As soon as I decided we were going to brave our first US road trip from Disneyland in LA to San Francisco I knew that driving the Big Sur just had to be a part of it. We only had one day to drive the Big Sur so we didn’t get many chances to stop and explore this beautiful stretch of coastline which has some of the most awe-worthy views in California and possibly the whole of the US so it was a must-do. Here are just some of our experience driving this dreamy, winding, sun-kissed road next to the Pacific Ocean.
After staying overnight at Cambria we hit the first challenge of the trip, the Big Sur is surrounded by mountainous terrain on one side and an ocean on the other, making landslides a constant issue in the area. Luckily I’d done my research and found out in advance that there had been a landslide near Ragged Point cutting off the road between San Simeon and Plasket. All suggested modes of travel told us to instead take the highway to San Francisco, but this would have skipped the Big Sur entirely which I did not want to do. Instead, we drove onto the highway initially before using country roads to take us back towards the part of the Big Sur which was still open.
Before doing this however we decided to extend our journey by heading to San Simeon before the road cuts off to see the Elephant Seals which they migrate on the beach. There were hundreds covering the whole beach and it seeing them was definitely worth the extra time it added on before we had to backtrack back to the highway.
Cutting off from the highway and onto the country road route meant driving around mountains, nature reserves, ranches and even an army base. This did add a lot more time onto our journey but opened us up so some amazing sites we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience. We stopped at several points on the peak of the mountain to take in the incredible views before slowly winding back down to join the road of the Big Sur just before Lucia. This was a long workaround and it did mean we couldn’t see Ragged Point but it was totally worth it to ensure we didn’t miss out on seeing the rest of this stunning journey and experience driving the Big Sur.
Once we rejoined the Big Sur we stopped at the small settlement of Lucia where we had lunch at the beautiful Lucia Lodge. The food here was standard American fare and pretty tasty but it was the view here that really made it worth the stop. From the patio you look right out across the ocean into the crystal blue sea. I could have sat here all day taking it all in!
We grabbed some snacks and got ready to drive the rest of the route. There are multiple areas along this winding Big Sur drive where you can pull over to get a good view, however they are very small so if there are a couple of cars already there then you will be forced to drive past and miss it, so grab the views while you can. The next notable area you will pass is Slate Hot Springs where the winding roads provide stunning views of the clear blue waters against the rocks making for a beautiful drive. As you drive towards McWay Falls you will notice how it opens to a stunning bay area complete with a gorgeous small beach to relax in and maybe even grab a picnic. It’s a surfers heaven!
The next part of the route has more significant places to stop for longer then just a viewing point, with plenty of hiking trails to take you up the mountains if you have the time. The next noteworthy stop is the Grimes Point Scenic Overlook which gives you another great place to pull in and admire this amazing natural paradise.
As you head towards the Loma Vista you will slowly wind your way inland from the coast and into woodlands. Loma Vista has a great selection of restaurants, hotels and campgrounds which makes it a great place to stay overnight if you are planning on taking this trip over two days or longer. The views really change here as you suddenly find yourself driving through thick forestland with ancient trees surrounded on all sides by amazing greenery. Coming out of this wooded area you slowly wind your way back to the cost and the amazing sea views once more.
The next noteworthy area you will come across when driving the Big Sur is the Bixby State Bridge which cuts across the ocean in an amazing feat of architecture which is a beauty to behold. Being surrounded by the ocean and mountains on both sides as you cross is awe-inspiring.
You pass many more viewpoints as you wind your way towards the end of the Big Sur, all as beautiful as the last. You will never get sick of these stunning views, you just want to slow down and take it all in. The Big Sur officially ends in the stunning Carmel-by-the-Sea where it officially ends. Carmel is definitely worth exploring, but I’ll tell you more about that in a future post about the rest of our Californian road trip.
The Big Sur is often regarded as one of the most stunning road trips in the US and possibly even the world and it’s not hard to see why. Around every corner you are greeted with more beauty which makes it easy to see why Californians are in love with their state. Take your time, stop where you can and just take it all in, a lot of my photos had to be taken from inside the car so they really don’t capture the full beauty of this stunning area. Trust me it has to be seen to be believed.
Driving the Big Sur has left a lasting impression on me and it’s made me want to explore more of the West coast. If you are planning to do your own Big Sur drive it’s important to note that there is no phone service for most of the route so make sure you check out my tips on how to prepare for a US road trip to learn how to work around this and other things you must take with you to prepare for this road trip. Have you ever been on a US road trip? Where is your must-visit stop?