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The Big Sur Scenic Drive Everyone Should Take
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The Big Sur Scenic Drive Everyone Should Take

We compiled the Big Sur road trip itinerary of your dreams so you won’t ever run out of things to see and stops to make.

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5 min read

June 16, 2021

There’s nothing quite like cruising down Highway 1 with the wind in your hair, sounds of the crashing waves in your ears, and lush green mountains in the background. Luckily for you, that’s what a Big Sur scenic drive is all about. Plan your Central Coast getaway to include the joyride of a lifetime with pretty surprises around every twist and turn—you’ll find yourself reminiscing about Big Sur day trips for years to come.

Both can’t-miss landmarks and quirky hidden gems await you on a long weekend here. We compiled the Big Sur road trip itinerary of your dreams so you won’t ever run out of things to see and stops to make. 

Where to go on a Big Sur Road Trip

Whether you’re planning an L.A. to Big Sur road trip or driving down to the Central Coast from Northern California, these are the stops your Big Sur itinerary shouldn’t go without. Ready to take the open road?

Renowned for its scenic landscapes, Montaña de Oro State Park features rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, and canyons.

Montaña de Oro State Park

Translating to “Mountain of Gold,” this underrated state park gets its name from the yellow wildflowers that bloom all over during spring. And while the pretty fields of flowers are reason enough to pay Montaña de Oro a visit, this Big Sur road trip spot offers plenty of other recreational opportunities as well. 

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Swim, sunbathe, and relax on the sand at Spooner’s Cove. Hike along the nearby valleys, sea cliffs, and mountain ridges, then pedal along some of the best mountain biking trails in the area. A cyclist’s favorite is the 10-mile Oats Peak Trail. If you don’t have enough time to cover the entirety of the trail, opt for the shorter Bluff Trail for gorgeous clifftop views in just over two miles.

The tallest of the Morros or "Nine Sisters", Bishop Peak is named in homage to the town's name, "Obispo" is the Spanish word for Bishop.

Bishop Peak

Driving 10 minutes from the beautiful beach town of San Luis Obispo leads you to cool natural landmarks that link SLO to Morro Bay. These are nine volcanic plugs known as “the Morros” or the “Nine Sisters”, a cool stop to make on your Big Sur trip. We’ve highlighted Bishop Peak—the tallest plugs stands at 1,546 feet in elevation. It definitely has a reputation for being one of the Central Coast’s premier spots for outdoor adventures.

If you’re a hiker, put on your sturdy boots to trek the one-and-a-half Bishop Peak Trail that takes you to the very top. Climbing enthusiasts will be glad to know that this stop on your Big Sur scenic drive boasts more than 100 climbing routes to choose from for every skill level.

Located in San Luis Obispo County, Morro Bay with a population near 10,000 is adored by travelers from around the world.

Morro Bay

While Bishop Peak is the most popular of the Nine Sisters for extreme outdoor adventures, Morro Bay is just as exciting to visit. The scenic sunsets, sweeping ocean vistas, and awesome swells make Morro Bay a must-see spot while driving in Big Sur. 

Are you up for a hike with stellar views? You can’t go wrong with Black Hill Trail. The two-and-a-half-mile round trip trail takes you through eucalyptus groves and oak trees, with 360-degree-views of the estuary, town, and inland peaks. Water-related adventures also await surfers of all levels. Don’t forget to bring your board along your Big Sur scenic drive to have a blast catching swells and tube ride. Beginner and intermediate surfers will love Morro Beach, while advanced surfers will enjoy the challenges that come with surfing at Mouse Rock.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park stretches from the Big Sur coastline into nearby 3,000-foot ridges, featuring redwood, tan oak, and madrone.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

No matter what your interests are—city dweller or nature lover—Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must-see destination in California. Whether you have a weekend to spare looking for a top-notch camping experience or want to stretch your legs on a quick hike, this state park is a worthwhile stop along your Big Sur scenic drive. Step out of your vehicle and hike the easy Overlook Trail to Mcway Falls for stunning waterfall views and pink sunsets like no other. Most of the time, your one-hour visit will turn into a weekend spent at the state park—don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Fun fact: Bixby Creek Bridge was built for just under $200,000 in 1930. That's the equivalent of more than three million today.

Bixby Creek Bridge

An iconic California landmark by every sense of the word, Bixby Creek Bridge is a quintessential part of every Big Sur scenic drive. Built in 1932, this bridge offers coastal views at numerous turnouts along its 714-feet length. You’ve definitely seen photos of the bridge on your Instagram timeline more than a few times—it’s one of the most photographed places on the West Coast. But, you’ll also recognize Bixby Creek Bridge from numerous movies and TV shows, one of the most recent being Big Little Lies on HBO.

Imagine a ravine filled with hundreds of blooming white calla lilies. This slice of heaven is located right under your nose in Big Sur.

Calla Lily Valley

Not too far from Bixby Creek Bridge is a California flower field that is too pretty to miss. From late January through April, Calla Lily Valley is engulfed by thousands of white calla lilies. Ideal for a quick relaxing stroll, this beautiful little valley is the perfect spot for a scenic respite, complete with a creek that flows into the ocean.

About ten miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Garrapata Beach invites visitors to hike, backpack, and take long strolls by the sandy shore.

Garrapata Beach

If you stop at Calla Lily Valley, then you should also check out the adjacent Garrapata Beach. Most of the beaches along Big Sur are rugged and admired from afar. However, Garrapata Beach is one of the few places with access and sandy shores. When the tide isn’t too high, explore the small sandy cove at Garrapata Creek at the south end.

With no fast food restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the city's charming eateries and tasting rooms offer a full range of cuisine.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Rugged coasts and wild natural beauty are a given in Big Sur, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a bit of small-town charm to your trip—a stop at Carmel-by-the-Sea is more than worthwhile. The charming coastal town is renowned for its fine scenery, gourmet dining, and rich artistic history. You’ll be captivated in a heartbeat with plenty of unexpected things to do.

Admire the beautiful architecture, shop ‘til you drop, and grab a bite at one of the acclaimed restaurants before you unwind and watch the sunset at Carmel City Beach. In other words, if you want to feel as if you stepped right into a fairytale, don’t miss out on adding Carmel to your Big Sur road trip itinerary.

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