Anyone visiting California should make a point of driving down Highway 1 to Big Sur. It is such a special stretch of coastline, and the route couldn’t be easier – a single road snaking part of the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with some of the greatest vistas you will ever lay eyes on. And scenery like that deserves a perfectly planned road trip to match – so I’ve compiled my tried and tested hotspots along the route.
If you only stay one night in Big Sur, make it here. Ventana has accommodation options to suit every budget, from super luxe $900+ per night suites to a bring-your-own-tent campsite – but I recommend you settle somewhere in the middle, with glamping.
The glampsite is in the redwood canyon, and the tents are just perfect. Each comes with two campfires (a real log one, and a gas one if you’re feeling lazy) plus a s’mores kit, hot water bottles and electric blankets (it was honestly the cosiest night I’ve ever spent!), a gorgeous bathhouse (shared bathrooms have never looked so glam!), and taps for both ready-boiled and potable water. There’s even an Airstream bar serving with beer, wine and cocktails in the evening, and a breakfast of coffee and pastries is served in the morning.
It was so relaxing – so peaceful and tranquil, and I definitely plan to return when I’m next in need of some quiet R&R.
Further south down the coast you’ll find Lucia Lodge – you can’t miss it, as it sits right on Highway 1. Here, there are ten rooms to choose from – four cliff-edge cabins, and six other rooms set slightly further back. Splashing out for a cliff-edge cabin is totally worth it, I promise! You can see the sea from the bed, and hear the waves as you drift off to sleep – I set my alarm for 5:30am to watch the sun rise and the mist roll in. It’s an ideal spot for stargazing, with no light pollution – and you may see seals down on the rocks below, or whales out on the horizon, if you’re lucky!
Even further south you’ll find Treebones. The narrow winding road up to the top of the hill (flanked with wild flowers and cacti) is worth all the effort when you reach the top and see the uninterrupted ocean views. Accommodation comes in many forms – from treehouses to yurts – but all of them are very much glamping, and there’s a pool, restaurant and yoga coach on site too – plus a human nest for whale watching!
The Wild Coast Restaurant @ Treebones
Even if you’re not staying at Treebones, you must must must pop in for a burger! The lunch menu here is insane, and best enjoyed at the balcony bar looking out to sea. They also have a sushi restaurant but really… it’s all about the burgers!
The Sur House @ Ventana
For a special occasion meal, head to The Sur House, the restaurant within the Ventana resort. Perched on the top of a hill, opt for a table on the terrace (there are heaters and blankets if gets chilly) to enjoy inventive and high class dishes (four-course prix fixe from $80), fine wines and cocktails.
Deetjen’s is famed for its hearty breakfasts – though dinner is available too, in one of the candlelit dining rooms. A country inn-style spot, with old school charm and a focus on locally-sourced, organic ingredients.
Point Lobos Natural Reserve
Best for: Wildlife – sea lions, sea otters, pelicans and seals – and well-marked scenic walking trails.
Info: $10 parking fee (cash only).
Garrapata State Park
Best for: Wildflowers and rocky views.
Info: Not well signposted from the road – just pull up in a nearby layby.
Limekiln State Park
Best for: Hikes through the redwoods, with tree trunk river crossings, waterfalls, and river-side trails.
Info: $10 parking fee (cash only – there’s an ATM at Lucia Lodge). Keep your eyes peeled for mountain lions and rattlesnakes!! (We didn’t see any though, so don’t be put off!)
Photo opportunities: McWay Falls and Bixby Bridge – just pull over, off the road.
Whale watching in Monterey Bay
Monterey is north of Big Sur itself, but it’s a great stop to start or finish a highway 1 road trip.
Book whale watching here. Take snacks and seasickness tablets. We saw blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales and dolphins, plus seals, sea lions and sea otters!
Sample itinerary for a long weekend
Suggested: Friday evening to Monday evening
Drive from San Francisco to reach Monterey in the late afternoon/evening.
Grab dinner at Schooner’s in Monterey, and stay the night at any of the nondescript hotels (the choice in Monterey is slim…).
Wake up early and head out whale watching at 9am.
Once you’re back on dry land, grab a quick coffee and lunch at Captain + Stoker then hit the road to head south to Big Sur.
Make photo stops at Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls along the way, and stay the night in a tent at Ventana’s glampsite amongst the redwoods.
Get breakfast in the glampsite, then head out to explore Big Sur.
Pfeiffer Beach is super close, but gets busy – so head there early to see the rock formations and purple sand.
Go for a forest hike at Limekiln State Park to earn your lunch: burgers at Treebones!
Check in to Lucia Lodge and watch the sun set with a bottle of Californian wine from the on-site grocery store; have dinner at the Lucia restaurant and get an early night, to the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs down below.
Wake up for sunrise – open the curtains in your cabin and watch the misty morning unfold from beneath the duvet!
Eat breakfast at Lucia Lodge before setting off north again.
Go for nature-filled hikes at Garrapata State Park and Point Lobos Natural Reserve, where you’ll see sea otters, sealions, seals and pelicans, plus beautiful wildflowers.
Keep driving homewards 🙁 to San Francisco – with a late lunch from In-N-Out Burger 🙂
Let me know if you go to Big Sur and try out any of my recommendations – would love to know what people think!