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Big Sur and Highway 1

Photo by Kim Grant

Big Sur and Highway 1 Itineraries

Big Sur Day Trip: Redwoods to the Sea

"The greatest meeting of land and sea in the world" said painter Francis McComas

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The roughly 4 million people who travel through Big Sur every year typically respond the same way when they first see the stunning views of the coast along legendary California Highway 1. They drop their jaws and mutter “Oh…My…Gosh” or other words that reflect similar shock and awe.

There’s truly nothing like this coastline anywhere else in the world. Redwoods blanket the steep mountain slopes, waves crash into craggy cliffs and condors swoop through the sky.

Hardly anyone lived in this remote piece of the planet before the completion of Highway 1 in 1937. In the ensuing decades a slew of creative types, including Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Ansel Adams, hung out here, and the area still attracts free spirits and artists from around the world.


What is Big Sur?

In general, Big Sur refers to the area along the 90-mile stretch of Highway 1 that starts at Carmel in the north and ends at San Simeon and Cambria in the south. The “town” of Big Sur is a 5-mile series of inns, restaurants, shops and services that line Highway 1 from Nepenthe in the south (mile marker 44) to the Big Sur River Inn on the north end (north of mile marker 49). The hub is at the Post Office.

Come to Big Sur to hike, beachcomb or just sit under a tree. It’s all part of one of the world’s greatest getaways.


Highway 1 — Hope you’re not in a hurry

The 90-mile portion of California Highway 1 that travels along the Big Sur coast is one of the world’s most amazing drives and an engineering marvel. It took 18 years to build it (with the help of prison convicts). Highway 1 finally opened to car travel in 1937, and tourists have been driving up and down its curvy, heart-stopping lanes ever since. Highway 1 is also a California Scenic Highway and a National Scenic Byway. Take your time on this road, folks — there are plenty of pullouts and photo opps, so take advantage of them and don’t worry about lumbering vehicles slowing traffic ahead of you.

Tip: Enhance your adventure by renting a vintage VW bus, or a sleek convertible with top down, so you can savor the vivid scents of salty ocean air and earthy redwood trees along the route.


Where am I anyway?

Be forewarned: cell, wi-fi and GPS connections tend to disappear along much of this remote route. So here’s a list, in order from north (Carmel) to south (San Simeon), of places and significant landmarks along the road, so you’ll know what’s coming up next. (If you’re coming from the south, just read it in reverse order.) See our handy Transportation tips in the yellow bar above for details on using Monterey County mile markers to find locations. In most cases, the mile marker is included in the description of the sight or landmark.

• Carmel
• Carmel Mission / Carmel River State Beach
• Point Lobos
• Garrapata State Park
• Rocky Point (Mile Marker 62)
• Bixby Creek Bridge
• Hurricane Point (between Mile Markers 58 & 59)
• Point Sur Lightstation
• Andrew Molera State Park
• Big Sur River Inn
• Glen Oaks Big Sur / Big Sur Roadhouse
• Big Sur Lodge
• Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
• Big Sur Station • Pfeiffer Beach
• Big Sur Deli
• Big Sur Bakery / Big Sur Spirit Garden
• Ventana Inn & Spa / Restaurant at Ventana
• Post Ranch Inn / Sierra Mar
• Nepenthe
• Hawthorne Gallery
• Henry Miller Memorial Library
• Deetjen’s Inn & Restaurant
• Coast Gallery
• Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park / McWay Falls
• Esalen
• Lucia
• Limekiln State Park
• Jade Cove
• Treebones Resort / Wild Coast Restaurant
• Gorda


Further Details & Explorations

Highway 1 south of Harmony leads to Cayucos, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo – find details on these towns and cities in our San Luis Obispo area guide. For information on towns and cities in Carmel and points north, see our Monterey Bay, Carmel and Pebble Beach guide.

For Big Sur area information, call the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce at (831) 667-2100. Staff answers the phone Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 1. Visit the Big Sur Blog for up-to-date information on Highway 1 closure or delays and other posts related to the area.


What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Transportation

If you’re leery of heights, consider driving from south to north so you’re on the mountain side of the highway.

Also, be patient and avoid the urge to press the pedal to the metal. There are lots of turnouts along the way — use them often to catch the views instead of looking over your shoulder and away from the steering wheel. Pull over and let people pass if you’re going slow, and share the road with the cyclists. And round those blind curves extra carefully.

Mile Markers: Monterey County mile markers begin at the southern border just north of Ragged Point. This guide refers to them as Mile Marker 1, 2, etc., until they reach the Carmel River Bridge in the north just above mile marker 72. Closest mile markers to a destination are included in entries where useful/possible.

Construction and repair crews work almost constantly on the road. Call the Cal Trans toll-free hotline — (800) 427-7623which gives current info on Highway 1 traffic and road conditions from Cambria to Carmel or log onto dot.ca.gov.

Also log onto the Big Sur Blog for info on traffic and road conditions on Highway 1.

Getting There

Most visitors ride in a car or on a motorcycle so they can pull off the road whenever they wish. But you can also ride the bus.
Line 22 Big Sur Shuttle makes three roundtrips daily during the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day). It begins at 10:15 am at the Monterey Conference Center and Monterey Transit Plaza in downtown Monterey and travels through Carmel to Nepenthe in Big Sur, with stops at major parks and sights along the way.

On request, the driver will stop at Bixby Creek Bridge so you can snap photos.

In fall, winter and spring Line 22 operates two roundtrips on Saturday and Sunday only.

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