Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway is definitely a trip that everyone should make at least once in their life. Astounding views, waterfalls crashing on the beach, redwood forests, and some of the best scenery in nature makes for an unforgettable trip. This guide includes many of the stops along Highway 1 that you’ve probably heard about, but also some hidden gems that you will want to make sure to visit on your Big Sur road trip.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve-#1 Big Sur Road Trip Stop
If you are starting your drive from Carmel, Point Lobos is considered to be the start of the Big Sur area, and it was one of my favorite spots that I went to on my trip. The sunset here is stunning, and the night I went, I turned around after viewing it, and saw an almost full moon rising over the cliffs. I went in October, and the park wasn’t crowded at all.
China Cove was the highlight not just of Point Lobos, but of my entire Big Sur road trip. There is a parking lot at the end of the main road in Point Lobos to reach it. You will see it on the hike that heads to Bird Island. The water was a brilliant turquoise color.
Make sure to continue the rest of the way to the view of Bird Island. The view of Gibson beach along the way is also quite stunning. Bird Island is covered with Brandt’s cormorants, and they are incredible to watch. There are also some great views at the end of this hike.
My other favorite spot here was the Cypress Grove. You can reach the grove by parking at Sea Lion Cove. The Allan Memorial Cypress grove was magical and is only one of two natural stands of Monterey cypress trees in the world. There are also some beautiful ocean views along this walk.
Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park was my second favorite area to visit on my Big Sur road trip. There were many scenic areas to this park including Soberanes Cove and Garrapata Beach. It was a great area for sunset and very close to Carmel. I enjoyed the many trails at this park and found it really striking. I visited it at different times of day and really had fun photographing the area.
Make sure to spend some time walking the Soberanes Bluffs. You will come across the Soberanes Creek waterfall which is a sweet little waterfall. The views of the Pacific coastline from here are breathtaking.
Bixby Creek Bridge Area
The parking area near this bridge is the most crowded spot on your Big Sur trip, but that’s because Bixby Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. It’s beautiful to see, and worth a spot, but don’t think you will have this area to yourself. The earlier you can get here, the better the light, and the less crowded it will be.
Pfeiffer Beach was my third favorite stop on my Big Sur trip. With its purple sand and waves crashing around Keyhole Rock, it was glorious. They only allow so many visitors at a time, so I recommend, this being one of your first stops in the morning. Sunset is the most popular time for photographers to visit, but it’s hard to get to the beach during that time.
Big Sur Bakery
Definitely stop at Big Sur Bakery for a meal. It’s expensive, but everything in Big Sur is. They have great food, and one of the best flat whites that I’ve ever had.
Partington Cove Trail
I didn’t hear about the Partington Cove trail when I heard about the places I should visit in Big Sur, but it was a short (yet steep) hike that I really enjoyed. The hike was along a creek that ended at a beautiful rocky cove at the beach. There were views of the aquamarine waters along the way that were just glorious. Traveling south on Highway 1, the pullout is 9 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Entrance or exactly 6 miles south of Nepenthe Restaurant.
Seeing a waterfall that runs into the ocean rates as one of the most dramatic waterfalls that I’ve ever seen. It was incredible. And, I’ve seen some gorgeous waterfalls in my life. This is one of the most photographed images of the Big Sur coastline, and you can see why. Enter Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park to see it. It’s best to photograph in late afternoon, as the angle of the sun at this time will light up the waterfall.
Kirk Creek Trail
I also really enjoyed the Kirk Creek Trail which began inside the Kirk Creek Campground. It follows Kirk Creek down to the ocean and has small waterfalls along the way to the rocky beach.
Viewing Area For Elephant Seals
This viewing area is just sound of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, and is well marked. The viewing area if very close to the elephant seals, so it’s a great spot to observe them from. The months of December and January have the most seals, but they can be seen throughout most of the year. It’s also a great spot to come to first thing in the morning.
Check out this article for other Northern California vacation ideas!