If there was one place in California that I would say is a must-see, it’s Big Sur. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of coastline between Carmel and San Simeon, with the most incredible coastal views. Highway 1, nestled between the coastline and the cliffs, winds along the numerous bends and turns of Big Sur, with plenty of places to pull over and admire the many points of interest. The main places which we stopped at along Big Sur were Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, Pfeiffer State Beach, and Ragged Point, where you can also see the Portal to Big Sur. Unfortunately, we visited in September after a lot of bush fires and all of the national parks along Big Sur were closed. However, this did make planning where to spend our limited time a bit easier!
We drove through Big Sur on our way from Monterey to Santa Barbara, however, if you aren’t planning on heading further south, Big Sur could be done in a day’s loop from Monterey. We began the day by stopping off at Point Lobos State National Reserve, just outside Monterey. Point Lobos is a breathtakingly beautiful nature reserve full of wildlife, including the many otters which you can see floating along in the choppy waters below. There are several easy trails to take from the carpark, including the one which we chose which allowed us to admire the coastal cliffs and crashing waves below.
After reluctantly leaving Point Lobos, we drove down Highway 1 along Big Sur. There are plenty of places to pull over along Highway 1 and we never struggled to park, as people were leaving all the time. For our next stop, Bixby Bridge, we stopped before reaching the bridge, as the angle is better from this side to capture photos of the bridge. It can take a couple of minutes to get a photo without anybody else in it, but we just about managed it!
McWay Falls was also just a quick, but worthy stop off. This 80-foot waterfall is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. As this park, along with all of the others in this area, was closed due to fires, we had to peer over the edge of Highway 1 to catch a glimpse of this stunning waterfall.
Pfeiffer Beach was slightly more difficult to find. From the direction we were driving, it was a very sharp turn to the right onto Sycamore Canyon Road, a two mile, almost single track road down to the beach. The windy track is totally worth it, as the beach is absolutely stunning. Once you’ve parked up, it’s just a short walk down to the sandy beach. We spent a few hours relaxing here, admiring the gorgeous white-sand beach surrounded by crashing waves and striking rock formations.
Our final stop along Big Sur was Ragged Point, another location along Big Sur which provides amazing views of the coastline. Just a short walk from the carpark is the Portal to Big Sur, through which you have the perfect view of miles of deep blue ocean and waves crashing onto the rocks. A photo opportunity not to be missed! There were also a couple of places at Ragged Point to buy food, which we gladly did before driving the last two and a half hours down to Santa Barbara.
We briefly stopped at Pismo Beach to break up the final part of the journey, although unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to make it a proper stop. We arrived in Santa Barbara tired, hot and sandy, just in time to get some food before falling into bed! It’s a long day if you want to see everything properly, but definitely worth it for these unforgettable memories.