Big Sur Road Trip: Must-See Stops + Road Trip Essentials

Whether you’re planning your first visit to the Golden State or you’ve been longing for a weekend getaway, Big Sur is the ultimate road trip destination in California.  Big Sur, Yosemite, and Joshua Tree are some of my favorite road trip experiences in California.

If you’re searching for adventure, always take the scenic route.

Regardless of where you start your Big Sur road trip, embrace the Pacific Ocean coastal views, rugged landscape, and must-stop sites along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

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Bixby Creek Bridge

Overview: Big Sur California Coast Road Trip 

Highway 1 or State Route 1 runs along California’s coastline. Whether you start your road trip from San Francisco and head South or Los Angeles and head North, give yourself plenty of time so you get the best road trip experience. Big Sur stretches 90 miles (144 km) from San Simeon to Carmel-by the sea along the coast. 

  • Los Angeles to Big Sur: 295 miles (474 km) 
  • San Francisco to Big Sur: 146 miles (234 km) 

Weather: California has a comfortable temperature year-round. Peak season is between April to October, during Summer and Fall. If you want to avoid large crowds, the best time to visit Big Sur is September and November. 

How much time you need in Big Sur depends on your traveling style. If you only have 1-2 days for your road trip, you’ll probably feel rushed and may want to skip some of the lookouts. If you’ve got more time, embrace slow travel, set up camp, and check out some of the hikes in the area. 

Big Sur Girls Trip
Big Sur Girls’ Trip

Where to Stay in Big Sur 

Ventana Big Sur is an adults-only luxury resort in the middle of the forest. Whether you’re after the 5-star treatment or glamping, Ventana Big Sur is in a prime location near all the top Big Sur highlights. The resort features two heated pools and a Japanese hot bath.

Big Sur River Inn is a beautiful resort located on the Big Sur River featuring a pool, restaurant, and General Store.

Big Sur Lodge is a rustic lodge located in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It’s near all the top sites and a tranquil escape in a redwood forest. Budget/Camping 

Ventana Campground – We brought our own tent and stayed in a redwood forest at Ventana Campground. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and water faucets nearby. The bathhouses are located nearby and have coin-operated heated showers. 

How to Plan Your Big Sur Road Trip 

There are a few things to keep in mind before embarking on this iconic drive. 

  • Cell reception can be limited in certain areas. 
  • Download google maps on your phone or use a real map just in case you don’t get any service. 
  • Landslides in Big Sur can happen when it’s raining. Plan your trip around the weather. 
  • Road Trip Food: Pack a cooler full of snacks and water. Some businesses close certain times of the year. Be prepared, so you don’t get hangry. 
McWay Falls

What to do in Big Sur – Top Spots and Lookouts 

  • Add McWay Falls to your Big Sur bucket list in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s a short hike to get to the lookout to see this 80-foot waterfall flowing directly onto the beach. It’s one of my favorite spots in Big Sur and worth a quick visit. 
  • Explore Big Sur River Gorge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Bring your bathing suit and swim in a pool of clear river water in a granite-walled gorge. 
  • Bixby Creek Bridge is hard to miss. It’s one of the most iconic and most photographed sites in Big Sur. This bridge was completed in 1932 and towers 79 meters above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. 
  • Andrew Molera State Park – Stretch your legs and enjoy the view. Take the trail to the beach, but keep in mind that conditions here can be hazardous, so it’s not ideal for swimming. 
  • If you’re feeling hungry, stop by Big Sur Bakery for coffee, breakfast, and a candied bacon bow tie.
  • Want to Scuba? Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of the richest marine habitats in California. Look for seals, sea lions, sea otters and migrating gray whales from December to May.

Road Trip Essentials: Here’s What to Pack for a Comfy Trip 

You’ll be surprised how quickly your car fills up with all your road trip essentials. When it comes to what outfits to bring, pack light. Here are a few tips for what to pack for a weekend getaway or a week-long adventure. 

Comfortable Travel Clothes – Think about how much time you’ll be spending in the car. Opt for loose-fitting clothing, leggings, or shorts that won’t start to get uncomfortable an hour into your road trip.

Outerwear – In Big Sur, the fog can roll in and start to get chilly. Whether you bring a hoodie or jacket, it’s always a smart idea to be prepared. A fleece also provides a warm layer.

Adventure Gear – When it comes to hiking, I prefer to wear long yoga pants. It also helps protect my legs from any potential bug bites, sunburns, or scratches from the trail.

Hiking Boots – Trails vary from easy to strenuous, and some can get muddy and slippery. Invest in a quality pair of hiking boots. If you’re breaking in a new pair, wear them at home to avoid getting blisters on your first hike. 

Swimwear – I always pack a swimsuit in my travel bag.

Water Bottle – Carry all the water you need in a reusable water bottle or CamelBak.  


Adventure is calling, pack your bags and drive to Highway 1 for the ultimate Big Sur road trip.

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US National Park Guides: 

Highway 1 road trip

8 thoughts on “Big Sur Road Trip: Must-See Stops + Road Trip Essentials”

  1. We’ve driven Hwy 1 through Big Sur (gorgeous!) and saw Bixby Creek Bridge but didn’t know about the other top spots in the area.

    Gotta go back and do some more exploring! Adding the State Parks to my to-do list for next time we make the drive along the Coast of California. Thanks for sharing!

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