California Coast Road Trip: Big Sur

Big Sur is the crown jewel of California. It’s on everyone’s list of must-see regions when tackling the famous Pacific Coast Highway and there’s tons to do and see.

Here, we’re sharing our tips and tricks to have the best possible visit to Big Sur. 

Big Sur road trip

Spend the day

When stopping in Big Sur, some people make the mistake of only planning a quick pit stop in the region. If you can, it’s definitely advisable to spend the entire day there.

With so much to see and quite a large area to cover, you’ll be kicking yourself for not slowing down and enjoying your surroundings. 

You don’t necessarily even need to stay overnight in Big Sur. After all, things can get pricey. But you will want a full 12 hours to feel like it was worth the stop. 

Plan ahead

In many parts of the Big Sur region, cell reception is off the table. So, forget Google Maps or calling your hotel for directions. 

That means, you’ll need to plan your route ahead of time, book dinner reservations in advance, and figure out which hiking trails are open before you arrive.

Be aware that accommodations can be pricey

Big Sur has spectacular, yet expensive, hotels. In such a coveted area, accommodation can seem out of the question. However, if you want to have the ultimate Big Sur experience for just a night plan a stay at Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Inn and Spa.

For more affordable accommodation Treebones Resort and Airbnb also have great options. 

Stay closer to each end of Big Sur, both north and south, for better deals, too. Hotels in Monterey or Carmel are likely to be much less expensive than the spots right in Big Sur. Plus, the drive into the region is gorgeous so it could be a win-win situation.

Don’t try to find the perfect spot

There are so many incredible parts of Big Sur. After all, it’s a region, not a town. So, trying to find somewhere to stay in the perfect location that’s close to every hot spot is a waste of time.

There’s so much to see in Big Sur – the Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Point Sur State Historic Park, Ragged Point, the list goes on – and they’re scattered all along the coast. 

So, accept that you may have to drive a bit to see everything on your list no matter where you set up camp.

As secluded as it is, there are many tourists

When you see the photos of Big Sur, it seems like an untouched wonderland that’s totally remote and secluded. And while not many people live there, it’s certainly teeming with tourists. After all, it’s one of the top spots to visit while driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

Of course, it’s not going to be as crowded as Disneyland or Times Square, but you should be ready for a bit of traffic and potential strangers in your selfies. Understanding that Big Sur can be full of tourists will give you a more realistic expectation going into your Big Sur road trip.

Visit Big Sur during September or October

So, even though Big Sur can be a touristy area year-round, its busiest time is during the summer months. Sure, the weather in Big Sur from June to August is definitely gorgeous but, it can be just as nice once fall rolls around.

Plus, coastal fog is a major issue during the summer months and it can linger well into the afternoon on some days. So, in reality, Big Sur in autumn is your best bet for not only fewer crowds, but clearer skies. 

Plus, during the winter months and through to spring, many businesses in Big Sur operate with off-peak hours. This is just another reason why visiting in September or October is the best time to go. 

Pay to see the good stuff

When it comes to some of Big Sur’s major highlights, fees are sometimes charged in order to hike the trail or take the photo. While this might initially be infuriating, let’s think about it for a moment.

Big Sur is such a tourist hot spot because it’s undeniably stunning. How does it stay that way? Through the help of the people who protect it and make sure it’s well-kept. Those people need to make money too. And that’s what you’re paying for when you “buy” entry to a hike in Big Sur.

Don’t worry – it’ll only cost you between 5 and 10 dollars. 

Get off the beaten path

With that said, there are also many little-known spots in the Big Sur area that won’t cost you a dime. And since they’re off the beaten path, they’re often less crowded, too. You might even venture off Highway 1 entirely and drive through Narrow Palo Colorado Road instead.

You’ll stumble across redwoods and quaint cottages or remote valleys that are unbelievably uninhabited by humans. You’ll forget you’re even in California!

Try the food in Big Sur

For a place teeming with tourists, you might expect the restaurants to be average. But, in fact, Big Sur has some incredible food options throughout the region. Some popular spots include:

  • Nepenthe
  • Cafe Kevah
  • Deetjens
  • Big Sur Roadhouse
  • Big Sur Lodge Ice Cream
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Sierra Mar Restaurant
  • The Restaurant at Ventana

Beware: Dining out in Big Sur can burn a hole in your pocket. Again, it’s a tourist town so they’re able to jack up the prices quite a bit. But, it’s worth the splurge if you’re only in town for a day or two.

Store your luggage

Finally, one of the best tips we could offer about visiting Big Sur is to securely store your luggage

Especially for backpackers, solo travelers, and day-trippers, storing your stuff is essential since you definitely won’t want to be carrying your massive backpack while checking out McWay Falls

Plus, with so many tourists around, it’s probably not the best to keep everything in your car either.


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