search Buscar

    Big Sur: the thousand wonders of the central coast of California

    Who I am
    Lluis Enric Mayans

    Item Feedback:

    content warning

    On the central coast of California, close to the Pacific, is one of the scenic roads of the United States best known in the world, an impressive stretch punctuated by wild overhanging cliffs, which rise above the impetuous and roaring sea at a height between 500 and 1.000 meters. What are we talking about? Of the coast of Big Sur, the most famous scenic byway in America.


    • First of all: what is Big Sur?
    • How to get to Big Sur
      • Give Los Angeles to Big Sur
      • Give San Francisco to Big Sur
    • Photo Big Sur
    • What to see in Big Sur? Itinerary of points of interest
      • The panoramic points
      • The main excursions
      • The beaches of Big Sur
      • Whales and sea lions: where to see them?
      • Something unexpected ...
    • Where to stop and eat
    • Where to sleep in Big Sur

    First of all: what is Big Sur?

    The coastal stretch extends on the legendary Highway 1 for over 150 km, squeezed between the borders of 2 other Californian coastal pearls: Hearst Castle to the south and the upscale town of Carmel to the north. However, the term Big Sur does not only refer to the scenic route, but to a real one regione, of which the famous sea cliffs represent only a portion.

    In fact, the area extends for 32 km inland and includes numerous natural parks, protected areas, beaches and forests, proving to be a tourist destination suitable not only for on the road lovers who are content to admire the panoramic views from the car, but also for those who love hiking trails and, why not, even the most romantic moments.

    How to get to Big Sur

    Driving directions are simple. The Big Sur area is in fact located more or less in the center of the Californian coast, and to get there, whether you are coming from San Francisco or Los Angeles, just make sure you take the Highway 1 (also known as Pacific Coast Highway); all of a sudden you will see hairpin bends and winding streets opening up on the horizon opening onto wonderful views: only then will you know that you have arrived!

    You can choose to travel the whole of Highway 1, whether you are coming from the north or the south, but beware of travel times, which are considerably longer than the faster internal roads that go from Los Angeles to San Francisco and vice versa. If you are interested in doing only this stretch of road, follow the advice below:

    Give Los Angeles to Big Sur

    • Fastest way: Follow 101 to San Luis Obispo, then take Highway 1 and continue along the road along the coast, you will pass Morro Bay, Cambria and Hearst Castle before spotting the dizzying switchbacks of Big Sur.

    View Larger Map

    • Scenic road along the coast: Take Highway 1 from Los Angeles, past Santa Monica and Malibu, a well-known location that we covered in the article on what to see in Malibu. After Point Mugu State Park, Highway 1 will take you a short distance inland to Ventura. From there you will return to the coast, pass 2 beautiful coastal towns such as Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach and then continue towards San Luis Obispo. From that point the itinerary is the same as the one above.

    View Larger Map

    Give San Francisco to Big Sur

    • Fastest way: Head south from San Francisco passing Daly City, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto and San Jose. Continue on Highway 101, after approximately 97 miles take 156 West towards Monterey Peninsula and continue on Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur.

    View Larger Map

    • Panoramic itinerary along the coast: From San Francisco take Highway 1 and follow it until it brings you to your destination. You will pass through areas of wild and unspoiled nature, but you will also have the opportunity to visit the interesting places of Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and the scenic route 17 Mile Drive.

    View Larger Map

    Photo Big Sur

    What to see in Big Sur? Itinerary of points of interest

    The possible destinations in this limited stretch of coast are many more than is believed. Listing them all is an undertaking at the limits of the possible. Here I insert the main ones, more than enough to fully enjoy Big Sur, the main ones things to see displayed first on map and then in detail.

    The panoramic points

    Along the entire coastal path you will find numerous panoramic pitches where you can stop to admire the view, so you will have opportunities to admire the surroundings!

    The most famous road passage in all of Big Sur is certainly that of Bixby Creek Bridge, known more simply as Bixby Bridge, bridge built in 1932, 85 meters high, which reveals remarkable scenic views.

    Another unmissable panoramic point is Stitch On Lighthouse, where you will find one of the most famous lighthouses in California (if you want you can enter and visit it), a very fascinating observation point to admire the whole surrounding area.

    The main excursions

    More than 80 trails are available in the Big Sur area daily excursions, some that have as their final destination the panoramic view of the ocean, others that will take you to explore the wildest wooded meanders of the area. Here are 2 short hikes that are really worth a stop:

    • McWay Falls Overlook Trail (Paid Parking): Drive up to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, next to the parking lot begins a short path (just over 1km) which, passing through a tunnel under Highway 1, will lead you to a spectacular cliff. Right here you will find the falls McWay Falls, which plummet 25 meters to the beach often forming rainbows, and an ideally positioned bench to admire the view and, if you happen to be in March or April, the whales!
    • Partington Cove Trail: less traveled but equally fascinating excursion. Also in this case it is a rather fast walk (one mile long) even if slightly steeper, which from Highway 1 leads downwards, crossing a tree-lined canyon and a historic wooden tunnel, to the isolated and scenic beach of Partington Cove.

    The beaches of Big Sur

    Sometimes the cold currents make the beaches in the area not exactly ideal for bathers, however they are wonderful beaches that are worth visiting in any case. The most deserving destination is certainly the scenographic Pfeiffer Beach which, with the particular coloring of the sand, the suggestive stacks and the unbeatable sunsets, is certainly to be considered one of the most beautiful beaches in California.

    Parking is paid (arrive early in the morning) and be careful as cars parked on the street are usually taken away. If you are looking for a wide and less windy beach, take a look instead Sand Dollar Beach.

    Whales and sea lions: where to see them?

    The Big Sur area also offers unexpected wildlife encounters: the humpback whale, whales famous for their "acrobatics" on the surface of the water, migrate regularly in the Monterey Bay area and its surroundings and are usually sighted in the period from late April to early December. One of the points in Big Sur where they are observed with some regularity is in the area near the intersection of Partington Ridge and Highway One even if, potentially, any panoramic glimpse can be the right occasion!

    To see the Sea lions you will actually have to cross the Big Sur border, continuing south towards San Simeon. Shortly after passing the lighthouse of Point Piedras Blancas, you will find a sign (Vista Point) announcing a panoramic point (complete with parking) where you can admire many beached sea lions up close. If you are using Google Maps write Elephant Seal Vista Point on the GPS, the distance from Big Sur Station is approximately 94 km.

    Something unexpected ...

    One would expect everything in these parts except to find a hermitage of Camaldolese friars… and instead it is so. Located in a beautiful panoramic position, the New Camaldoli Hermitage (official site) is open to visits, with the possibility of buying artisan products and food.

    Where to stop and eat

    From Andrew Molera State ParkPfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the Big Sur Village, a small settlement where you can find shops, businesses and accommodation. The most suggestive place to eat, however, is the restaurant nepenthe, the opportunity to dine on a romantic panoramic terrace while admiring the sunset.

    Where to sleep in Big Sur

    The accommodations at the Village, especially in summer, always fill up well in advance, so the advice is to book online as soon as possible and not to look for a room directly on the spot.

    If you are looking for a special experience you can look for the Post Ranch Inn, perched 1200 feet above the Pacific, like a window that opens to the ocean on clear days. Even on less bright days, this place continues to breathe a unique atmosphere, with traditional wood-burning stoves and indoor thermal baths included in all 30 available rooms. On the opposite side of the highway, Ventana Inn offers the same impression of being in the middle of nature.

    For those looking for a characteristic stay, a good solution is also the Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. This historic inn has been open since 1930 and the rooms offer classic period comfort, enhanced by antiques. Equally popular is the inn's restaurant, which offers hearty breakfasts every morning. To find accommodation in the area and better organize your itinerary, you can also read my tips on where to sleep between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    Below you will find a list of accommodation facilities in the area:

    List of hotels in Big Sur on Booking

    List of hotels in Big Sur on Hotelscombined

    add a comment from Big Sur: the thousand wonders of the central coast of California
    Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.