HIGHWAY ONE ROAD TRIP – BIG SUR
Big Sur is a stunning stretch of the central California coast where the Pacific ocean meets the Santa Lucia mountains.
Stunning doesn’t quite cut it.
This is a place of rugged mountains, ocean sunsets, glorious redwoods and bubbling streams.
Did we mention the gorgeous beaches and the eagles? They’re pretty amazing too.
‘Big Sur’ is a translation from the original Spanish description for this coastline when it was known as ‘the big south’, being the area south to the city of Monterey.
Stretching from San Simeon to Carmel in the north, this 90 odd miles of coast is easily the most scenic and iconic part of the Highway One drive.
A place of immense natural beauty, Big Sur has long inspired writers, poets and creatives.
Many complete the drive of this coastline in one go, maybe stopping for a nice lunch.
But if you have more time, and it’s definitely worth making the time if you can, there are excellent hiking trails to explore and plenty of stunning lookouts worth visiting.
With this whole stretch of coast taking about 2 hours to drive all up, there are a few practical things to note.
Here are some of our tips, to make your visit to this area even more amazing –
There’s no real ‘town’ of Big Sur. This is a very scarcely populated area comprising of a few clusters of roadside restaurants, campsites, hotels and the odd petrol station. Heading North you’ll first come across the settlement known as Gorda, then Lucia and then Posts.
At times, this is a very windy drive and you need to concentrate. This is a nature area with no streetlights and often no guard rails between the road and the cliffs.
On our first day in Big Sur, we were actually stopped and turned around by the local police as a recovery operation was underway ahead of us to recover a car that had gone off the highway. Scary.
Later we found out the car went off a bridge and miraculously the driver survived.
There are also fairly frequent rock slips off the cliff walls, onto the road. On a few occasions, we had to stop to drive around some pretty large rocks you wouldn’t want to drive over.
If you are lucky enough to have more than one day here, it’s best to plan your day trips so you’re not too far from your accommodation come nightfall. This is not the place to be driving tired at night, after a long day exploring.
Where to stay?
We’ll follow this post with some of our favourite hiking spots and sightseeing tips, but for now lets talk accommodation!
While there are only really a handful of motels and resorts dotted along this beautiful coast, there are some amazing and varied options.
There’s the charming Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, which sits on the edge of a stunning redwood forest complete with its own bubbling creek. Deetjens was first established in the 1930s and is now on the US National Register of Historic Places. It’s also very close to the Henry Miller Memorial Library, which is worth checking out if you’re interested in the history of the area. Deetjens is the place to stay if you want a real cabin-in-the-woods type experience. I’ve heard the restaurant is excellent also – go for breakfast and try the pancakes!!
On the fancier side of the scale there’s the Ventana Inn & Spa and the celebrity favourite Post Ranch Inn. These two would be the pick for a honeymoon stay or anniversary celebration. These hotels are located in the ‘Posts’ settlement part of the Big Sur coast, which is close to many attractions including Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. You can dine at the Post Ranch Inn even if you’re not a guest, so that’s worth keeping in mind if you’re after a special dinner.
There’s also a retreat centre called the Esalen Institute. Located south of the Posts area, here you can participate in an educational workshop while you stay onsite. There are 600 different workshops available per year, on a huge variety of topics including mindfulness, healing, movement, even songwriting and cooking – just to name a handful. There are also work-study options where you can live on site for a longer period of time while studying.
For those who love camping, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are many campsites available in Big Sur. Here you can find information from the California Department of Parks and Recreation about camping in the famous Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park itself. This is certainly a pretty fantastic place to pitch your tent for the night.
Then again, why camp when you can glamp!? Sometimes you come to the realisation that while you love nature you also love proper bedding facilities. And hairdryers.
Following that thinking, we booked Treebones Resort, a beautiful property where you can stay in the comfort of nicely kitted-out yurts set right in the middle of this incredible natural environment.