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Every Stop You Need to Make When Driving in Big Sur

Every Stop You Need to Make When Driving in Big Sur

While many Californians argue whether SoCal or NorCal is the best, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on—Big Sur is the best.


5 min read

June 19, 2021

While many Californians argue whether SoCal or NorCal is the best, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on—driving in Big Sur is one of the most spectacular experiences you’ll ever have on the Central Coast. This mountainous stretch connects the two regions in perhaps the most picturesque way possible. Underrated state parks, glimmering beaches, and salty ocean breeze along the undeveloped coastline call for a summer road trip, whether you’re flyin’ solo or with friends. 

If this is your first time planning a getaway to Big Sur, you might get overwhelmed by the number of attractions you’ll find along the way. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you with a Big Sur road trip itinerary to know which places are worth checking out. 

You only have one option when driving through Big Sur—obviously taking the scenic route. Are you ready?

Big Sur has been described as a national treasure that demands extraordinary procedures to protect it from development.

Everything You Should Add To Your Big Sur Itinerary

Not many places in the world can stir several emotions simultaneously, but Big Sur manages to do that every time we find ourselves on the Pacific Coast Highway. The fast-paced lifestyle quickly fades away, the hustle and bustle dims, and life in the slow lane becomes the norm. All you want to do is listen to your favorite road trip playlist and blast your feel-good California songs as the coastal wind blows through your gorgeous hair. When driving from the City of Angels, here are the stops you should make on your L.A. to Big Sur road trip

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Bishop Peak

How cool is the fact that your L.A. to Big Sur drive starts with a 1,546-foot volcanic plug? As the tallest of the Nine Sisters—a magnificent chain of volcanic hills and mountains—Bishop Peak is primarily composed of dacite. It’s estimated that around 25 million years ago, magma began to flow upwards beneath a layer of softer rock. Since then, that layer has eroded away, leaving behind a unique rugged shape that resembles a bishop’s miter. 

There are several trails at Bishop Peak to explore on a mountain hiking experience. You’ll be driving a lot on your Big Sur day trip, so it wouldn’t hurt to stretch your legs first thing. 

The name "Mountain of Gold" comes from the golden wildflowers found in Montaña de Oro State Park.

Montaña de Oro State Park

This state park is one of many you’ll stop by on your Big Sur road trip. Picture this: 8,000 acres of coastal plains, streams, canyons, hills, and cliffs… And seven miles of sandy beaches… Now, where is this, you ask? Montaña de Oro State Park. The can’t-miss state park in the Golden State. Located two miles south of Los Osos, Montaña de Oro gets its name “Mountain of Gold” from the golden wildflowers found in the park. Many people stop here to explore the hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails. A local favorite is trekking the Bluff Trail—it’s easy, scenic, and packs plenty of photo ops. After all, what is a Big Sur scenic drive without a visit to a state park? 

The Salinan and Chumash tribes consider Morro Rock to be a sacred site. The Salinan name for Morro Rock is Le'samo and the Chumash name is Lisamu.

Morro Rock

The second volcanic plug you’ll notice on your Big Sur trip is Morro Rock found at the entrance to Morro Bay harbor. The last of the Nine Sisters, this lava neck is occasionally referred to as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific”—it also has a causeway that connects it with the shore, resulting in a tied island. Morro Rock is a State Historic Landmark, meaning it’s protected by a natural preserve. If you’re tempted to climb it, we’re sad to say that it’s forbidden to do so. But if you’re an avid bird watcher, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see peregrine falcons soaring around Morro Rock. 

The park is named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a respected resident and rancher in the Big Sur region in the early 20th century.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

No Big Sur itinerary is complete without checking out Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, one of the most magnificent stretches of coastline in the region. True, you can stop by the state park along the way, but this place is so enchanting that you can turn it into a whole separate getaway. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is basically the poster child of Big Sur. Redwoods, tanoaks, madrones, and chaparrals guide you to the 80-foot McWay Falls, one of the two tide falls found in California. An easy, out-and-back trail guides you to the cascading falls that plunge straight into the ocean. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hiker or not, you’re going to want to see this glorious sight. 

Garrapata State Park has two miles of beachfront, with coastal hiking and a 50-foot climb to a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Garrapata State Park

Are you really surprised to make a stop at another state park? We warned you. Garrapata State Park, located south of Carmel, boasts two miles of beachfront and offers fantastic coastal hiking trails. The 2,939-acre state park may not be on everyone’s Big Sur road trip itinerary, but we beg to differ. One of the things that makes this place so special is the wildlife viewing opportunities. You’ll catch a glimpse of California sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters when exploring Garrapata. If you’re visiting during the migrating season, keep an eye out on gray whales traveling to Baja California—driving in Big Sur has never been this spectacular. 

A great way to explore the dramatic waterfront on the Big Sur coast is to take a hike down the action-packed Partington Cove Trail.

Partington Cove

Partington Cove is a hidden gem and one of the best places on your Big Sur road trip. Lying two miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burn State Park, the cove offers a short hike with a lot to see. Coastal yellow wildflowers set against the crashing waves on the rocky shore create a setting unlike any other. Stroll over wooden bridges, get lost in a forest of redwoods, and run through old tunnels to see the light at the very end—playful sea otters splashing in the water welcome you to Partington Cove.  

Each year in December and January, photographers crowd Pfeiffer Beach to obtain pictures of the setting sun visible through the Keyhole Arch.

Pfeiffer Beach

Another must-add on your Big Sur itinerary, Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most romantic beaches you’ll ever visit. Is it the massive rock arches that make it such a unique place, or is it the glittering purple sands that illuminate the beach? Whatever it is, we’re not complaining. Plan to stop by at Pfeiffer Beach during the golden hour to watch the last rays of daylight pass through the Keyhole Arch. We don’t know about you, but we’re always down to chill on a purple sand beach after driving in Big Sur for hours. 

Bixby Creek Bridge has been featured on postcards, TV ads, everywhere. *Cue the theme song to Big Little Lies*

Bixby Creek Bridge

There’s one more iconic stop to make on your Big Sur scenic drive—the Bixby Creek Bridge. As the most photographed landmark in the Golden State, this marvelous site is the highest single-span arch bridge in the world. With dramatic views in every direction, this photogenic bridge takes your breath away every single time. If you’re driving from San Francisco, your journey to Big Sur begins with cruising on the Bixby Creek Bridge.

Where should we stop next time we’re driving in Big Sur? Let us know in the comments below. 

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