“We could just keep going. We don’t have to stop.” – Anonymous
That’s exactly how I felt once I got down to Big Sur. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to see more of what the road had in store.
That’s because the drive down to Big Sur is along the famous coastal Highway 1. And trust me, it’s a road trip you’ll always remember. The drive is not only stunning, but the route itself is quite exciting. You’re driving around sharp corners. And there is only a thin guardrail keeping you from plummeting into the ocean below. It really gets your adrenaline going.
But that’s what’s so exciting about it. Because around each corner, you get a new, even more, beautiful view of the California coast.
There are several routes from San Francisco that you can take to get to Big Sur. Most are much faster than taking Highway 1, but far less beautiful. So, I’d recommend taking the extra hour or so to explore the coastal highway. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
And that gets me to the good stuff. Here is my road trip guide of must-visits on your drive to Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway. Enjoy!
Shark Fin Cove
Before you get into the city limits of Santa Cruz, make a quick stop near the small town of Davenport, CA. Here you will find a hidden cove that features a rock in the shape of a shark fin. It’s so cool!
After Davenport, you’ll be driving for awhile. So, Monterey is definitely a good place to stop and take a little break. You’ll want to head over to Old Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s full of shops, restaurants, art galleries and more! Plus, there are sleepy sea lions and pelicans hanging around. So get your camera ready.
And while you’re there, you MUST grab a bowl of their clam chowder. It’s SO good.
Pacific Grove, CA
After your adventures in Monterey, make sure to stop in Pacific Grove.
Stop at Lovers Point Beach and dip your toes in the cool water. Then, enjoy a little beach walk as you make your way to the staircase that brings you up to Lovers Point Park.
I found out pretty quickly why it’s call Lovers Point. I mean, look at this couple. I was compelled to take a photo of them because I thought they looked so sweet. They had brought a lunch, sat down together on this bench, and just enjoyed the view. And each other.
If you’re brave (and have sturdy shoes on), head out to Lovers Point. You’ll have to climb a few crumbling rocks, but it has a spectacular view of Monterey Bay.
For a fun surprise, keep walking the path from Lovers Point that follows the coastline. You’ll see why this a must-do on my list. Because for almost three miles you’ll see pops of purple flowers bunched together along the coastline. This is Marine Gardens Park. Do a quick Google search. It’s spectacular.
17-Mile Scenic Drive
You don’t quite realize it at the time, but from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach (and beyond), you’ve started on the scenic 17-Mile Drive. You’ll see glimpses of the famous golf course and Spanish Bay. But those landmarks are not the main attraction. That, my friends, is the Lone Cypress.
The Cypress is not only beautiful, but it has an amazing story of perseverance. It’s almost 250 years old, and yet it has survived being set on fire. Plus, the Monterey Cypress is native only in Pebble Beach and the Point Lobos headland. Cool, right?
Alright, now get ready to fall in love with the city of Carmel-By-The-Sea. With fairytale cottages and a charming downtown, you’ll want to spend an hour (or two) just walking around. I, unfortunately, was short on time. So I didn’t get to explore the city. I guess that means I’ll just have to go back. Dang. 😉
Before you leave Carmel, make a quick stop at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. It’s a mouthful, but a must-see. Founded in 1771, the Basilica is a National Historic Landmark. It’s a beautiful church with an adjoining garden.
My favorite part, of course, were the gardens.
Oh, and just outside of Carmel, be on the lookout for the cutest General Store. The Carmel Highlands General Store, that is. Pop in, grab a few snacks, and of course, take a photo.
It’s hard to actually tell when you’ve officially arrived in Big Sur. There’s not a sign. And it’s not a city. It’s more of a stretch of land along the coast. BUT you know you’re getting close when you come across Bixby Creek Bridge.
You’ve surely seen it in car commercials. It’s a beautiful scene. But to actually see it in real life is another thing. These pictures don’t do it justice.
Another stop: The Big Sur Bakery. Grab a beer, a slice (or two) of wood-fired pizza and enjoy this little joint to the fullest. Quick story: I actually met the owner. He served me on the day that I stopped in. He couldn’t believe that I was traveling by myself and for that, he made me feel extra special. I don’t recall his name, but he made my day. I’ll definitely stop in again, kind stranger.
Alright, let’s get to hiking, shall we? First up is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
This, too, is another place that I need to get back to. I didn’t get to spend a ton of time here, but I did get to see Whalers Cove and China Cove.
I was in the park super early, so Whalers Cove was quite lovely. The softness of the morning sun was hitting the water just right.
I had finished my hike just as a group of scuba divers arrived. Fun fact: There are coves and reefs under the beautiful water of Whalers Cove. I thought that was pretty cool.
My favorite spot in Point Lobos was China Cove. The water there is an amazing emerald blue. It’s like that gorgeous blue you see when you’re vacationing in the Tropics.
There’s a hidden beach along the China Cove trail that you might be able to access. If it’s closed, however, it’s for a good reason. The sea lions have decided to make it their own (nice choice, right?). As such, the park has decided to restrict hiker access during pupping season.
BUT there are trails around the cove that you can check out. All give you an overhead view of the beach and the emerald waters below. Just look how beautiful it is.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
I swear, one day, I’ll make it onto that picturesque little beach and enjoy the waterfall from up close.
Another must-see? Pfeiffer State Beach. It’s a little hard to get to, but you won’t regret making the trip. Why? Because the sand is purple!
There you have it! My recommendations for places to check out while on a road trip down to Big Sur. And just to be clear, this can’t all be done in one day. I’d recommend taking the entire weekend (if not longer) to do all the above.
Oh, by the way, on my second trip to Big Sur, we drove down in a little red Ferrari. Not bad. Not bad at all. 😉
Let’s go places,
What’s your favorite spot or hike in Big Sur? Share with us in the comments section below.
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