My name is Polina, known on Instagram as @rocknroamgirl. I’m originally from Russia. In this article, I will be sharing my experiences in Big Sur and providing you with a suggested itinerary for your road trip there. This is a stretch of coastline in California that everyone should experience at least once on their travels to America. It’s definitely one of my favorite spots!
Before I get started, let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I ended up spending so much time in the USA. I didn’t have many chances to travel when I was growing up. But I definitely remember that I had this thirst for adventure and dreams to explore the world (and different cultures).
My first solo trip abroad was to the US as soon as I turned 18. It was a game changer – it was nothing but a positive experience and I fell in love with America. I got to see many of the 50 states and all of their natural gems. My goal was to capture these travel moments in all of their glory and motivate others to get out there and explore too – so I started my Instagram page.
Why Big Sur is such a Special Place
Even though I love exploring new locations, there are some places that you just want to revisit over and over. Big Sur is one of those places. I try to visit this stretch of coast at least once a year – and overall I have been there 10 times! The last time I visited was in May of 2021. I’m planning my next trip there in fall. Sights like these don’t change but they still blow me away.
Driving on the Pacific Highway takes you to one of the most beautiful views in Cali. The coast and surrounding areas are filled with epic beaches, hiking trails and even a waterfall that drops straight into the ocean. This waterfall is called McWay Falls and it’s hands down my favorite spot in Big Sur. Anytime of the day – sunrise to sunset – is a magical time to visit.
The main challenge of traveling through Big Sur are the windy roads which lead to heavy amounts of traffic. Another thing to plan for is the possibility of rock slides/landslides and road blocks. Although this isn’t an everyday occurrence, it’s something to be aware of and have a backup plan for.
Prepare for frequent stops to take in the views because every nook on this highway is picture worthy. Although, you may have to hold off on posting on social media as the phone service is pretty spotty in this area!
Ultimate Big Sur Travel Itinerary
Traveling south on Big Sur is more convenient as the views are located on the right which makes it easier to pull over. Starting at Monterey, check out their renowned aquarium. This place will immerse you into the underwater world, from the cutest sea otters to majestic jellyfish, and everything in between. Also, their pier has the best clam chowder in that area.
Next stop is the nearby town, Carmel-by-the-Sea. This charming spot feels like a German fairytale! Check out Carmel Beach, Carmel Mission Basilica Museum and the downtown with cute houses and inspiring art galleries. If you have time, do the 17-mile drive while you are there, it’s worth it! Then go to Point Lobos State Park to see Hidden Beach and Bird Island Trail.
Up for a 3 mile hike? Make time for the Soberanes Canyon Trail at Garrapata State Park. If you are traveling through Big Sur during spring make sure to stop by an area at Garrapata Beach called Calla Lily Valley. There are hundreds of white calla lilies blooming here, and it’s a mesmerizing sight. Next stop is the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. You can’t miss it!
One of my favorite stops on this trip is the Big Sur River Inn where I always have a delicious lunch. Have a picnic on their green backyard area or sit on one of the wooden chairs that is situated right on the river, enjoy a relaxing time and put your feet into the water (if it’s not too chilly when you visit).
After lunch, head over to Pfeiffer Beach and check out their incredible rock formation that has a key-hole-like window. McWay Falls – which is my absolutely favorite landmark in Big Sur – is our next destination! You will see a giant waterfall that drops straight into the ocean. On the other side of the highway there are quite a few hiking trails that are worth your time.
And finally, Hearst Castle is on the way back to your last destination, it’s about one and a half hours away (maybe less) from the McWay Falls. Note, there are four castle tours, so plan accordingly. If you keep going south, don’t miss Santa Barbara with all of its Spanish architecture vibe.
Where to Stay along the Highway
As for me the easiest place to find lodging has always been in Monterey: there are quite a few places to choose from and the pricing is reasonable. Carmel-by-the-Sea has a few cute cottages to choose from as well.
If you want to stay in the heart of Big Sur, I would recommend the Big Sur River Inn. If you are craving to immerse yourself in nature there are quite a few camping spots along the coast too. So the choices are plentiful!
My Best Memory from Big Sur
One time I was traveling Big Sur on my birthday and luck had it that I was stuck in traffic watching the most incredible sunset. I finished off the night at Carmel-by-the-Sea trying a delicacy that was new to me – fried locusts and I washed it down with a margarita. A story I won’t forget anytime soon!
Need to Know Before you Go
I would recommend checking road conditions and the weather before your Big Sur trip – there is a possibility of fires, roadblocks or rock slides in the area and it could be closed. Adjust your plans accordingly. Safe travels y’all!