time and strength, you can avoid this tax by parking at the park’s entrance road, before crossing the guard house. However, you will have to walk a couple of kilometers to reach the interesting points of the park. Once you enter, you will be able to make the paths that you want. (At the entrance of the park you can be given a map with the most recommended depending on your preferences and time available).
Almost certainly, inside Point Lobos you will hear the Californian sea lions welcoming you. If you’ve got time, stand by the sea for a little while. If you’re lucky, you can spot California gray whales or sea otters. Don’t touch poison oak plants, they’re poisonous! There you’ll see what they are, they’re indicated.
Tick State Park
Although the name does not accompany him, we do not doubt that Garrapata has much to offer the visitor of the Californian Big Sur. We decided to enjoy its views from the outside and follow the route to the next stop. If you have plenty of time, it might be a good stop for you. We’ll visit him on our way back along the West Coast of the U.S.
Rocky Creek Bridge
This historic bridge, built in 1932, will be the first one you will cross in the Big Sur if you go from north to south in California. It is situated here. Before you cross it there’s a stop with a lot of people taking pictures of it.
But don’t get confused. You may think that this bridge corresponds to the following one on the route: the Bixbie Bridge. But no, he’s not the same. So you know the trick. The Rocky Creek is the backdrop and then goes the main course, the Bixbie Bridge.
Even though it’s not the most famous, it’s worth stopping and taking some pictures, just before crossing it. The surrounding landscape is as spectacular as the rest you will see along the coast. You will see a car park next to the right lane.
Now we come to the star bridge of the Big Sur: the Bixbie Bridge. This one is much better known than the previous one, because of his apparitions in the most varied places. From U.S. stamps to series, video games and even fiction movies. If you’ve seen the Big Little Lies series or played Grand Theft Auto V, it might sound like that.
Before crossing it in the direction of Los Angeles, you will see a small car park, also on the right, where you can stop and take some pictures. In the GPS you can find it as Castle Rock Viewpoint.
Andrew Molera State Park
After the Bixbie Bridge, if you have plenty of time, in addition to stopping at the many viewpoints offered by the Big Sur of California you can visit the Andrew Molera State Park.
Again, the annual pass is not valid to visit it, but you have to pay an entrance fee of about 10 USD per day and per vehicle. The good news is that if you want to see more state parks in the area on the same day, you don’t need to pay entrance fees again as long as you have proof of payment. However, these free entrances to state parks are only valid for the same day. If you visit the next morning, you will have to pay back the 10 USD.
We leave the more exhaustive visit to this point, for later, but if you have time, it is a good area for trekking. All of them will be reported to you in the same entrance booth to the park.
You’ll agree with us that a lot of Big Sur but little beach so far, won’t you? Well, here’s where you can take a dip if you dare with the temperature of the water.
It is important NOT to confuse Pfeiffer Beach (inside The National Forest Parents) with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (one of the state parks in the area). To give you an idea, if you travel from north to south, Pfeiffer Beach will be on your right, next to the sea (that’s what a beach is for); while Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is on your left.
To enter Pfeiffer Beach, your GPS should tell you to turn off Highway 1 on the right, onto Sycamore Canyon Road. This detour is about 1.7 km south of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park detour, so you can take it as a reference. More or less at this point.
The right turn you have to make to get off at Sycamore Canyon Road is a bit abrupt, so just in case you don’t always find it well signposted, don’t go too fast at that height. The good news is that the exit is much better than the entrance.
Once you have covered the three kilometers (approximately), which go from highway 1 to the entrance of the beach, you will find a control booth where you will have to pay again 10 USD per car. The annual pass is not valid here, nor is it valid if you have already paid the 10 USD of a state park during the day.
This is one of the hidden points of the Big Sur. If you go hungry, here you’ll find a restaurant with a heart attack view. We warn that it is not exactly cheap, but enjoying its views is free.
By the way, if in the end you decide to eat something here, order a good table and remember that tips are separate. We remind you around here how tips work in America.
Would you like a short walk after lunch in Nepenthe? Big Sur in California has many and Partington Cove is one of them.
We begin by saying that the signalling of this point leaves a lot to be desired. More or less the beginning of the road takes place here. Cars parked at the edge of the road will give you a clue to find it. You’ll see a closed fence that you can walk through, but not by car. Behind the fence, a downhill slope along a stone path will take you to sea level.
After this walk, you’ll reach a tunnel. Cross it, you’ll reach a bridge and behind it, the sea. If the photos from Pfeiffer Beach were good, these surpass them.
If on your visit to Yosemite National Park you didn’t see waterfalls, here’s a good opportunity for it, but in the middle of Big Sur of California: The McWay Falls.
To see these waterfalls you have two options. The first is to get a parking space on the road (you will not be the only ones, you will see several cars parked again in the vicinity). This option is free and by taking a simple walk you will reach the viewpoint. There you can take photos worthy of the best wallpaper.
The second option is to drive into the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is on your left (speaking from north to south). As it is a state park, if that day you have already been in one and have paid the 10 USD to see it you can go to Julia Pfeiffer with the same ticket you have been given in the previous state park. If not, it’s your turn to pay the 10 USD.
The McWay Falls are already a good viewpoint, but if you go with time, inside the Julia Pfeiffer Burns you can do several routes. One of the most done is the one that leads to the Canyon Falls, but all of them will inform you at the entrance of the park.
Intermediate sleeping spots in Big Sur
After all the points we have mentioned so far, you will come across a number of small towns that can be great points to stop to sleep if the budget accompanies. Although many are not cheap, they give you the comfort of being able to stop for midnight in the middle of Big Sur. It is best to enjoy it calmly and the next day, to be able to continue with the route without deviating much. In small towns like Gorda you will also find a small supermarket, restaurant and gas station at kidney price.
This is another one of the points we have a special affection for. A friend recommended it as a good place to make a stop in Big Sur and was not wrong.
It’s not that it’s a special lookout, but it’s a place where you can find everything from a hotel to a small supermarket. There is no shortage of petrol station (also something expensive) and various options for eating: From the typical restaurant to use to something more similar to fast food. Even if you arrive early, you can enjoy live music and the barbecue they do right there. As if that weren’t enough, once you get close to the sea, the views are great. Come on, if you stay here, it’s going to be hard for you to get started because you want to stay here for the day.
Point Piedras Blancas
This is another of the Big Sur’s star points by far. It’s right here, a few miles after Ragged Point. There you will find a colony of elephant seals in their habitat. Of course, if you haven’t been very lucky with the sighting of animals on the trip, here you can’t escape! You’re sure to see some in the season you’re going. Even in summer, which is when there is least density of these in the area, you can find the older ones.
Be careful, but not for the animals, (which also!) but because this site is a black hole of time… Daniela would have stayed here to see how they interacted with each other all afternoon, but even though some of them may look like a stuffed animal, better to see them from the barrier.
Our advice is to take the camera with battery. And if you have any questions about this area, hopefully one of the volunteers in the area will solve them for you. By the way, did you know there’s wifi at this point? Yes, yes, as you read it, between 10:00 and 16:00 these little animals have free rein to hook up to Netflix and whatever comes up.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have a humble little house in an environment like this? Well, if that sounds like an unreachable dream to you, the Hearst Castle is a fantasy.
As its name suggests, this is a palace built between 1919 and 1947, for a multimillionaire of the time. The land on which it is situated has an area of no less than 160 km² on a Big Sur hill with heart attack views.
We didn’t get to visit it, but according to what we were told in one of the Big Sur visitor centers, besides the palace you can see an imposing swimming pool. No less than a million liters of water. As if that weren’t enough, it is presided over by a Roman temple brought stone by stone from Europe. And besides the palace, there are several guest houses.
Being so “spectacular”, it is not uncommon for this castle to have been used in the cinema. It may sound like the movie Spartacus, or the Lady Gaga G.U.Y. video clip. But instead of so many cinema appearances and being visited by the general public, it could quietly be used as a hotel, as it has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 lounges…
And faced with such an eccentricity of rich (no offense), Mr. Hearst once had the world’s largest private zoo here, with lions, polar bears, and so on. Luckily, no matter how much one can visit this castle today, more typical of a typical European monarchy than of the environment in which it is situated, this zoo is now a thing of the past. That said… We don’t visit because we prefer to stay on the side of nature, but if you’re going to see it, make sure you book your ticket. You can do it from their official website.
San Simeon is the last point that is considered to be inside the Big Sur. It’s a slightly bigger city in which besides having a super cool beach environment, it’s great to stay because there’s more hotel offer than in the rest of the Big Sur.
If you are one of the lucky ones who can dedicate at least one more night to stay in the area to enjoy the beach, but with tranquillity, in the towns of Cambria and Cayucos you will be able to do it.
The Big Sur, ends, but not the visits!
Although the Big Sur is officially over, the coastline is still as beautiful as it is to this point… More tranquility, more beach, more animals in its environment…
Walking around the town is always fine, but the most important points in Morro Bay are Morro Bay State Park and Morro Rock. They’re the target of a lot of photos.
If you also feel like doing some extra activity, we saw some boats that went a little further into the sea to see the whales in their habitat. If you want to do it, in the area of the pier you will see several companies that offer it.
San Luis Obispo
This is another of the points in Big Sur where we usually stop if we are in good time; we take the opportunity to take a walk through the town, as it is very cool. It’s an area where there’s a lot of lodging, so it’s cool to sleep at night. You’ll find it here.
On this beach we had a great time with Daniela. Hopefully, if you stop there, you’ll find the same atmosphere that we do. Live music, lots of beach bars with takeaway food, lots of people on the beach sunbathing… Come on, it was worth the stop for us.
After Avila Beach, two other famous points of highway 1 are Pismo Beach and Lompoc. We leave them for the next round of the Californian coast.
Although not located on the same coast, Solvang is a small town worth visiting, and a lot. One of the reasons for this is that when you park your car and look around you, you will think that you have teleported at least to Holland. But don’t worry, you haven’t slept or been put into a time machine. That’s how Solvang is.
Windmills, butter biscuits, fairytale houses, photo cafés… A replica of the Copenhagen mermaid and a museum dedicated to Hans Christian Andersen. As it could not be otherwise, if you take a walk through Solvang, sooner or later you will come across Mission Santa Inés, another of the missions of the Californian route.
Santa Barbara is a city we love. It is ideal to go to the beach, to walk around its commercial area and then go to the pier, take a walk and enjoy the wide gastronomy that it offers.
If you like tourist buses, I remember that we got on one that had the shape of a boat, and it wasn’t just a matter of bodywork… but the same bus that took us through the most striking part of the city also took us for a boat trip into the interior of the sea. Curious, isn’t it? Well, yes, what an amphibian!
And, if Santa Barbara is expensive when it comes to accommodation, here’s the trick: look at prices in Ventura.
Just talking about Malibu reminds me of Los Vigantes de la Playa… This coastal area, located just before Los Angeles, is world-renowned for its beaches. Although they are a bit windy for bathers, they are ideal for surfers! We were tourists on several beaches: Zuma Beach (we couldn’t avoid “sneaking” with permission in one of the guard houses), Matador Beach, Point Mugu… This part of the stage is ideal to enjoy. Take it easy my friend!
Our experience visiting Big Sur
Well, if you’ve made it to the end of this post, you’ve seen that, by proxy, it is possible to do this stage in one day. Few things are impossible in this life. But we don’t recommend it at all. Our first time in the Big Sur we enjoyed the area for a week. There’s a lot to see and enjoy here. Having said that, since we don’t always have a week to do the Big Sur de California, our recommendation is:
If you only have one day to do the Big Sur de California route, keep the most important points of it. Obviously, for tastes, colors, but we in this case, we would leave aside some visits such as the Hearst Castle or the Pebble Beach. Also some trail like those of Point Lobos and places like Andrew Molera, Garrapata or Julia Pfeiffer will be able to wait…
The ideal thing in this case, to be able to enjoy a little of the stops, is that you arrive to sleep to some point near Los Angeles (if you do the route of north to south). Depending on your desire to drive and what you’ve done early, you can make night between San Simeon and Santa Barbara.
If you have enough time, we recommend you to start the total stage in at least two days, doing the first night in Monterrey, the second night in an intermediate point in Big Sur and the third night in Santa Barbara or in the vicinity of Los Angeles, depending on the time you have. This will allow you to enjoy the route along the coast much more.
Big Sur California Route: Important Tips
The first is that you book your accommodation in advance. Being a small area, although there are accommodations, are not very large, so it is easy to run out of space soon. We leave you linked the hotels in each place, with the search engine that has saved us so much money looking for hotel these years travelers. And here’s the post with the accommodations on our West Coast trip.
Don’t expect a lot of phone coverage. Neither that you take an American prepaid sim card or the plan that you have chosen, remember that you are in full coast, and that, is great for the body but not for our telephone. That said, remember to download the offline maps.
Before you get in the middle of Big Sur, pour gasoline into the car’s fuel tank. You’ll find a gas station along the way, but the price of fuel won’t be a bargain! We remind you here how to pour gasoline in the U.S. so you don’t have any setbacks.
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Big sur de California: ruta detallada was last modified: August 13th, 2019 by MolaTravel