A Guide to Road Tripping Big Sur

By: Shalee Blackmer + Save to a List

A magical place for the adventurers heart.

Big Sur California, a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. A rural oasis between two of the busiest places in the United States.

There are no busy freeways here, no trendy restaurants, no stoplights, fast food, or gas stations.

It’s known as the most beautiful highway in the world, and for good reason.

The small two lane road that winds through coastal mountains are not for the faint of heart or naïve driver. Here, the road twists and turns on top of three hundred foot cliffs. Many times with nothing but a small guard rail between your car and the rocky shoreline below.

The stretch of road belonging to Big Sur begins slightly north of the town of Cambria and ends when entering the town of Monterey. There is no right or wrong way to complete the journey, but there are ways to make sure you get the most of the experience.

Make sure you have enough time

Big Sur could technically be completed in a single day, however it is not recommended. The more time given, the more you will enjoy the experience. There is so much to hike, to see, and to do that anyone interested in a trip should allow themselves a two day minimum (and that’s still rushing it).

Each bend will take your breath away, each picture more beautiful than the last. Beaches sit hidden beneath view, only visible when parking and straying down a small but narrow hiking path.

It is impossible to see everything, because there are so many locations left out of even the most detailed guide books. The best advice is to slow down, stop as much as you can, and spend at least one night camping under the stars.

Don’t only stop at the iconic locations

Everyone traveling to Big Sur has heard of Mcway Falls and Bixby Bridge. Once you pull up to these locations you’ll quickly see everyone dreams of catching the perfect picture here. You’ll have to fight for a parking spot, and the crowdedness will probably take some of the ‘awe’ away.

But these will be the only crowded spots. Everywhere else remains just as (if not more) beautiful. However, many times you can have the other views all to yourself.

Stock up on food and gas

Along the route, there are few grocery stores or gas stations. If you happen to come upon one, you should rightfully expect prices to be outrageous. If you fill up on gas before embarking, you will have enough to complete the entire route.

Stock up on food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Granola bars and trail mix for breakfast, sandwiches and fruit for lunch, and whip up a nice hot meal over a camp stove for dinner.  

Campfires are prohibited along the entire route (except for a possible campground), so plan accordingly.

Enjoy the experience

There will be a million beautiful pictures to take, but don’t get too caught up behind the lens. Sometimes you just need to park the car, blare some tunes, and take in a beautiful sunset with friends.

Cell service doesn’t exist, and the best distractions will be the ones that bring you back to simpler times. Take it from the person who entertained her nights playing Pictionary by drawing in the sand next to a flickering lantern light under the Milky Way. It’s those moments that will trump any photo, video, or social media post.

There are few places left where you can feel so alone, yet so full and so free. Big Sur sits between two major cities, yet can somehow transport you to one of the most remote places on earth. Enjoy it!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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