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Trip List by Scott H

Big Sur Long Weekend

Sep 29, 2007  Frequent traveller to Big Sur
5.0 of 5 stars based on 53 votes

Highway 1 in Big Sur has amazing ocean and mountain views, and is one of the world's most scenic drives. The term "Big Sur" has a double meaning: it's the 90 miles of coast between Carmel and Cambria, as well as the "village" of Big Sur. The "village" has no built-up town center, as it's really just a few hotels and restaurants along a 4 mile segment of Highway 1 in the Big Sur River valley, near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The village of Big Sur is about 3 hours south of the San Francisco airport, taking Highway 280 to 85 to 17 to 1. From the Los Angeles airport, the route is 405 to 101, exiting onto 1 in San Luis Obispo, about 6-7 hours. The best times to go are in the fall and early winter, when the summer fog clears and the roads have less traffic. The rainy season begins in late December and continues through March, but even then many days are clear and cool, with brilliant sunshine.

Make sure to have hotel or campground reservations before you go - most places are booked solid months in advance. Because Big Sur has no stoplights and essentially no cross streets, addresses can be tricky, and are usually given in terms of their distance from prominent landmark locations. Fortunately, there's only one road, so it's hard to get lost. Travel times are hard to predict, but most drivers manage an average of 30-35 miles per hour on Highway 1. Rushing through is definitely not the point in this place.

The items below are arranged in order from north to south.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Big Sur, San Simeon
  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Sightseeing, Active/Outdoors
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Singles, Active/adventure
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. Bixby Bridge
    Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

    One of the few man-made landmarks in Big Sur, this dramatic single arch concrete bridge, built over a yawning chasm, opened the region up to the outside world when it was completed in 1932. Tourists love to stop here and take pictures, and it's easy to see why: the views are spectacular. Bixby Bridge is 14 miles south of Carmel, and 12.6 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  • 2. Point Sur State Historic Park
    Point Sur State Historic Park, Big Sur, California

    A lighthouse on a rocky, windswept point that looks like an island in the distance. The lighthouse can only be accessed by a 3 hour scheduled tour. Even if you don't take the 3 hour tour, the view from Highway 1 is worth at least a few minutes to stop and imagine what life must have been like for the people in this desolate outpost. Point Sur was constructed in 1889 in response to many shipping accidents in these treacherous waters. Until Bixby Bridge was built in 1932, the lighthouse keeper and family led a lonely, isolated existence, going months without visitors. The lighthouse was automated in 1974. Point Sur is 5.5 miles south of Bixby Bridge, and 7.4 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  • 3. Big Sur River Inn
    Big Sur River Inn, Big Sur, California

    Casual dining in a relaxed setting, 1.9 miles north of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The room has a rustic mid-century lodge feel, with rough-hewn wood columns, plenty of glass, skylights, and a roaring fireplace. The bar area sometimes draws a small, lively crowd. The outdoor space is great on warm days. One of the few restaurants in Big Sur with some entrées below $20. Note: this place also has a small hotel, which gets mixed reviews from other visitors to this site.

  • 4. Glen Oaks Big Sur
    Glen Oaks Big Sur, Big Sur, California

    Recently renovated, this adobe roadside motel, surrounded by a redwood forest close to Highway 1, now features updated, ultra chic décor that you might expect to find in a New York boutique hotel. Some reviewers on this site have complained about road noise, because most of the rooms are fairly close to Highway 1. Glen Oaks is located 1.3 miles north of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  • 5. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
    Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur, California

    Pfeiffer Big Sur has the most developed facilities of any of the Big Sur state parks. Deep in a redwood forest below the Santa Lucia mountains, it has no ocean views, but features beautiful hikes through the redwoods, a waterfall, a handsome mid-century stone lodge with restaurant, well-stocked gift shop, grocery store, and frequent "around the campfire" summer activities for kids. Located 27 miles south of Carmel, and 36.7 miles north of Gorda.

  • 6. Big Sur Lodge
    Big Sur Lodge, Big Sur, California

    Located within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, nestled in a redwood forest in the Big Sur River valley, so there's no ocean view. The cottage-style rooms, joined together in motel-like groups of 4, are cute and well-maintained; some have fireplaces.

  • 7. Pfeiffer Beach
    Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

    One of the very few publicly accessible beaches in Big Sur. Parts of the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film "The Sandpiper" were shot here in 1965, and fortunately the place looks much the same today. Highlights include a natural rock arch just offshore, where the waves crash through. Enter from Sycamore Canyon Road (the first paved road on the left after the Big Sur Post Office) 1.1 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 0.6 miles north of the Loma Linda gas station. It's a 2 mile drive to the parking lot, down a winding road - RVs not recommended - and then a short walk over a hill to the beach.

  • 8. Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant
    Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur, California

    Modern, well-executed food. A little on the expensive side for a restaurant with no ocean view, but worth at least one visit. Located in the Loma Linda "complex," which includes one of the three gas stations in Big Sur, and a few small shops, 1.7 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 1.3 miles north of Nepenthe.

  • 9. Post Ranch Inn
    Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California

    Extremely beautiful and romantic hotel with spectacular views 1200 feet above the Pacific, in a "California modern" style: plenty of glass, rough-hewn wood, and stone that harmonize with the natural setting. Each of the 39 rooms has a king-size bed, a shower/whirlpool bath for 2 with a private view of the mountains or ocean, and a wood-burning fireplace. The rooms don't have TVs; perfect for those seeking respite from the outside world. If you must watch TV, there's a handsome library on the grounds with a flat screen, books, and a chess board. The excellent on-site restaurant and spa mean you never have to leave once you're comfortably settled in.

    The prices vary wildly with the view: ocean views start above $1000/night. However, the less expensive rooms are also architecturally interesting, with thoughtful touches like window seats, and have great mountain views. You won't feel nickel-and-dimed here with hidden fees, either. An elaborate buffet breakfast is free along with in-room WiFi and valet parking; so is the minibar, and it's re-stocked daily, or more often upon request (of course, alcoholic beverages are extra). The place caters to adult couples, and no one under 18 is allowed; don't go if you expect a swinging nightlife or wild pool scene. It's located 2.2 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 8.7 miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

  • 10. Sierra Mar
    Sierra Mar, Big Sur, California

    Clifftop ocean view dining at the Post Ranch Inn, 1200 feet above the Pacific. It's not an exaggeration to say that Sierra Mar is the best restaurant in Big Sur, and one of the best in all of California. Reservations are required for dinner, but the restaurant is also open to the public for lunch after 12:15. Menus change nightly depending on what the chef can source locally. The prix fixe menu is a great value, and there's a huge wine list.

  • 11. Nepenthe Restaurant, Cafe Kevah
    Nepenthe, Big Sur, California

    Legendary views 800 feet above the Pacific if you don't want to pay Sierra Mar prices. The service is friendly, and the food is good; especially the outstanding Ambrosia burger. The main attraction is the scenery, but it also has a large gift and book shop with many locally-made items. Nepenthe has been a local institution since the 1950s, and even made a cameo appearance in the "Sandpiper" film. The moviemakers built a soundstage that looked exactly like the place and staged a pivotal scene there with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It's 3 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and 8 miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park.

  • 12. Hawthorne Gallery

    Gorgeous modernist glass and wood gallery space, with expensive art and decorative items, located just across Highway 1 from Nepenthe. The building alone is worth a visit, and it has an elevated outdoor deck with ocean views.

  • 13. Deetjen's Big Sur Inn Restaurant
    Deetjen's Big Sur Inn Restaurant, Big Sur, California

    Quaint, cozy place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, crammed with antiques and a wood burning fireplace. The building dates from the 30's and is tucked into a redwood forested canyon, 0.6 miles south of Nepenthe and 2.3 miles north of the Coast Gallery. The effect is especially romantic at night - the food is a bit pricey, but the experience is worth it. It's easy to be confused because the entrance sign says "Big Sur Inn", not "Deetjen's."

  • 14. Henry Miller Memorial Library
    Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, California

    Henry Miller scandalized Americans in the mid 20th century with his frank, unapologetic writing about human sexuality. He retreated from the "air-conditioned nightmare" (one of his book titles) of conventional society, living in a Big Sur cabin from 1944-1962. Like its namesake, the Henry Miller Library, which includes a conference center and music performance space, is militantly non-commercial and more than a bit grungy. It's 3.2 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  • 15. Coast Gallery Big Sur
    Coast Gallery Big Sur, Big Sur, California

    Not recommended, but it may trap the unwary tourist. Interesting architecture on the outside (the exterior appeared in the "Sandpiper" film as the gallery where Elizabeth Taylor's artist character exhibited her work for sale) gives way to a cramped, unwelcoming space that hasn't been renovated since the 60's. Fluourescent lighting and tasteless bric-a-bric abound. It's 6 miles south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and the first (or last, depending on your travel direction) of the businesses in northern Big Sur. To the south, there are very few restaurants, hotels, gas stations, or commercial services of any kind for miles.

  • 16. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
    Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California

    If you stop nowhere else in Big Sur, you should here. A 15 minute visit is rewarded with one of the most unforgettable views on Earth. The must-see view of McWay Falls tumbling directly into the Pacific is just a short walk following the sign marked "waterfall trail" off the parking lot. Not to be confused with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park 11 miles to the north; Gorda is 25.8 miles to the south.

  • 17. Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

    This winding, hairpin turn road has amazing views down to the ocean. On foggy days, it's a good vantage point to see the area, as it climbs over 2000 feet above sea level, and is usually high above any fog banks. There are several scenic turnouts large enough to park a car and enjoy an impromptu picnic. This is also the easiest way from Highway 1 to reach the top of Cone Peak, as Cone Peak Trail exits from this road a few miles inland. Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is exactly 17 miles south of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and 8.8 miles north of Gorda.

  • 18. Jade Cove
    Jade Cove, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo County

    Another of the rare beach access areas in Big Sur, which features grand views up to Cone Peak, only three miles from the coast; at 5,177 feet, Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the continental US. Jade Cove shares a parking lot with Sand Dollar Beach, 3.7 miles north of Gorda and 22 miles south of the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The beach is accessed by steps down a 50 foot cliff, a short walk from the parking lot.

  • 19. Gorda Springs Resort
    Gorda Springs Resort, Big Sur, California

    Not necessarily recommended, but many travelers end up here as it has one of only three gas stations in the Big Sur area. In fact, Gorda has the dubious distinction of the most expensive gasoline in the US, according to a March 2008 New York Times article. The place also has a small cafe and motel. It's located 33.5 miles north of Cambria and 36.7 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  • 20. Ragged Point Inn
    Ragged Point Inn and Resort, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo County

    The southernmost restaurant and hotel in Big Sur, with great cliffside ocean views and handsome landscaped grounds. These are open to the public and worth a visit. Unfortunately, the cuisine and service aren't equally spectacular. Located 22 miles north of Cambria and 11.6 miles south of Gorda.