Art Travel

Lady’s Big Sur Itinerary and Map for a California Road Trip

Today I want to share my Big Sur itinerary with you. This stretch of the California coast has everything from boulder-studded beaches to waterfalls and redwood groves. Taking a Big Sur road trip is one of the most popular things to do when visiting California, and I’m excited to share about the best things to do in Big Sur. Read on for my travel itinerary and map.

Big Sur Itinerary

Big Sur sits along a 90-mile (144-kilometer) stretch of California’s Central Coast. It’s bounded by Carmel in the north, San Simeon and Hearst Castle in the south, the Santa Lucia Mountains in the east, and the Pacific Ocean in the west.

The legendary Pacific Coast Highway runs down the stretch of it, offering visitors access to everything from state parks to great hiking trails, unique hotels, and picture-pretty beaches.

California Coast in Big Sur

I’m home in San Francisco, and I’m heading down to Big Sur with three friends on a road trip.

This area is one of the most beautiful places in California, and we’re excited to visit and discover the spectacular natural scenery it has to offer. Read on for our Big Sur itinerary.

Big Sur Accommodation

Big Sur Itinerary: Day 1

We leave for our trip in the morning. We’re taking the coastal route, and it’s around a 3-hour drive from San Francisco to Big Sur. We decide to take our time and make several stops along the way, aiming to arrive at our hotel in Big Sur in the late afternoon.

Big Sur Coastline

Ano Nuevo State Park

After driving through Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, the first stop on our itinerary is Ano Nuevo State Park. It’s the world’s largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant seal.

We spend a couple hours at the park, walking out to the beach to see the enormous animals sunbathing in the sand dunes.

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

Davenport

From Ano Nuevo our Big Sur road trip itinerary continues with a lunch stop in Davenport. We tuck into crab cakes and local fried artichoke hearts at Whale City Bakery as we take in the classic American diner atmosphere around us.

Restaurant in Davenport, California

Moss Landing

Soon we’re off again, and our trip continues through Santa Cruz to Moss Landing. This area is famous for its produce stands, as there are a lot of farms around.

We can’t help pulling over at one of the roadside stalls to buy fresh local cherries and strawberries for our trip. It’s hard to believe how inexpensive they are, not to mention how sweet and delicious they taste.

Moss Landing Fruit Stand

Big Sur

Back in the car, we drive through Monterey and Carmel, two of my favorite places in California. We stop in the latter for gas, as petrol prices in Big Sur are sky-high and filling stations few and far between.

As we continue south, houses and mobile phone reception recede into the distance as the coastline gets increasingly stunning. We can’t take our eyes off the views.

Soon we cross the famous Bixby Bridge and drive along cliffs above beaches dotted with boulders. We’re officially in Big Sur, and it’s so beautiful I can hardly believe it’s real.

Big Sur View

Treebones Resort

When we reach the southern end of Big Sur, we arrive at our accommodation. Treebones Resort is famous for its glamping offerings. From luxury yurts to tree houses and a nest, there’s a lot of unique lodging on offer here.

Yurt in Big Sur

We’re staying in yurts, which in our case are spacious circular tents on raised platforms. They come with big beds, sinks, and decks with Adirondack chairs.

Big Sur Yurt

The resort itself has beautiful ocean views, an organic garden, a yoga pavilion, a pool and hot tub, and a famous sushi restaurant. We even spot rabbits and hear local sea lions barking as we walk along the paths.

Big Sur Nest

After settling in, we sit down to a 3-course dinner in The Lodge Restaurant. It specializes in local, seasonal ingredients, many of which are grown on-site in the garden.

Everything from pizzas to scallops and miso black cod goes down a treat, and at the end of the meal we toast to a great first day in Big Sur.

Big Sur Itinerary: Day 2

The next morning our Big Sur itinerary continues with a day of exploring the southern part of the region.

Big Sur Fence by Sand Dollar Beach

Soda Springs Trail

Leaving our accommodation, we drive south to Soda Springs Trail. This hiking path in the hills above the Pacific Ocean features big oak trees, pretty wildflowers, and great views of the California coast.

We spend some time hiking here, and we love everything from the waterfalls to the lush surroundings.

Big Sur Hike on Soda Springs Trail

Wild Flowers in May

After the hike, we drive north to a place we found on Google Maps called Wild Flowers in May. This spot is known for its purple wildflowers and orange California poppies, both of which blanket the landscape above the beaches in Big Sur.

We stop to take pictures and admire the scenery, which is beautiful with all its bright colors. Afterwards we hop back in the car for the next leg of our Big Sur itinerary.

Big Sur Wildflowers

Sand Dollar Beach

It takes place at Sand Dollar Beach. This crescent is the longest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur. It’s a great place to get outdoors and soak up the scenery.

Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur

We pay to park in the lot across from Plaskett Creek Campground, then walk down a path and descend a set of steps to get from the clifftop to the sand. We get postcard-perfect views of the coast and local surfers along the way.

Surfers at a Big Sur Beach

When we arrive at the beach we settle in and enjoy a picnic lunch of everything from fresh fruit to smoked salmon and charcuterie. Afterwards we walk along the shore, stopping to check out a cave on one end and huge rock formations on the other.

Big Sur Cave

Sand Dollar Beach Hike

From the beach we hike back up to the parking lot and take another walk. Paths guide us along a flat stretch to the edge of the cliffs, where we take in views of beaches, coves, and boulders below.

Surprisingly, we also get mobile phone reception here (it’s one of the few places we find it on the trip).

Big Sur Coast

Sushi Bar at Treebones

Afterwards, our Big Sur itinerary continues back at our yurts. We enjoy a glass of wine at the outdoor bar before having dinner at the famous Wild Coast Sushi Bar at Treebones.

The omakase experience is set in an intimate indoor-outdoor space with eight seats and sunset views. Dinner is a 14-course tasting menu that features fresh seafood and locally-harvested herbs.

We get a front-row seat as the chef prepares everything from nigiri sushi to temaki hand rolls at the counter. It’s a truly memorable experience.

Sushi Bar in Big Sur

Big Sur Itinerary: Day 3

The next morning our Big Sur itinerary continues as we check out of Treebones and drive up Highway 1 to the northern part of Big Sur. We’re staying here for the next two nights, and we can’t wait to discover more of the area.

Partington Cove Bridge

McWay Falls

Heading up the Cabrillo Highway past Limekiln State Park and over Big Creek Bridge, we make our way to McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This is the most famous waterfall in Big Sur.

McWay Falls

We park along the road, walking down a path and through a tunnel in the park to get to the vista point. The falls pour straight down a cliff to a beach in a cove, and the result is pure magic.

McWay Falls, Big Sur

Partington Cove

Speaking of coves, the next stop on our Big Sur itinerary is Partington Cove. This small inlet just north of McWay Falls was used as a loading point for ships in the 19th century.

Partington Cove, Big Sur

We park next to the highway near the unmarked entrance (I’ve put the exact location on the map below), then descend the winding path down to the waterfront.

Passing by a redwood grove, we make our way through a long tunnel to get to the cove. It’s a beautiful hidden space, and the coastal fog adds an element of mystery.

Partington Cove, California

Henry Miller Memorial Library

Back in the car, we drive north to the Henry Miller Library. This nonprofit arts center features an outdoor sculpture gallery, a bookstore, and an open-air performance venue that all pay homage to the late writer Henry Miller.

The shop is set in Miller’s former home, and it’s full of books by both Miller and famous writers like Jack Kerouac. The outdoor area is used for concerts, and the whole place feels like a throwback to California’s hippie past.

Henry Miller Library

The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe

Just north of the Henry Miller Library, the Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe is the next stop on our Big Sur road trip itinerary. Founded in 1964, it has a range of eclectic gifts for the body, mind, and spirit.

This place is full of home goods and clothing from around the world. We spend time browsing the wares and taking in the ocean views, eventually buying everything from jigsaw puzzles to hot sauce, shirts, and purses.

Big Sur Shop

Big Sur Bakery

Leaving the store, we drive a short distance north to our lunch stop at Big Sur Bakery. This roadside restaurant serves hearty California cuisine and great wood-fired pizzas. We order at the counter and settle in for lunch at an outdoor table in the sunshine.

All around us are open-air art galleries, gift shops, and gardens full of succulents.

Big Sur Garden

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Lunch is delicious, and it fuels us for the next stop on our Big Sur itinerary. This one is at our accommodation for the night, Glen Oaks.

Big Sur River

Glen Oaks is a Big Sur hotel known for its luxurious cabins in the redwoods. Originally a 1950s motor lodge, it now offers high-end accommodation in beautiful natural surroundings.

Big Sur Hotel Room

We check into our cabins, which come with outdoor fire pits and all the ingredients for s’mores, not to mention comfortable beds and cozy seating areas.

After putting our bags down, we take a walk around the property and down to the Big Sur River, which is on the premises. There are redwoods everywhere, and footbridges over the water. There’s even a wedding going on.

Big Sur Redwoods

Big Sur River Inn

In the evening we drive over to Big Sur River Inn, the area’s first hotel and restaurant. It’s famous for having Adirondack chairs right in the stream. We order drinks at the bar and take them down to the water, sipping them as the river runs over our feet.

Adirondack chairs in Big Sur River

Dinner at Deetjen’s

For dinner we drive over to Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a unique 1930s hotel and restaurant nestled among the redwoods. Deetjen’s Restaurant is low-lit and full of eclectic knickknacks. Walking inside feels like stepping back in time.

We enjoy a dinner of fresh beet salads, vegetable risotto, steak, and paella. Paired with great wine and excellent service, it’s our favorite meal of the trip.

Big Sur Restaurant

Back at our hotel, we light up our fire pit, roast marshmallows, and enjoy s’mores under the stars. It’s the perfect way to end the third day of our road trip.

Big Sur Itinerary: Day 4

The next morning our Big Sur itinerary continues with breakfast at Big Sur Roadhouse, our hotel’s restaurant. We tuck into doughnuts and plates of huevos rancheros at an outdoor table with a fire in the middle.

Big Sur Roadhouse

Andrew Molera State Park

After breakfast our day begins with a short drive to Andrew Molera State Park. This relatively undeveloped area features 4,800 acres (1,942 hectares) of diverse coast range terrain.

It has 15 miles (24 kilometers) of hiking trails and lots of coastal scrub, wildflower-studded uplands, and beaches along the Big Sur coast.

Big Sur Hiking Trail

We pay to park in the lot, then head off on an 8-mile hike along the Creamery Meadow Trail, Ridge Trail, Panorama Trail, Spring Trail, and Bluff Trail. The route takes us up to the top of a high hill with beautiful views of the coast below.

Along the way we come across everything from redwoods to a driftwood waterfall and a Pacific gopher snake.

Driftwood Waterfall in Big Sur

At the end we find ourselves on the beach at Andrew Molera State Park. With big rocks and lots of wood, it’s an atmospheric place for a picnic.

We’ve brought sandwiches from Big Sur Deli, and we tuck into a late lunch as the wind whips up the waves in front of us.

Beach at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur

Fernwood

In the evening we head over to Fernwood, a campground and resort established in 1932. Its bar is hosting a live music night on the outdoor terrace, and we sip drinks as we listen under the redwoods.

Live Music in Big Sur

Nepenthe

Later we drive to dinner at Nepenthe, one of the most famous restaurants in Big Sur. Set on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, its outdoor terraces and indoor dining room are popular places to eat in the area.

Restaurant Terrace in Big Sur

We arrive right at sunset, soaking up the views as we tuck into salads and mains. The food isn’t the best we’ve had on the trip, but the atmosphere is hard to beat.

Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur Itinerary: Day 5

The next morning is the last of our Big Sur trip. We have a breakfast of French toast at the Big Sur Roadhouse before checking out of our hotel and heading north to make our way back to San Francisco.

French Toast

Bixby Bridge

But we still have one stop left on our Big Sur itinerary: Bixby Bridge. This famous structure is one of the most photographed places in Big Sur. Completed in 1932, it’s one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world.

Bixby Bridge

We pull off the road and walk over to the viewpoint on the north side of the bridge. The views of the arch and the coastline are breathtaking, and we’re happy to end our trip on such a positive note.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Back in the car, we take the fast route to San Francisco. Two-and-a-half hours later, we’re in the City by the Bay and Big Sur feels like a dream.

Big Sur Map

As promised, below you’ll find an interactive map of all the places I mentioned in my Big Sur itinerary. If you click on the blue pins, you can see the name of each one.

I hope the map helps you get a feel for where things are in the area and aids you in planning a Big Sur road trip of your own. It’s a great place to travel!

Big Sur Itinerary

We thoroughly enjoyed our Big Sur itinerary and the five days we spent on the California coast. From the natural landscapes to the hikes, beaches, shops, and restaurants, it gave us a great overview of what the area has to offer.

We also enjoyed seeing both the northern and southern parts of Big Sur. The landscapes were different, and it was great to spend a couple days in each place to experience the highlights and not have to drive long distances every day.

Big Sur Roses

I hope this blog post has inspired you to visit Big Sur and see the region for yourself. It’s one of the most famous stretches of coastline in the world for good reason, and a California road trip is the perfect way to see it. Happy travels!

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2 Comments on Lady’s Big Sur Itinerary and Map for a California Road Trip

  1. Love this itinerary – you really did it all! Great inspiration for our trip down there next month.


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