Big Sur Coast Road Trip

Back in February, I had some time off between jobs, and Greyson and I were able to go on an amazing road trip along the Big Sur Coast. We drove from Truckee to Big Sur, driving down Highway One as far as we could go. Until recently, the road ended near Gorda, due to the massive landslide, so that’s where we stopped. We stayed a few days in Big Sur, then drove up to Santa Cruz to visit friends and family before heading home.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

This trip inspired me  to plan a three-day Big Sur Coast Road Trip itinerary – from Monterey, California down to Gorda and back. This road trip would work great as a long weekend, but now that I’ve experienced Big Sur during the week, I have to recommend that if you’re able to swing it.  I’ve always had a great experience in Big Sur in late winter, so I’d go then as well, but you’re more likely to get storms than a summer trip, but there will be fewer crowds. Quick note about Big Sur parks – some of the state parks are managed by outside vendors, so your State Parks Pass won’t work at all of them and you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. Bring your pass, but beware of that!

Big Sur Road Trip Route
Map via Google Maps

Day One: Monterey to Lucia
While you’re in Monterey, check out the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a major tourist destination, but for good reason. Spend some time on their deck – I’ve seen everything from otters to humpback whales. Cannery Row is pretty touristy, but fun to check out at least once. There’s actually a lot to do in Monterey, and if you have extra time, it’s worth adding on a day to explore – especially if you’re into John Steinbeck.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Head south on Highway One towards the tiny town of Lucia. You’ll drive through the thick redwood forest of northern Big Sur (don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to explore this area) before popping out in the more open oak woodlands characteristic of the central coast. It’s about an hour and a half drive to Lucia from Monterey, but be sure to keep your eyes out for whale spouts in the Pacific – we saw dozens when we were driving down in February. Less than 20 miles from Monterey you’ll arrive at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. There’s a large pull out area on the north side of the bridge, so it’s easy to stop and take photos. Otter related fact: Bixby Creek is where the last remaining population of southern sea otters was found in the 70s, when they were thought to be extinct!

Bixby Creek Bridge // tahoefabulous.com

There are a few lodging options near Lucia. I’ve camped at Limekiln State Park and Kirk Creek campground. Both are great and fill up fast, so be sure to get reservations ahead of time. Limekiln has a slight advantage with beach access, though. There are also some non-camping lodging options including the Lucia Lodge, glamping at Treebones Resort, and the super fancy Esalen Hot Springs retreat center.

Limekiln Park View // tahoefabulous.com
View from Limekiln State Park Campground

For meals, I’d suggest bringing a picnic dinner to eat on the beach or at a scenic cliff – charcuterie and sauvignon blanc on Limekiln Beach at sunset is one of my top ten meals of all time. If you’re looking for a restaurant, both the Lucia Lodge and Treebones have restaurants that are open to non-guests and Whale Watchers Cafe is a restaurant in Gorda.

Big Sur Picnic // tahoefabulous.com

Day Two: Explore Big Sur
If you’re up early, morning is the best time to take photos of the iconic McWay Falls. McWay Falls is one of only two California waterfalls to pour directly on the beach. It’s got to be one of the most photographed spots on the Big Sur Coast, but it’s worth the hike to the view point. While people occasionally do hike down to the falls and the beach, there is no developed trail and it’s an incredibly dangerous undertaking. Stick to the walk to the viewpoint, the view is still incredible and you won’t die. If you don’t make it in the morning, and you want to take good photos, come back in the evening.

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is about 15 minutes north of McWay Falls and is quirky spot that’s worth a visit. It’s part bookstore/part performance venue/part museum.

“The Henry Miller Library is a public benefit, non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist, and Big Sur resident Henry Miller.  The Library also serves as a cultural resource center, functioning as a public gallery/performance/workshop space for artists, writers, musicians and students. In addition, the Library supports education in the arts and the local environment. Finally, the Library serves as a social center for the community…The Library hosts events throughout the year, but particularly in the summer months (May-October), including music, lectures, book signings, and countless community events…”

Another worthy stop is Pfeiffer Beach – this is a big sandy beach with a very recognizable sea arch. The walk from the parking to the beach is kind of long, but this would be another great spot for a picnic. If you’re looking for a quick snack and amazing coffee, stop by Big Sur Bakery or at Big Sur Taphouse for a bigger meal. There are also a ton of unique shops filled with local items, perfect for gifts or souvenirs.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

One of the best parts of the Big Sur Coast is that there are so many amazing view points. When you’re driving along, be sure to pull over and stop anywhere that looks appealing – you’ll be sure to see something spectacular. After your leisurely day exploring the coast, you’ll be ready to get a good night’s sleep, whether that’s on an inflatable mattress or in a super nice hotel bed. I’d recommend heading back towards where you stayed on night one since the drive is so short and scenic, but there are plenty of lodging options closer to the town of Big Sur.

Big Sur to Monterey
One of the best known restaurants in Big Sur is the ultra-fancy Nepenthe, but one of the best kept secrets in Big Sur is the fact that Nepenthe has a less ritzy breakfast and lunch restaurant called Cafe Kevah. Cafe Kevah’s menu is smaller (and less expensive), but you can eat out on their amazing deck – one of the best views on the Big Sur coast. I’d call it a good trade off and recommend waking up early enough on your last day to make it to breakfast here.

After a leisurely breakfast, head north to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Point Lobos is a spectacular part of the California State Parks system and a can’t miss stop on the drive between Big Sur and Monterey. Guided walks are available every day, or you can just wander around and see the sights. When we were there, the water was so clear in some coves that we could see the baby harbor seals swimming around. We also saw a bunch of sea otters – including a tiny baby tied up in the kelp! You can even SCUBA dive and snorkel in Point Lobos – more information here.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve // tahoefabulous.com

Point Lobos // tahoefabulous.com

Extend your last day with a final stop in Carmel by the Sea. This tiny and ritzy town is always worth a visit. Wander around the cute downtown and pop into a restaurant for lunch – chances are wherever you stop will be delicious. Monterey is only about a ten minute drive from Carmel, so savor your last glimpses of the ocean. With that, your road trip is complete!

I hope you like this new blog feature, and check back next week for a more inland, but just as epic road trip.

Five Amazing California Road Trips

Starting today, I’m launching a new blog feature that I’m excited to run for the rest of the summer – Road Trip Fridays. One of my best (and sadly underutilized at work) skills is road trip planning. In the past 4.5 years, Greyson and I have gone on some great road trips through California and beyond, and I’ve done the bulk of the planning. With Road Trip Fridays, I’m going to pass my best ideas on to you! I’ll cover the routes (including estimated mileage and time), sites to see, outdoor adventures to go on, and my favorite restaurants and breweries along the way.

Five Amazing California Road Trips // tahoefabulous.com

To kick things off, here are a few of my favorite California itineraries. I’ll be posting detailed trip routes throughout the summer, so keep watching. If you’re interested in a specific route and don’t see a detailed post, feel free to get in touch and I’ll help you out!

Big Sur Coast: One of the most classic California drives of all time is Highway One along the coast. While the whole thing is great, the stretch between Monterrey and Gorda is one of the most breathtaking drives you can take. Distance: 67 miles, 2 hours one way. While you can do the route in an afternoon, why would you want to? Take at least a weekend and savor the drive. Highlights along the way include Carmel by the Sea, Point Lobos Natural Reserve, and McWay Falls. Click here to see my Big Sur Coast Road Trip Guide.

Point Reyes to Redwood National and State Parks: In 2014, Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip from Point Reyes up the North Coast to Redwood National and State Parks. We camped on the beach in Fort Bragg, hiked some of the Lost Coast Trail from the remote Sinkyone State Park, and re-enacted The Lost World in Redwood National Park’s Fern Canyon. I’ve written up this trip in detail here, though it also includes our drive from Truckee and back home via Chico and Nevada City. The Point Reyes to Redwoods stretch is about 375 miles and 9.5 hours. Click here to read my North Coast California Road Trip Guide.

Lost Coast, #california

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Tahoe to Lone Pine on 395: The drive from Tahoe to Lone Pine along 395 will take you alongside the epic peaks of the Eastern Sierra. While the views alone are worth the drive, there are so many amazing places to stop, you can spend a week or more just on this stretch. It can be quite hot along this drive, so this is a perfect early spring or late fall road trip. It’s even great in the winter if you can handle potential snow around Mammoth Lakes. Stop for hot springs and ancient pines; skiing, climbing, or mountain biking; and surprisingly good food in tiny roadside towns. South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine is about 230 miles and 4.5 hours of driving. Click here to read my Eastern Sierra Road Trip Guide.

Santa Cruz to Point Reyes via Highway One: Sure, driving from Santa Cruz to Point Reyes taking Highway One the whole way isn’t the most efficient route, but it is the most scenic! You’ll pass by Pescadero (fresh goat cheese & artichoke bread), Half Moon Bay (views and seafood), scenic oases in San Francisco (Golden Gate Park and The Presidio), Stinson Beach (surfing and cheesy garlic bread), and much more. This drive is only a little over three hours and about 120 miles – I’d recommend doing it in a leisurely day and tack on a few days on either end. Click here to read my Highway One – Santa Cruz to Point Reyes Road Trip Guide.

#pigeonpoint on #hwy1

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Truckee to Mount Lassen: It’s no secret that I love the Lost Sierra – the stretch of the rural northern Sierra north of Truckee and extending up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. This route takes you from Truckee north on Highway 89, through the Sierra Valley, a quick side trip to the historic town of Downieville, and back toward Graeagle and along the Feather River, and finishing at one of the least visited National Parks in the continental US. I’d take at least five days for this trip, and the mileage is about 190 miles and four hours of driving time. Click here to see my Lost Sierra Road Trip Guide.

Took a detour to #lassen national park yesterday.

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There you go – five awesome road trips that you can take in California! Stay tuned for detailed routes, and I hope you like this series as much as I do.