Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Big Sur is a ninety mile stretch of incredible Central California coastline. Beautiful rugged ocean views on one side, and rolling hills, hiking trails, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Los Padres National Forrest on the other. I've visited three times now because the magic of this place never ceases to amaze me. I've brought family and loved ones here because I believe that everyone should take this breathtaking scenic drive at least once in their lives.
The best time to visit Big Sur is in the springtime. California is pretty dry most of the time, but in the spring, the hills are still green from the bit of rain we get in late winter and the weather is warming up. Make sure to choose a day that is completely sunny because days with clouds and the cool temperatures that are common for that part of the coast and can cause a low hanging mist that will ruin your photos of the scenery if it's not burned off by the sun.
If you are visiting the west coast, there is a good chance you will be staying in a city that is driving distance to Big Sur. San Francisco is just a 2 and a half hour drive north of Big Sur and Los Angeles is about 3 hours. I like to take my time driving up from Orange County the day before. Once I make it up there, I like to stay in one of the small quaint nearby towns of Monterey or Carmel in a reasonable room at a cute Inn with a fire place for a night.
The next morning I wakeup, get some road trip snacks from Whole Foods or Trader Joes in Monterey, and spend the day driving down the coast and stopping for photos and short hikes. Some people choose to camp in Big Sur, which is a great option. I haven't had the experience yet, but I would like to have that experience in the future. There are quite a few incredible lodges and hotels to choose from too. Some of the highly rated places to stay are: Big Sur Lodge, Glen Oaks Big Sur, Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant, Post Ranch Inn, Ventana Big Sur, Ragged Point Inn, and the Esalen Institute. Just know that staying in Big Sur is very expensive if you aren't camping, but definitely worth it if you can afford that type of experience!
There are dozens of stops in Big Sur and I want to tell the ones you just can't miss. The first one you will see driving down from the north entrance is Bixby Bridge. This bridge is one of the most popular and photographed places in California. It has been used in all sorts of television, movies, and advertising. Eighteen miles south of Carmel, stands one of the world's most noteworthy single span concrete curve bridges. Coming in at 260 feet tall and over 700 feet long, it's a perfect work of art. It is easily one of the most magnificent bridges I have ever seen.
When getting out to take photos be cautious because there is no railing on certain parts of the pull-off and it is a steep drop. In fact, the entire drive is steep so make sure to not only be careful when taking photos, but definitely also when you are driving. If you are afraid of heights and driving with nothing but guardrails between you and a couple hundred foot drop, then have a friend or relative in the drivers seat!
Another beautiful stop you can't miss is Mcway Falls. It is a famous 80 ft tall waterfall that flows into the ocean at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It is super easy to get to, and actually the shortest trail in Big Sur. You just pull off the road to the right and walk five minutes on an easy trail around a bend to be graced with this stunning sight from above. There isn't a trail leading down to the beach, but the photos you can get from above will be gorgeous. To this day, I've never seen anything like it!
The next stop that I never miss is Nepenthe Restaurant. This is the perfect place for brunch with a view or a glass of wine at sunset on the patio. This spot is perched high up overlooking the rugged cliffs, ocean swells, and rolling green hills covering in pine trees behind it. The shop downstairs has some unique art and a lot of intricate handmade gifts as well. Even if you don't stay for a meal, this is a really beautiful place to stop for a bathroom break and look around.
The Portal To Big Sur at Ragged Point Inn is a stop you don't want to miss! It has an open air gazebo for beautiful photos, the portal, and a stairway leading down the side of the cliff for even better views. This spot is such a highlight for me, if you make the drive I definitely suggest stopping here and taking a stroll around the property.
There are dozens of unofficial pull offs that are all beautiful in their own way so don't hesitate to stop if you want to capture some of the less crowded, but equally stunning spots. Most of these unofficial spots have a large dirt shoulder on the side of the road for cars to safely pull off and park.
As always, when spending time in nature, be sure to pick up after yourself and leave no trace behind to help keep this special stretch of Earth clean and pristine. Big Sur is truly a unique experience that I believe anyone who visits the west coast should experience. I've visited 3 times because for me, it just never gets old. There is so much beauty in this 90 mile stretch to explore. Happy travels!