Driving Big Sur California, Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1)

by on October 24, 2011

Experience a Drive Like No Other at Big Sur, the Scenic Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1 of California

Route 1 is an amazing journey along the California coast that’s been touted as among the world’s best, and the nation’s best. Located north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco. I’ve been along both coasts and I can honestly say this is the most impressive stretch of coast in the entire lower 48 states of the USA. With sheer, rugged cliffs (with massive dropoffs), wildlife at every turn in the water in the form of Elephant Seals and hillside flowers, coastal lighthouses, and views that extend for what seems to be an eternity, Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway is something you’ll never forget. To this day, I still remember traveling this part of the California coast for the first time more than any other vacation I’ve ever been on.

Big Sur CaliforniaDriving Big Sur

As you drive through Big Sur, you’ll wind up the Pacific Coast Highway at a snail’s pace in some parts, as you navigate hairpin turns, around cliffs, on top of cliffs, over bridges, through tiny villages, on the edge of mountains. It’s an experience unlike any other, not just for the driving, but for the gorgeous views of the aqua blue ocean and rough terrain that lies just to your side.

While it may be stressful at times, taking the right precautions while on the road can alleviate some of your travel stress. To start, plan out your trip when the fog isn’t there. Fog usually sticks around in the early morning hours in the summer, while rain blankets the region frequently in the early fall through winter, causing the occasional rock slide on the road. During the warmer months, spring through summer, the road is completely passable and enjoyable. This is the time of year I recommend heading to Big Sur, especially from late April to early September. The coast remains much cooler than the inland, which can have a great difference in temperature. You’ll also need to bring sunglasses to prevent road glare, and a cellphone might come in handy, too (though reception is sometimes non existent). However, cars are passing by all the time in Big Sur, so you won’t be alone for long if you do happen to break down.

A word to the wise: gas up before heading into Big Sur! Gas is very expensive along this stretch of road, much more expensive. Fill your tank before getting on Route 1, you’ll save yourself a lot of cash.

Flowers near Big Sur Village

Flowers near Big Sur village and the Lucia Lodge. Photo by Ed Yourdon on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Big Sur mountains

Photo of Big Sur licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 by Kangotraveler on flickr.

Pfeiffer State Park

Pfeiffer State Park - Big Sur. Photo by Reiterd on flickr licensed under CC 2.0.

Ragged Point

Located north of Heart Castle and San Simeon, Big Sur officially begins. The first destination is Ragged Point, the gateway to the rugged coastline that stretches up the California coast. While this small community is mostly privately owned, the views along the Pacific Coast Highway are extraordinary. The town is also home to the gorgeous cliff views provided by the Ragged Point Inn and Resort.  Roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this is a good stopping point if you’re looking for an out of the way, isolated retreat on the California coast.

cliffs at big sur

Photo by Kangotraveler on flickr.

Gorda

The town of Gorda is famous for something besides its splendid views of the open Pacific Ocean… it has the highest gas prices in the United States (sometimes). As you can imagine, Big Sur is a remote area, and Gorda is a remote part of Big Sur, making travel to deliver fuel no easy feat along the winding cliffs of Route 1.

cycling big sur

Bicycling in Big Sur has incredibly steep grades and provides an enormous challenge to cyclists. Photo by terrymorse on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Lucia

Lucia, California is an unincoporated town along Big Sur, approximately 50 miles north of San Simeon. If you’re looking for the local mall and chain restaurant, those won’t be here. This tiny town is sparsely populated, fitting right in with the rest of this area of the California coastline. Instead, relax and enjoy one of the world’s best views, and one of the best drives in the United States along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Los Padres National Forest

Big Sur flowers

Flowers in Big Sur, photo by Ed Yourdon.

Over 2 million acres of pristine wilderness have been preserved at Los Padres National Forest in Big Sur. Hiking, camping, and sightseeing are amongst the most popular activities in the forest. You might also be able to spot a glimpse of the endangered California Condor if you’re lucky enough, or the fastest bird in the world, the Peregrine Falcon. The ground of Los Padres National Forest contain over 300 miles of hiking trails, along with several campgrounds, including RV accessible grounds.

Big Sur Village

The village of Big Sur is just like you would imagine: small, isolated, and without many amenities. Don’t worry about those, though, because you won’t need them. No amenities can compare to the unbelievable views looking offshore. This town is actually set slightly inland compared to the rest of scenic stretch, and has more to offer in terms of restaurants and markets.

Big Sur beach

A beautiful beach in Big Sur. Photo by Kangotraveler licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula

Driving further north on the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll finally come to the end of the alluring charm of Big Sur in Carmel. Carmel is the beginning of another Californian seaside destination, the Monterey Peninsula. Enjoy the 17 Mile Scenic Drive, browse the small shops of Carmel, or visit the famous Cannery Row section of Monterey, along with the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s your last major stop before San Francisco heading further north on Route 1.

One of the nicer hotels in the region is the Hyatt Regency Monterey Resort and Spa, which I stayed at and really enjoyed. The staff was friendly, the service was great.

pfeiffer big sur falls

Pfeiffer Big Sur Falls Beach, a beautiful roadside attraction on Route 1. Photo by Rezlab on flickr licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Big Sur coastline

The Big Sur coastline. Photo by Burt Dennison Photography licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Big Sur Photos, Licensed Under Creative Commons 2.0:

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