Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, California Road Trip Itinerary

Updated: April 19, 2023

California coast, providing access to windswept trees, fog-shrouded cliffs and the Pacific Ocean

Route 1 Big Sur Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in California, offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The road winds its way through towering mountainous ridges, redwoods, small canyons, lush meadows, rocky cliffs, and picturesque beaches, providing a truly unique driving experience. Along the way, there are numerous pull-offs, vista points, and parks where visitors can enjoy the scenery or take a short hike. Route 1 is also home to a number of iconic Californian landmarks, such as the Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls. Whether you’re looking for an adventure or a relaxing drive, Route 1 Big Sur Coast Highway is sure to please.

Driving along the iconic Route 1, Big Sur Coast Highway, offers an unparalleled experience of breathtaking coastal scenery. The prime period to embark on this adventure is during October, when the combination of favorable weather, affordable travel and lodging expenses, and reduced tourist crowds enhances the overall journey. Heading southbound further ensures that striking panoramas and accessible viewpoints effortlessly grace the right side of the road.

Big Sur SR1 – California | Robert Bohrer | Dreamstime

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, California Road Trip Itinerary | © Geovea ©Mapbox ©OpenStreetMap

Trip Highlights: 1. Carmel-By-The-Sea (17-Mile Drive Pebble Beach & Monterey)  2. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve  3. Bixby Creek Bridge Viewpoint  4. Little Sur River Beach  5. Point Sur State Historic Park  6. Big Sur Village  7. McWay Falls  8. Gamboa Point  9. Sand Dollar Beach  10. Ragged Point

1. Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

Carmel Point – Carmel-By-The-Sea – California | Chris Leipelt | Unsplash

A picturesque coastal town with gorgeous scenery, quaint shops, and restaurants

Carmel-By-The-Sea, often simply Carmel, is a picturesque small town located on the central coast of California. The town is known for its picturesque streets, quaint shops, white sand beaches, and stunning ocean views. Carmel is an ideal destination for a relaxing vacation or romantic getaway. Visitors can enjoy activities such as strolling through the Carmel Mission, shopping in Carmel’s many boutiques, taking a scenic drive along 17 Mile Drive, or Pebble Beach Golf Links. Carmel is also home to a number of art galleries, restaurants, and cafes. With its lovely weather and charming atmosphere, Carmel is also a great place to enjoy the outdoors, with numerous hiking and biking trails in the area. Carmel-By-The-Sea is a truly wonderful place to visit.

Optional Ideas: Bordering Carmel to the north is Monterey. It is a well-known city for its rich history, beautiful scenery, and abundance of marine life. Monterey became the capital of California under Spanish rule. Monterey was later transitioned to Mexico, and eventually became part of the United States in 1848. Monterey is now a popular tourist destination, with many people coming to enjoy its mild climate, stunning ocean views, and variety of outdoor activities. Marine life lovers can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, while history buffs can explore Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row which was once the center of the town’s sardine canning industry. Visitors can also enjoy the city’s unique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Monterey is a truly magical place that should not be missed.

2. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California

China Cove – Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – California | Lukas Vejrik | Dreamstime

Home to stunning coastal scenery, marine life, and plenty of hiking trails

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most beautiful places in California. Located in Carmel, the reserve is home to a variety of plant and animal life, as well as stunning rock formations. Visitors can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and wildlife watching in the park. Point Lobos is also a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkeling. The clear waters and abundant sea life make it a perfect spot for exploring the underwater world. Whether you’re looking for a day of adventure or a place to relax and soak up the scenery, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is sure to please.

3. Bixby Creek Bridge Viewpoint, California

Bixby Creek Bridge – Big Sur – California | Mariusz Jurgielewicz | Dreamstime

Region’s most famous landmark which offers sweeping Pacific Ocean views

Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in California. Located on Highway 1 near Big Sur, the bridge spans 714 feet and stands 260 feet above Bixby Creek. It was built in 1932 and is one of the most photographed landmarks in the state. Bixby Creek Bridge is an incredible feat of engineering, and it’s no wonder that it’s become such a popular tourist destination. Visitors can take in the stunning views of the coastline and the bridge from several viewpoints – it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re ever in Big Sur.

4. Little Sur River Beach, California

Little Sur River Beach – California | Robert Bohrer | Dreamstime

Beautiful overview of the Little Sur River meeting the ocean on a sandy beach

Little Sur River Beach is one of the prettiest and most secluded beaches with dunes, drift logs, and steep mountains behind it, and the Little Sur River runs right through the middle of the beach. The stunning sandy beach along the Big Sur coast is unfortunately on private property. However from several points along the highway are great views, and photo opportunities.

5. Point Sur State Historic Park, California

Point Sur Lighthouse – Big Sur – California | George Ofslager | Dreamstime

An iconic lighthouse that offers stunning views of the ocean and mountains

Point Sur State Historic Park is home to a beautiful lighthouse that has stood tall since 1889. The lighthouse is located on a rocky outcropping just offshore, and it’s a popular spot for both tourists and local residents. Visitors can take a tour of the lighthouse. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the coastline from the top of the lighthouse, and there are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and wildlife watching. Point Sur State Historic Park is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the California coast.

6. Big Sur Village, California

Keyhole Arch – Pfeiffer Beach – California | Anderm | Dreamstime

Small, quiet town to rest your head while exploring the beauty of Big Sur

Big Sur village in California is a beautiful place to visit. Big Sur is a coastal area and the village is located near many beaches. The village has a lot of activities to keep visitors busy, including hiking, biking, and swimming. There are also a number of businesses, including restaurants, cafes, lodges, inns, and shops in the village. The village is also home to a number of art galleries. Big Sur is a great place to visit for a relaxing vacation.

7. McWay Falls, California

McWay Falls – Big Sur – California | Minnystock | Dreamstime

One of the most beautiful and photographed waterfalls in California

McWay Falls is one of the most iconic waterfalls in California. Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, it tumbles 80 feet (24 m) over a granite cliff into McWay Cove. The falls are only accessible from an overlook via a short hike from the parking lot. However, the views from the lookout point are well worth the effort. McWay Falls is just one of many reasons to visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Whether you’re looking for a scenic hike or a place to relax, this state park has something for everyone.

8. Gamboa Point, California

Big Sure SR1 – California | Robert Bohrer | Dreamstime

This spot will take your breath away with its stunning ocean views

Gamboa Point offers visitors stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Gamboa Point Beach is a stunning sandy beach along the Big Sur coast that is unfortunately on private property. However, the point offers great views and photo opportunities. There are two pull-out parking areas along the highway above the beach and one just south at Gamboa Point.

9. Sand Dollar Beach, California

Sand Dollar Beach – Big Sur – California | Tupungato | Dreamstime

Serene location overlooking the Pacific Ocean and gorgeous golden sand beach

Sand Dollar Beach near Plaskett, California is a must-see for any traveler to the area. This beautiful beach is known for its dramatic cliffs, which create a stunning backdrop for the perfect sunset. From the parking lot at the picnic area there is a footpath that leads to a long wooden stairway. Visitors can also enjoy plenty of activities such as beach walking, fishing, picnicking, beachcombing, rockhounding, surfing, and exploring the tide pools. The best time to visit Sand Dollar Beach is during the summer months when the weather is warm and the water is calm. However, even during the off-season, this beach is still worth a visit. With its dramatic scenery and tranquil atmosphere, Sand Dollar Beach is sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveler.

10. Ragged Point, California

Ragged Point – San Simeon – California | Larry Gevert | Dreamstime

Hidden gem offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and natural landscapes

Ragged Point is a small stop in California, located on the coast near Big Sur. The stop is named for the Ragged Point Inn, which was built in the 1900s and is one of the oldest buildings in Ragged Point. Originally an outpost of the Hearst Ranch, this incredible location is ideal for a day stop or extended stay. During your stay, enjoy amenities that include lodging, dining, a gift shop, and a gas station. The inn is located near a cliff overlooking the ocean and has stunning views of the coastline. The stop is a popular destination for travelers seeking beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere. Ragged Point is an ideal destination for those looking to explore the beauty of Highway 1.

Travel Tips

The Big Sur Coast experiences a mild, partly cloudy climate. Throughout the year, temperatures generally range from 44°F to 67°F, infrequently dipping below 37°F or exceeding 76°F. Optimal times for visiting Big Sur Coast and engaging in warm-weather pursuits span from early July until the beginning of October. Taking into account factors such as meteorological conditions, travel and accommodation costs, and peak tourist seasons, October emerges as the ideal month for a trip. Moreover, traveling southbound ensures convenient access to scenic overlooks and vistas on your right side.

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