Big Sur Road Trip on Highway 1

“I had forgotten how beautiful this place is,” I find myself saying to a new friend during our Big Sur road trip on the coast of central California. I don’t know how I could have forgotten, but it’s been a few years since I’ve driven this far down Highway 1. Plus, Big Sur looks different all the time. As clouds come in from the sea and shift over the land, they open and close portals of sunlight. Fortunately for us, the thick clouds of that morning had shifted to a thin fog that occasionally opened, allowing blue sky to peek through and sunlight to shine on these gorgeous hills.

Tips for a Big Sur road trip

Here are some tips for a Big Sur road trip on Highway 1:

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

Any drive to Big Sur should include a long stop at Point Lobos State Reserve for hiking and wildlife viewing.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

We spent three hours hiking in the northern part of Point Lobos, first to Whalers Cove and Whalers Cabin, then up and down hills of the North Shore Trail to look for baby seals and sea otters (baby seals are easily spotted there in the spring)…

Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My Happiness

…, and finally to Headland Cove, in the center of the park. I’ve been to Point Lobos three times; each time it’s a different experience because there is SO much to see there.

Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My Happiness

After Point Lobos, Highway 1 is curvy, and when there’s traffic, the drive can be slow, but that’s OK. On one of the country’s most beautiful drives, there should be no rush. There are a number of blind turns so make sure your vehicle is in proper working order before taking this road trip and you have good car insurance with roadside assistance should anything happen. That way you can sit back, relax, and take in the views … Just check out the color of the water as seen from the passenger side window!

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

Just about 20 minutes down Highway 1 is the famous Bixby Bridge.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

After passing the bridge, there are places to pull over and take photos and maybe even watch an artist recreate the scene.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

Like most of the California coast, this area is filled with the reds, oranges, and purples of ice plant that grows like a weed all over the hills. Plan for time to pull over and take walks along the way.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

A little farther down Highway 1 is the Big Sur Roadhouse, which I highly recommend adding to your Big Sur road trip.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

The restaurant’s contemporary yet rustic look is striking. It was designed by San Francisco designer Steve Justrich, who’s known for “homegrown modernism.” The stylish outdoor patio has firepits and warmers to keep diners comfortable.

The food at Big Sur Roadhouse is a fun combination of California and Cajun. The chef, who’s from New Orleans, uses only local, organic ingredients for the seasonal menus, which include dishes like kale Caesar salad, po’ boy sandwiches, and red beans and grits. It’s open all day starting at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and small bites in between meals.

A Big Sur Road Trip | This Is My

**Update: A section of Highway 1 is closed for 2017. The Pfeifeer Canyon Bridge failed after one of the winter storms in February. Find out more about how California weather affects travel for 2017 and check the status of road closures here.

Another must-stop is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls. Be prepared for lots of people making their way there, too, and don’t be surprised that you can’t actually walk down to the waterfall–there’s a short hiking trail that begins just inside the state park and goes to the overlook. The waterfall is 80 feet high and runs year round.

Photo credit: Dawn Ellner on Flickr

Photo credit: Dawn Ellner on Flickr

Have you driven down Highway 1 through Big Sur? What are some of your favorite drives?

More on the Monterey Bay area:

Wine Tasting in Carmel

A Weekend in Monterey

Carmel-by-the-Sea in Photos

Point Lobos: The Greatest Meeting of Land and Water?

The Carmel Mission in Photos

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

Join me on Pinterest and Instagram for more travel and design inspiration, and check out more photo travel inspiration on “Friday Postcards” on Walking on Travels.


  • Simon says:

    I really really really want to come back to the USA and explore California. Last time I came (a few years back, now) I focused on Utah, Arizona and Nevada and saw very little of California, excepted San Diego.

    In fact, California never was on my radar since I mostly associate it with Los Angeles and you made me discover a totally different side.

    Definitely have to envisage a road trip soon!
    Simon recently posted..Porretta Terme: Hot Springs, Pretty Town and a Scenic RailwayMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      With your love of adventure, you will love California! It’s so big and diverse that places like San Diego and LA are just a tiny percentage of what the state has to offer.

  • Just wow. Few places in the world are as stirring to me as Big Sur. I always think of that Henry Miller quote where he said it was the first place he learned to say Amen. To which of course I say Amen. Yep, it’s dramatic beauty approaches the spiritual. Next time you venture down, I highly recommend you seek out Partington Cove if you haven’t already. If Big Sur is the church, that scenic spot is the altar. (Too much? Sorry. But hey, it is Sunday right?)
    Garrick Ramirez recently posted..Mid-Century Gem: The Pearl HotelMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for this fun comment. 🙂 And I haven’t heard of Partington Cove, so thank you for the tip. Adding it to my list for my next visit down there.

  • Tricia says:

    Looks stunning, Jenna! My husband and father have raved about their respective Highway 1 adventures, but I have yet to see much of California. Shawn and I did a road-trip along the Oregon Coast two summers ago, and the CA landscape looks equally beautiful.

    Like you, I also enjoying seeing artists’ interpretations of particular places. The scene you’ve captured here reminds me of a moment in Prague, when an artist was doing a watercolor of the Prague Castle in sepia tones.
    Tricia recently posted..Escaping to Marjan Hill, the ‘Lungs of Split’ CroatiaMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      I haven’t driven the OR coast yet, but I will fairly soon because my dad lives in Seattle part time. You’ll love exploring the rest of CA!

  • The Guy says:

    I can see why this place appeals so much, such a dramatic and windy sculptured coastline is fun to view and drive.

    It is nearly 20 years since I was in this area and this sort of thing makes me wonder when I’ll next be back.

    Nice tip on the restaurant too. Opening at 7:30 is great for those wanting to make a quick start to use the day to the full.
    The Guy recently posted..Angel Of The North – 20 Interesting Facts You May Not KnowMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      You should come back. The area is so wonderful, and the wildlife is doing extremely well there. It’s heartening to see.

  • One of my favorite drives. I lived in Monterey for a couple of years and was fortunate to visit Big Sur often, even flying down the coast in a small plane. I loved going to Pfeiffer State Park beach, especially when the whales were migrating.

    Have you ever driven the dirt road just a little inland?
    McCool Travel recently posted..Would You Fly 1,000,000 Miles in a Year?My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Lucky you to have lived there. I have wondered if we could move there and find work. I love it so.
      I have not driven that dirt road and didn’t even know it existed. I will look into it. Thanks for the tip!

  • Vid says:

    Hey Jenna,

    We have heard so much about the drive through Big Sur from our friends who live in California 🙂 We (or at least I) still need a few bruises from The U.S.A on my passport – planning a road trip in 2015.

    Love the pictures, especially of the guy painting – must be so charming.

    Vid recently posted..The Ultimate Road Trip in Iceland : An ItineraryMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      A U.S. road trip, especially one that includes California, is a travel must. I hope you can spend a couple of days in the Big Sur area. It’s just wonderful!

  • Joseff says:

    Now, that is indeed one gorgeous piece of highway. I just love that photo you posted. There’s peace and beauty that can make my life complete while looking at that photo and it would be very perfect if I visit Point Lobos, Highway and explore more amazing places near that. Thanks for sharing this, I hope to visit this place soon.

  • I love coastal road-trips. These pictures reminds me of the Great Ocean in Australia’s southeast.
    Danielle (Bubs on the Move) recently posted..Walking with giants. Tasmania’s Tahune AirwalkMy Profile

  • Beautiful post! I’m also a CA native, and when I lived on the East Coast, we did a slow, leisurely trip up Hwy 1 to cure my homesickness. Stops for Morro Rock, Cambria wine tasting, and Cannery Row along the way.
    Rebecca Gomez Farrell recently posted..Burger Joints of Hayward #2: Best BurgerMy Profile

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