The Ultimate Guide to Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary with 13 Stops
96 miles along the coastline of California sits the jaw-dropping, speechless, and the most majestic paradise land called Big Sur. It is a Spanish word, meaning ‘el país grande del Sur’ which means it is a Country of the South. It is the prettiest coast with winding highways, steep rocks, small clips, scattered vegetation, with the Pacific Ocean and indigo blue horizon.
If you are planning for your Big Sur road trip then a solid plan is necessary; no worries, I will guide you to the best places to stop and explain to you which places are worth visiting. Views from Monterey, Carmel, and San Simeon, Santa Lucia Mountains, border, beach coves, and blue sky are enough to bring tears in your eyes, obviously in a good way.
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So, if you are planning to come to this fairyland then check out my Big Sur itinerary, to explore the best hiking trails, hidden gems, scenic places, and everything beautiful in this region. In this guide, I will critically outline things to know, where to stay, how to get there, and of course the whole Big Sur itinerary!
Big Sur Day Trip Itinerary:
Big Sur is not a village, town, or city; it is a stretch of coastline in California. It is 90 miles between the town of Carmel in the north and San Simeon to the south. It encompasses stunning views of mountains, the Blue Ocean, rugged cliffs, and pure natural beauty.
In central California, this place is a paradise for explorers. Whether you are searching for a honeymoon spot in California, beautiful California hot springs, or a place to spend ‘me-time’, Big Sur has everything to offer. It’s the place for photographers, swimmers, food lovers, and nature lovers.
Big Sur Itinerary: When to Visit Big Sur?
For perfect enchanting weather and sunny days, April and September are the best times to visit Big Sur. It is the peak season and you will find huge crowds all over everywhere. Big Sur is gifted with foggy mornings and brings sunshine during the day.
But if you don’t want lots of company and enjoy in peace or want to gift McWay Falls all to yourself then visit Big Sur in October and November. The fog is gone by early Fall, and you can encounter beautiful wildflowers blooming, and colorful butterflies.
From November to March, it is winter and you can expect even fewer people, but unless you are a pro driver or have an experienced person with you then I would suggest dropping the idea because due to heavy rainfall and mudslides, driving can be tricky.
How to Get to Big Sur?
Big Sur Coast Highway is a part of California State Route 1 along the Pacific coast. This region is considered as one of the impressive driving routes in the United States
For a perfect Big Sur vacation, you can fly either to Norman Y. Mineta San Jose airport, San Francisco airport, or a small airport in Monterey. If you are an international traveler then San Francisco airport will be a good choice, because the tickets here are cheap but you will miss those scenic natural beauties on the way. I prefer driving from San Jose.
Related: 10 Epic Ways to Find Cheap Flight Deals
Big Sur road trip:
Taking the airport to the starting point, from San Jose to Big Sur it will take one and half hours, and from San Francisco, you have to drive two and half hours to reach Big Sur.
If you are looking for a San Francisco to Big Sur day trip then drive down the Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. I would recommend you to start from Sand Dollar Beach and drive over Nacimiento-Fergusson road into Jolon.
From Monterey Regional Airport, Big Sur is 31 miles away. The road trip offers the most beautiful woodsy, rustic, and retro environment you can think of.
If you are looking for a long Big Sur road trip itinerary then you can also drive from Los Angeles. Los Angeles to Big Sur will take you five hours which will add different adventures to your road trip story. Don’t forget to check out the ultimate road trip packing list before hitting the road.
How to Get around Big Sur?
Once you reach Big Sur you can rent a car for yourself from rental cars or other websites to explore Big Sur at your own pace. You can also avail bus, public transport, the Monterey-Salinas Transit System’s Route 22 bus to go around Big Sur.
The weather in Big Sur is never too hot-hot; the temperature is mild and perfect for trips. It is cool and the mountains nearby make it beautiful. You won’t need -5 degree jackets but a denim jacket is required. So, the quintessential Pacific Coast Highway drive is amazing.
I would recommend downloading offline Google Maps before starting your journey. Here is the list of our top recommended travel apps that must be downloaded to your smartphone.
Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary
Phew! Now let’s get into the Big Sur itinerary.
If you are planning a trip to Big Sur road then you can start either from the north or from the south. I prefer north to south (starting from Carmel to San Simeon). The scenic beauty with incredibly breathtaking views, unspoiled coastline, and natural diversity in this region is eye soothing. So, here is my recommendation for 3 days in Big Sur, listed in order from North to the south to explore.
Day 1 in Big Sur
Stop 1: Carmel-by-the-Sea
Starting from Carmel-by-the-Sea, this charming small quaint seaside town has so much to offer. It is packed with amazing locally owned shops, small restaurants, beautiful cafes, cozy cottages, and many art galleries. I would recommend you should stay here for one day or spend a few hours strolling the main streets, boutiques, and art galleries.
If you are here you should visit the Thomas Kinkade Gallery, Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, Comstock Cottages, and the gorgeous Carmel Beach and spend a few hours there. You can walk along the beach or take part in water activities like swimming, or surfing. You should fill your tank, collect some snacks and reward yourself with wonderful food from Bicyclete or TreeHouse Café.
Stop 2: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Distance from Carmel-by-the-Sea to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is 15 minutes.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is considered one of the best Big Sur hiking trails with unique natural beauty. It offers you the best coastal view and sweeping views of the Pacific. The natural reserve is about 5.36 square miles and is home to seals, sea otters, pelicans, and sea lions. You should also explore China Cove, Bird Island, and Whaler’s Cove.
Go hiking to South Plateau Trail, South Shore Trail, Sea Lion Cove, Lace Lichen Trail for the best magnificent views. You can also hike the 5-miles Point Lobos Loop Trail to witness the gorgeous nature. These are some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
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- It charges a $10 entry fee
- Dogs are not allowed in the state reserve
Stop 3: Garrapata State Park
Distance from Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to Garrapata State Park is 7 minutes.
If you are visiting Big Sur during the weekend then Garrapata State Park is a must-visit place. Over 4.6 square miles sits these unexplored places which offer an epic view of the Pacific Ocean and an incredible experience to cheer. It has a nice hiking trail; I recommend you climb 50 feet to get the best view of the place.
You can hike Soberanes Canyon Trail, Garrapata Bluff Trail, or Calla Lily Valley to witness sea otters, seals, and migrating birds. You will also see passing waterfalls, redwood trees, Whale Peak, and gorgeous wildflowers.
Tip: For dog-friendly hikes in Big Sur, Garrapata State Park is a great place. But only on-leash dogs are allowed.
Stop 4: Kasler Point
The distance from Garrapata State Park to Kasler Point is 7 minutes.
To witness incredible coastal vista with mountains and green flora and flowers, Kasler Point is a must-visit place. If you have less time then you can skip it but this is one of my favorite places to sit quietly and enjoy the view.
Stop 5: Rocky Creek Bridge
Distance from Kasler Point to Rocky Creek Bridge is 3 minutes.
Rocky Creek Bridge is one of the most photogenic places in Big Sur which was built in 1932. If you are not in a rush on your Big Sur road trip, then stop here and get the wide-angle view of the mid-cost. The open-spandrel arch bridge is so impressive and you will feel like you are in Hawaii.
Stop 6: Bixby Creek Bridge
Distance from Rocky Creek Bridge to Bixby Creek Bridge is just 1 minute
Bixby Creek Bridge was named under the name of Charles H. Bixby, a pioneer from New York who came to the California coast in 1852. There are two viewpoints and perfect for snapping photos with beautiful coasts in the background. You should check out Hurricane Point, Sea Otter Refuge, and Great Sur.
Tip: The turnout areas are very small so be cautious while traveling and make sure you are not blocking traffic at all.
Stop 7: Andrew Molera State Park
Distance from Bixby Creek Bridge to Andrew Molera State Park is 15 minutes
In your 2 days Big Sur itinerary you should add Andrew Molera State Park. It sits on 4,766 acres of undeveloped land. It offers a beach hike to Bluffs Trail, Bobcat Trail and Coyote Flat Trail, Spring Trail, Ridge Trail, and the famous 40 foot Highbridge Falls. You can witness forest, beach, and paranormal views of redwoods, rocky coastline, and hillsides.
- It charges $10 entrance fee per car
- Not accessible during high tide
- Tents available for camping
Stop 8: Pfeiffer Beach
Distance from Andrew Molera State Park to Pfeiffer Beach is 40 minutes
If you are searching for a Big Sur honeymoon itinerary then sunset at Pfeiffer Beach is a must. Right across Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park lies this beautiful secluded deep purple soft sand beach with arch-shaped rock formations. After you pass the Lodge, behind the trees sits this Beach. There is a large rock formation with a large door-shaped keyhole that looks beautiful during sunset.
- It charges a $10 entrance fee per car
- Have dinner at Nepenthe (13 minutes from Pfeiffer Beach) and spend the night at Alila Ventana Inn & Spa or any lodge.
Day 2 in Big Sur
Start your second day as early as possible to explore most of these places and Big Sur activities.
Stop 9: McWay Falls
Distance from Pfeiffer Beach to McWay Falls is 30 minute
No matter what you plan, for a day in Big Sur visiting McWay Falls is a must. After the 0.65 miles along the McWay Fall trail, you can witness water gushing out from the cliff which is about 80 feet tall. The sight of pristine water with vibrant nature makes it soothing to the eye. The yellow-green wildflowers around make it amazing! You can also hike towards Mcway Canyon and McWay Creek.
Stop 10: Limekiln State Park
Distance from McWay Falls to Limekiln State Park is 20 minute
Limekiln State Park acquires 711 acres of land and offers the best view of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Big Sur coastline. This park draws visitors for its calming nature and unique atmosphere along with the redwoods. You can also hike to the 100-foot single-drop Limekiln Falls and also witness the history in front of your eyes! It is said that lime kilns are used to extract lime to make it concrete. I would recommend you to include this place in your Big Sur one-day itinerary.
Tip: It charges a $10 entrance fee
Stop 11: Sand Dollar Beach
Distance from Limekiln State Park to Sand Dollar Beach is 13 minute
If you are searching for a gorgeous beach in Big Sur then Sand Dollar Beach has to be the one. The buffs, interesting rock formations, and long walks along the 7 miles shoreline are relaxing and perfect for couples! It is also a popular spot for beachcombing and surfing. You can hike a short trail to reach the end and witness the quiet beach from a distance. I would recommend you to drive here for the sunset views.
- You can hike to an unexplored beautiful spot called Jade Cove from Sand Dollar Beach. Jade boulders along the ocean are the most beautiful sight to behold.
- It charges a $10 entrance fee
- Keep an eye on the tide schedules – the best time to visit is during low tide.
- It takes 100 steps or so to access the beach, so if you find it hard to walk then it will be a little difficult.
Stop 12: Ragged Point Scenic View
Distance from Sand Dollar Beach to Ragged Point Scenic View is 26 minute
Include Ragged Point in your Big Sur weekend itinerary to witness the gorgeous seaside and hiking trails. The 0.8 miles hike to Ragged Point Cliffside Trail will lead you to the Black sand beach and Black Swift Falls (300-foot fall). This place is famous for the Ragged Point Inn, so I would recommend you if you have time then spend a night and treat yourself to stunning views and delicious food.
Stop 13: Elephant Seal Vista Point
Distance from Sand Dollar Beach to Ragged Point Scenic View is 15 minutes.
If you are a wildlife photographer or love to know about the wildlife of Big Sur then Elephant Seal Vista Point is a must-visit place in Big Sur. It is situated in San Simeon village; you can witness migratory whales and elephant seals. Bring a small travel binocular to see wildlife upclose.
During breeding seasons, in April, you will find them on the beach sand rolling, resting, or birthing. There is so fee to enter, therefore, park your car and walk along a wooden platform to reach this amazing beach.
What to Do in Big Sur?
While the above-mentioned places are a must to include in the Big Sur weekend getaway itinerary, there are some other gems that I would recommend you to explore if you have time in your hand. These worthwhile places are – Paso Robles, La Cuesta Encantada, Big Sur Taphouse, Henry Miller Memorial Library, Piedras Blancas Light Station, and Point Sur State Historic Park. Indeed, the Big Sur road trip itself is an enriching experience.
Where to Stay in Big Sur?
In this Big Sur itinerary, you will find different styles of accommodation, from budget-friendly luxury resorts, hotels to adventurous camping options. For camping, choose Fernwood Campgrounds and Pfeiffer State Park.
Recommended Read: 10 Best Places to Camp in Southern California
Here are two hotels which have friendly staff, modern features, and amenities, and I would suggest booking any of these for a comfortable stay.
- Big Sur Lodge: From Monterey Peninsula Airport, it is 37.4 km and offers an outdoor pool, a restaurant, and a bar. The rooms are spacious and have received 4 stars.
- Fernwood Resort: It is 36 km From Monterey Peninsula Airport and offers a comfortable room with mountain views and a Pacific ocean view.
If you are a budget traveler, check out our crazy tips on how to book cheap accommodations.
Where to Eat in Big Sur?
After a Big Sur road trip or exploring Big Sur for the whole day you need good delicious food. Big Sur isn’t a cheap place. But can you stop eating? Therefore, you can choose any of these places to enjoy your dining experience and surprise your taste buds. These are –
- Deetjen’s: With English décor and a cozy fireplace they serve the best eggs benedict, homemade granola, and seafood.
2. Nepenthe: It offers the best view of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur coast and serves roast chicken, beef steaks, and Ambrosia burgers.
What to Pack for Big Sur?
- Active wears because you need them for outdoor hiking, swimming, and biking.
- Good quality waterproof hiking boots and hiking jacket.
- A sturdy colorful flip flops
- A sun hat and sunglasses.
- A water-based sunscreen
- A light jack or a turtle neck warmers for the evening, because the temperature can fall by 4-5 degrees
- A raincoat and an umbrella
- Get the best synthetic shorts that dry soon and other basic tops
Big Sur Travel Tips:
- Hotels and restaurants in Big Sur are expensive. Therefore, camping and roadside eateries like cafes are relatively cheap. Staying at Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey are very cheap compared to Big Sur.
- The weather in Big Sur changes frequently. In summers it will be foggy, and windy in the morning. Sometimes it rains for the whole day or sometimes it feels so chill. Therefore, check the temperature and weather conditions before visiting.
- There is no mobile service available on the Big Sur Highway 1, so be smart and download the offline Google map.
- Before visiting any hiking trail, check their website for their open or closure information.
- Fill your tank and also carry petrol with you because you will only find gas stations in Monterey, Carmel and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There is no gas station before that.
FAQ – Big Sur Itinerary
1. How many days do you need in Big Sur?
A: I would recommend you to spend 2-3 days in Big Sur to explore the hiking trails, beaches, and beautiful towns.
2. Is Big Sur safe for female solo travelers?
A: Big Sur is pretty safe for female solo travelers. It is one of the safest places to travel alone in the US.
3. Is Big Sur worth the drive?
A: Big Sur is very worthy for road trips, it offers you to experience nature with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, sandy beaches, towering redwoods, scary green hills, and clean air.
4. What should you not miss in Big Sur?
A: Big Sur is one of the most scenic coastal places in California. You should visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Sand Dollar Beach, Sur Light Station, and Creek Bridge.