3-Day Itinerary for a Breathtaking Big Sur Road Trip
Road Trip Travel
I'd long dreamt about driving across California's majestic Pacific Coast Highway, so it's no surprise that Big Sur was my first road trip destination after moving to Los Angeles last summer. Fresh off a cross-country move, I found tremendous solace and reflection across every mile of my drive. Towering redwoods, the vast ocean, and jagged cliffs didn't just offer views; they told stories, stirring emotions I hadn't expected. I left each stop even more grateful for making a big move, and with a more profound appreciation for the beauty of my new home state. Ready to uncover the best of Big Sur? Dive in and discover hikes, relaxation spots, eateries, and even some special Fora Partner stays!
The Fora Difference
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Where to stay
Carmel Valley Ranch
This 500-acre stunner is a one-stop playground for golf, farm adventures, spa time and top cuisine, all with epic Santa Lucia Mountains views.
Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability
Daily Full breakfast for two guests per bedroom
One $100 Hotel or Resort credit to be used during stay
Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Continental Breakfast Basket Delivered to room daily
$100 USD Resort credit, to be utilized during stay which can be used on retail, spa, food & beverage and golf at The Links at Spanish Bay or Del Monte Golf Course
ALiLa Ventana Big Sur
Just off the PCH, this newly all-inclusive and ever-romantic getaway is spread over 160 secluded acres.
$100 food / beverage or spa credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Unlock perks by contacting Romic to book your trip.
Day 1: On the road to Big Sur
I recommend starting your trip with a night or two in Monterey, Carmel, or Pebble Beach before embarking on the big drive. Upon arriving, I spent much of my first afternoon at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, wandering the extensive network trails and overlooks. From taking in cliffside views to sitting on the rocks as the waves roll in, Point Lobos is the perfect introduction to the stunning landscape of California's Central Coast.
Before dinner, roll down your windows and head out for a sunset cruise on the 17-mile drive. This scenic, winding road hugs numerous picnic areas, rocky beaches, and scenic overlooks within Pebble Beach. Stop and reflect by the Lone Cypress tree, pack a picnic, or perch yourself on the rocks as you watch the sunset Admission is $11.75 per vehicle. You'll have a long day of driving tomorrow, so enjoy a cozy dinner and get an early night's sleep.
Tips for Your Journey
If you can, I'd recommend starting your road trip from the North to easily pull over at the many scenic overlooks along Highway 1. Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach make a fantastic home base.
Make sure you've got a full tank of gas or, in my case, a full charge before hitting the road.
If you're prone to motion sickness, stock up on some Dramamine!
Check road closures and weather prior to your trip, as recent storms and changing conditions may impact your trip. I visited Big Sur in October and found autumn to be much sunnier and less foggy compared to my June road trip along the Mendocino Coast.
Day 2: Parks, beaches and dining
You'll want ample time to explore and go at your own pace, so get an early start to your day. If staying overnight within Big Sur, you may opt to spread these activities across two days.
After departing Pebble Beach, I enjoyed the quiet, misty morning with a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee at Carmel Valley Coffee before hitting the road.
One of the first landmarks and overlooks you'll see as you head south is the iconic Bixby Bridge. This landmark bridge may already be on your bucket list, especially if you're a fan of Big Little Lies. Pull over at one of the scenic overlooks leading up to the bridge, and soak up the views as you commemorate the start of your journey.
There are numerous state parks and hiking trails to spend the first part of your day:
Garrapata State Park, just south of Carmel, offers both coastal and redwood canyon trails.
The Bluffs Trail at Andrew Molera State Park offers a view of the Big Sur River mouth, while the more strenuous Ridge Trail includes plenty of switchbacks but breathtaking views along the way.
At Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, I began the day with a tranquil hike amidst coastal redwoods and a calming waterfall at the end of the Pfeiffer Falls trail.
After a morning full of hikes and scenic views, make a pit stop for lunch. For a more homey vibe or a sweet treat, stop at Big Sur Bakery. You can sit and enjoy a full meal, or grab something to go. I grabbed a cheddar chive scone and coffee and had a lovely picnic at Pfeiffer Beach nearby. Pop into Mother Botanical & Shop next door for a curated collection of exquisite finds, and take in the beautiful display of Big Sur's splendid plant life at Loma Vista Gardens.
If you're seeking something a bit more upscale for lunch, Nepenthe is another popular pit stop with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and an outdoor patio. Sample their famous "Ambrosiaburgers” accompanied by a glass of wine or beer from their local breweries.
Also consider stopping by the Henry Memorial Library, a rustic gem tucked away in the heart of Big Sur near both restaurants. Enjoy a break with a view of the wild meadow, and let your thoughts wander through ancient books of literature.
After lunch, make your way towards Julia Pfeiffer State Park to catch a view of McWay Falls. A short path from the visitor parking lot leads you to an overlook of the compact waterfall and the expansive coastal landscape. The waterfall may not be Niagara, but it's all about the big picture. There are also numerous hiking trails within Julia Pfieffer State Park if you'd like to linger, or you can take in the redwood groves and historic namesake lime kilns at Limekiln State Park.
Further south, you can find more beachside relaxation at Sand Dollar Beach or hunt for hidden treasures at Jade Cove. Black Sand Shores is another great option, where a short trail leads you to black sand, unique rock formations, and unforgettable sunsets.
If you're keeping your windows down, you may hear the distant sound of sea otters along Highway 1. You can get a closer look at these cute creatures lounging on the beach at numerous overlooks on Highway 1 - I'd recommend Otter Point.
With a long day of driving nearly done, it's time to find a spot for sunset. I ended my trip with an overnight stay in Morro Bay, capping off my surreal day with a sunset walk on the beach and fresh seafood. If staying overnight in Big Sur, you'll have no shortage of overlooks and picnic areas to watch the sunset.
Day 3: Hearst Castle
On your final day on the Central Coast, be sure to book ahead for a guided tour of the opulent Hearst Castle. Perched atop the mountains of San Simeon, each extravagant detail of this property has a tale, mostly of William Randolph Hearst's whims and vast wealth. An extra treat? Spotting zebras and other exotic fauna during the shuttle ride to and from the visitor center.
After your tour, you may opt to revisit any final sights in Big Sur or make your way to your next destination. Whether you're spending a night or two in San Luis Obispo, heading south to Santa Barbara, or going back home, I hope this guide will help you tailor an unforgettable adventure through California's majestic coastline.
Unique Stays for Every Leg of your Trip
There is no shortage of incredible places to stay along the Central Coast, from campgrounds to luxury resorts. Luckily, Fora's extensive network of partner properties along Highway 1 assure you unparalleled comfort at every stage of your journey. Whether you're spending a couple nights in Carmel or Monterey, staying in the heart of Big Sur, or unwinding further south at the journey’s end, you'll enjoy personalized touches and exclusive perks when booking through a Fora Advisor.
Monterey and Carmel Hyatt Regency Monterey: Merging luxury with convenience, this property is nestled in a verdant landscape, ensuring a refreshing start to your Big Sur adventure. Carmel Valley Ranch: Experience rustic charm combined with modern comfort, set amidst sprawling vineyards and oak groves—perfect for a rejuvenating retreat.
Villa Mara Carmel: A boutique hideaway where classic architecture meets contemporary amenities. Enjoy the serene ambience before hitting the road. Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach Resorts: Secluded sophistication awaits you at this Mediterranean-style estate. With tailored service and spa facilities, it's a pure indulgence to kick-start your trip.
Staying in the Heart of Big Sur Alila Ventana Big Sur: Perched high above the Pacific, this luxurious resort offers an intimate encounter with Big Sur’s enchanting beauty. The blend of natural aesthetics with premium amenities ensures an unforgettable stay.
Post Ranch Inn: Dive deep into the magic of Big Sur at this cliff-side sanctuary. Elegant rooms, infinity pools, and unparalleled ocean views make it a haven for relaxation amidst nature.
Unwind at the End of Your Trip Cambria Beach Lodge: Situated along the tranquil coastline, this lodge offers a blend of beachside relaxation and modern comforts. With its chic decor and panoramic ocean views, it's an ideal spot to reminisce about your road trip adventures.
San Luis Creek Lodge: Dive into the charm of this boutique inn, adorned with delightful decor and nestled in a prime location in San Luis Obispo. Perfect for those wanting to extend their trip with a taste of urban charm.
Hotel San Luis Obispo: Elegance meets comfort in this modern hotel. Whether you're exploring the vibrant downtown of San Luis Obispo or relaxing in its spa facilities, it’s the ultimate spot to conclude your journey.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, 4-Day Itinerary: A Long Weekend Group Trip to Mexico City.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Big Sur.