The Big Sur Road Trip: What to See and Do

Buckle up for one of the most breathtaking road trips in the United States along the California coastline.

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Located on California’s central coast, Big Sur is both the name of an area and a town known for its beautiful beaches, mild weather, and state parks that are spilling over with majestic redwood trees and hiking trails. Oh, and the food and wine are second to none. Queue up the Google Maps app, then check out our guide to one of the most beautiful destinations in California and enjoy your time on a Big Sur road trip.

The history of Big Sur

The rugged area was first developed as an area for redwood timbering at the turn of the 19th century; the town wasn’t even wired for electricity until the 1950s. Today, that same rustic charm is what draws visitors to the area.

Big Sur road trip

The famed Bixy Bridge in Big Sur.Matthew Micah Wright/Getty ImagesThe scenic 90-mile stretch on State Route 1 from Carmel in the north to San Simeon in the south can easily be driven in a day. It’s recommended to drive it from north to south for the most sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. These are the 15 road trip planning tips you need for a successful journey.

Things to do in Big Sur

So now that the Big Sur road trip is a go, the first thing you’ve got to do is figure out what you’re going do when you get there. If you didn’t pass the Bixby Bridge (shown above) on your way into town, you’ll definitely want to put this architectural wonder that was completed in 1932 on your to-do list. The bridge sits 260 feet above Bixby Creek, making it one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world—add a beautiful sunset and you’ve got the makings of a perfect Insta-worthy selfie. Here’s where to spot the best sunset in every state.

Big Sur is an artist’s haven, and there’s no better place to get a sense of the local art scene than at the Hawthorne Gallery. Visitors can find everything from sculptures and contemporary paintings to woodcarvings and steel designs, all housed in a space designed by legendary architect Mickey Muennig.

The legacy of Henry Miller, the famed artist and writer of novels including Tropic of Cancer, lives on at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Located on the legendary Highway One, the arts center, bookstore, and performance venue’s mission is to educate and inform visitors about Henry Miller, Emil White (a longtime friend of Miller’s), and Big Sur’s cultural and natural history.

What to do in Big Sur

Friends kayaking in sea, Big Sur, California, United StatesPeter Amend/Getty Images

The beautiful Point Sur Lightstation is a must-stop destination on your Big Sur road trip. Perched on top of a large volcanic rock, the lighthouse and lightstation have been helping ships avoid the dangerous, rocky California coastline since 1889. Guided walking tours of this California State Historic Park are available to the public year-round.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve caters to just about every tourist’s tastes. Often referred to as “the crown jewel of the State Park System,” the Reserve offers opportunities for picnicking, jogging, and even scuba diving. No zoo in the world can get you close to the migrating gray whales that can be seen from December to May, and you might even catch a glimpse of a rare plant, sea otter, or sea lion. These are more of the best national park road trips to take all year round.

Where to eat in Big Sur

For delicious meals with exceptional coastal views on your Big Sur road trip, check out The Sur House at the Ventana Resort. And Café Kevah’s got you covered for a phenomenal breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But check your calendar before you go. Café Kevah is only open Presidents’ Weekend (mid-February) through the Monday after New Year’s, weather permitting.

Where to stay in Big Sur

the big sur californiavia tripadvisor.com

After hours on the road, the time will finally come to sink deeply into fresh sheets on a luxurious bed. Glen Oaks is known for rooms and cottages with a rustic-modern atmosphere, but you also can’t go wrong with any of Big Sur Lodge’s 62 cottage-style guest rooms that are located in the redwood forest of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The best time to visit Big Sur

Thanks to the Pacific Ocean, temperatures are mild year-round, though spring and fall tend to be less rainy. Would-be whale watchers will want to visit between December and May, migrating season for gray whales. Next, read on for the 50 best road trips in America.

For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.

Some sites listed here may not be open or may have limited hours or other restrictions due to COVID-19. Please check with them before you go.

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Dana Robinson
Dana Robinson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who regularly covers health, beauty, culture, and food for Reader's Digest as well as Shape.com, WeightWatchers.com, Wine Enthusiast, AARP, and Southwest: The Magazine. She earned an MA in Mass Communication from California State University, Northridge.