The west coast of California is totally beautiful to visit! Filled with epic drives, seaside towns and parks that stretch for miles; it’s the kind of place that’s perfect to explore. This is especially true when thinking about driving and spotting all the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California.
So to make things easier for your trip, I wanted to share all the best places on a Big Sur Roadtrip in California that we loved. With the likes of; the best beaches in California, cities like Monterey or as part of a wider California road trip; it’s the kind of place that’ll leave you spoilt for choice.
Trust me, the Big Sur is a route that you won’t wanna miss as you drive the west coast United States.
Take a look, below, at the best places on a Big Sur Roadtrip in California to explore. You’ll have the most incredible time exploring California.
1.) Carmel By The Sea
Nestled on the shoreline of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel By The Sea is a gorgeous little city that’s well worth visiting when starting or ending your Big Sur Roadtrip in California.
Not only does have some incredible, fairy-tale-like houses in the centre of the city, it also has a stunning beach! Carmel Beach is within easy reach of Scenic Road and great to visit on a beautiful sunny Californian day. That being said, if beaches aren’t your thing, take some time to explore the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum which dates back to the 1700s and is totally stunning.
If you’re fancying a stroll, head on the, nearby, Moss Cove trail that leads to the Granite Point trail. From here, you can follow the Whaler’s Cove that’s not only gorgeous but relatively easy to ramble.
Afterwards, head to the totally cosy, Dametra Cafe for their yummy (freshly-made) pasta. It’s so good.
2.) Garrapata State Park
Around 10-12 miles south of Carmel By The Sea, Garrapata State Park is easily one of the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California you have to visit. It’s gorgeous here.
As you drive down the Cabrillo Highway, be sure to stop off at Soberanes Point for some incredible views over the Pacific. That being said, if you’re fancying heading inland then pop onto the Soberanes Canyon Trail that’s totally peaceful. Just consider that it can get a little busier on the weekends.
That being said, if you’re something of a beach bum, then head straight down to Garrapata Beach that’s a little further down the coast. There’s parking within easy reach of Garrapata Creek Bridge; making it a very easy stop for a few hours of chill time.
3.) Partington Cove
Easily missed when searching for the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip, Partington Cove is a gorgeous little spot that’s a stone’s throw from Julia Pfeiffer Burns Vista Point (a great spot for views, by the way.).
Park up and follow the really short walk along the Partington Cove Trail, heading through the pedestrian tunnel to the cove itself. After you’ve arrived, you’ll be greeted by some pretty epic views, which are totally stunning around sunset. In fact, I’d say this is one of the best sunset spots if you prefer a quieter little bay.
4.) Salmon Creek Falls
Fancy a relatively accessible hike? Then the Salmon Creek Trail is a great and moderately easy hike to join. Not only that, you’ll be treated to views of the incredible Salmon Creek Falls.
Now, there’s limited parking near the trailhead and can get busy in peak times or during the weekend. That being said, if you can’t find a spot, park up near the Buckeye Trailhead as there’s sometimes a little more space here.
It’s one of the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California that’s relatively accessible and totally beautiful.
5.) San Carpoforo Creek Beach
Around a 10-15 minute drive from Salmon Creek Falls, San Carpoforo Creek Beach is another little gem that’s picture-perfect and almost forgotten by most exploring the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California.
Now, although you won’t spend too long visiting the beach; it’s still totally worth a stop, even for a brief 30-minute stroll. Though again, just like Salmon Creek Falls; parking can be limited and there’s not much you can do if the spaces are already full.
6.) Elephant Seal Vista Point
Not too far from Piedras Blancas Light Station, Elephant Seal Vista Point has an observation deck that’s easily one of the most famous spots to see seals in all of California. It’s actually incredible to visit and so amazing to see all the seals in their natural habitat.
If you’re lucky, and you arrive around birthing season (between December-March), you might even get to see a seal birth on the beach itself.
As always, be mindful of the marine wildlife and be a responsible visitor. After all, no one wants to disturb the habitat of the elephant seals.
Just shy of Carmel By The Sea, Monterey is a lovely city! Best of all, it’s one of the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California to visit at the start (or end) of your road trip.
Once here, be sure to check out the historic Cannery Row, explore Old Fisherman’s Wharf and visit the Monterey Museum of Art. For a relatively small city; it’s packed full of things to do.
Oh, and be sure to head into First Awakenings for their incredible, fluffy and buttery, pancakes. It’s the perfect spot for brunch.
8.) Point Lobos State Natural Preserve
just shy of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Point Lobos State Natural Preserve will be one of the first (or last) spots you visit when driving the Big Sur.
Not only is the coastline totally breathtaking, but you’ll also get to see the seals that call this area home. It’s a picture-perfect spot and well worth meandering the coastline around the preserve.
If you want to get closer to nature, you want to try scuba diving at Whaler’s Cove or take the 6-mile trail through the Cypress groves.
One thing to note is there is a charge for parking, so be aware of this before entering; especially if you’re not planning on staying very long.
9.) Bixby Creek Bridge
Although home to several picturesque bridges and vistas, one of my favourites has to be Bixby Creek Bridge. Recognise it? Well, if you saw the TV series, Big Little Lies, you’ll certainly remember it.
Though, that’s not its only claim to fame; Bixby Creek Bridge is probably one of the more recognisable spots for views across the Pacific.
If you’ve got time, take in the views from the north and south aspects of the bridge itself. Depending on the time of the day (and the light), you’ll get some totally impressive and pretty contrasting views.
Still, to this day, one of my favourite views of the bridge is from Castle Rock Viewpoint. You’ll love it.
10.) Point Sur State Park and Lighthouse
Whether you’re up for just a brief stop or down for a whole afternoon, Point Sur State Park and Lighthouse is a place you have to stop at. It’s one of the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California that’s just north of Andrew Molera State Park.
Rested on ancient volcanic rock, this historic lighthouse from the 1800s has seen shipwrecks and even stopped many from colliding with the rugged Californian shore.
Fancying a stroll? Hope back in the car (for a few minutes) and head to Andrew Molera Beach. This wide and expansive beach is totally beautiful and usually really quiet.
11.) Pfeiffer Beach
Probably one of my favourite spots to visit in California, Pfeiffer Beach, is second-to-none!
Though, be sure to keep your eyes peeled when finding the beach. If you’re driving south, down Highway 1, look out for Sycamore Canyon Rd, which will lead you to this beautiful gem of a place.
Now, although there is still a 2-mile drive before you reach the actual beach and the parking area, the trip will be worth it. Trust me!
Once here, you’ll see the beautiful rock formations (like Keyhole Arch) and the gorgeous beach where you can chill and enjoy the shoreline. Just be sure to take plenty of snacks, drinks and SPF. There’s very little in terms of amenities here.
If you’ve got time, pop into the Henry Miller Memorial Library to check out the amazing books and history of the place. It’s such a creative little spot and well worth taking a gander as you pass.
After a day at the beach and library, head over to Nepenthe to have some wholesome American dishes paired with some delicious Californian wines (for the non-driver, of course). Their diver scallops are so delicious.
12.) Garrapata State Park & Beach
You will come across Garrapata State Park first if you are going south from the north. With a dramatic view of the scenery, this is the perfect spot for your breathtaking photos. After some picture taking, visit Garrapate State Beach which is just 2.8 miles far from this park.
The Garrapate State Beach is accessible to people, allowing tourists and locals to walk on its sandy beach or sunbathe. One of the perks of visiting the Garrapate State Park & Beach is that these locations are free for all!
Oh, and don’t forget to stop off at Soberanes Point for the incredible views over the coastline. Also, if you’re fancying a ramble, be sure to join the Soberanes Point Trail and loops around the area and just off State Route 1.
13.) McWay Falls
McWay Falls is probably one of the best places on a Big Sur Road Trip in California to visit. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s one of California’s most famous spots to see.
Now, even though you won’t be allowed to go to the beach or falls themselves, the amazing view from above is totally incredible.
You’ll get some incredible views if you ramble along the McWay Falls Trail and is totally picturesque on a gorgeous sunny day. Also, don’t forget, you’ll find some parking nearby; right here.
14.) Limekiln State Park
Another perfect stopping point is the pretty vast, Limekiln State Park.
Here, you’ll be able to follow some incredible trails, like the Mill Creek Trail but also see Limekiln Falls that’s just shy of Hare Canyon Creek.
One thing to note, even on a sunny day, Limekiln State Park can get pretty chilly. This is especially true if you’re hiking some of the trails in the area (as many are shaded by canopy trees).
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