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Big Sur Itinerary for a Classic California Road Trip

Today I want to bring you my Big Sur itinerary for a California road trip along Highway 1. This famous stretch of the Central Coast has everything from boulder-laden beaches to dramatic waterfalls and redwood trees. Going on a Big Sur road trip is one of the most exciting things to do on a California vacation, and I’m excited to tell you about my favorite parts of Big Sur. Read on for my travel itinerary and a map with all the highlights.

Big Sur Itinerary

Big Sur, California

So where is Big Sur? This coastal area lies along a 90-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean on the Central Coast of California. It’s south of Carmel, north of San Simeon and Hearst Castle, and west of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The iconic Pacific Coast Highway (called the Cabrillo Highway here) runs the length of Big Sur. This coastal road grants locals and visitors access to state parks, hiking trails, restaurants, hotels, campsites, beaches, and more.

This stretch of coastline is one of the most beautiful places in California. It’s worth visiting to discover the awe-inspiring natural scenery it has to offer.

Big Sur View
Big Sur View from Highway 1

Big Sur Itinerary

My Big Sur itinerary follows a trip I’m on with my boyfriend. We’re traveling south from San Francisco to meet his sister and brother-in-law, who are coming north from Los Angeles. We’re all meeting in the middle for a fun California road trip. We can’t wait to see what it has in store for us.

Day 1

My boyfriend and I leave San Francisco in the morning. We take the coastal route on Highway 1, which means it’s around a 3-hour drive from the city to Big Sur.

After driving south through Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel, we cross the photogenic Bixby Bridge. We’re officially in Big Sur, with all the cliffs, beaches, and boulders this place is known for.

McWay Beach
McWay Beach

Treebones Resort in Big Sur

We drive all the way to the southern end of Big Sur to get to our accommodation for the next two nights. It’s called Treebones Resort, and it’s famous for glamping.

Treebones offers a lot of unique styles of lodging, including spacious luxury yurts, tree houses, and a human nest. We’ve wanted to come to this place for a long time, and we’re excited to finally be here.

We’re staying in one of the yurts. They’re big circular tents on raised platforms dotted along a hillside overlooking the ocean. Inside we discover a big bed, sink, and tables and benches. Outside we have a private deck with Adirondack chairs.

Big Sur Yurt
Big Sur Yurt at Treebones

We set our bags down and head out to explore the resort. It has pathways with sweeping coastal views, an organic garden, a swimming pool and hot tub, a sloping lawn leading to a yoga pavilion, and a renowned sushi restaurant. As we walk, we see rabbits and hear local sea lions barking in the distance.

In the evening, we meet up with my boyfriend’s sister and brother-in-law for a 3-course dinner in The Lodge Restaurant at Treebones. This place serves dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients, many of which come from the garden outside.

We order a range of food, from pizzas to scallops and miso black cod. The atmosphere is buzzing, and we have a great meal. It’s a fun way to start our trip to Big Sur.

Big Sur Tree House
Treebones Tree House

Day 2

The following morning our Big Sur itinerary continues with a day of discovering the southern part of the region.

Soda Springs Trail Hike

Our first stop is Soda Springs Trail. This winding hike in the hills above the coast offers old oak trees, thick foliage, and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean below.

Leaving Treebones, we drive a short distance south to get to the trailhead. Once on the hike, we discover everything from waterfalls to wildflowers in lush surroundings. It’s a great way to start the day.

Soda Springs Trail in California
Soda Springs Trail

Wild Flowers in May

When we finish the hike, we hop in the car and head north to a spot called Wild Flowers in May. We found it on Google Maps, and we’re curious to see what it’s all about. When we arrive, we discover a hillside along Highway 1 blanketed in purple wildflowers and orange California poppies. The riot of color is breathtaking.

We pull over and get out to take pictures and stand in awe of the scenery. There are benches and paths through the flowers, not to mention rock formations and stairways. Someone has clearly spent time making this a special place.

Big Sur Wildflowers
Wild Flowers in May

Sand Dollar Beach

After taking some pictures, we get back into the car to start the next leg of our Big Sur itinerary. It’s at Sand Dollar Beach, the longest unbroken stretch of sand in the area. This crescent-shaped shoreline is a fun spot to walk, picnic, surf, and sunbathe on the California coast.

We pay to park in the lot across the street from Plaskett Creek Campground. From there we walk along a clifftop path and head down a set of steps to get to the sand below. We take in picture-pretty views of the surfers in the Pacific Ocean on the way.

Sand Dollar Beach, California
Sand Dollar Beach

When we get to Sand Dollar Beach we set down towels and chairs, and lay out a picnic spread of fresh fruit, smoked salmon, and charcuterie. It’s a delicious al fresco lunch.

After eating our fill, we walk along the beach. There’s a big cave on one end and huge rock formations on the other. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to spend an afternoon on the Central Coast.

Sand Dollar Beach Cave
Sand Dollar Beach Cave

Cliff Walk

From the beach our Big Sur itinerary continues as we make our way back up to the parking lot and take a walk from there. Coastal paths lead us over a flat stretch to the cliff edge. When we get there, we take in views of secluded coves, beaches, and boulders in the water.

Surprisingly, we also discover we get mobile phone reception here. It’s one of the few places we find it on the trip, and we weren’t expecting it.

Big Sur Coast
View from the Cliffs by Sand Dollar Beach

Dinner at the Sushi Bar at Treebones

When we get back to the parking lot, we drive south to return to our yurts. We have a glass of wine at the outdoor bar overlooking the ocean, then walk a few feet over to have dinner at the legendary Wild Coast Sushi Bar at Treebones.

The restaurant is an intimate screened-in space with eight seats situated around the counter. Dinner is a 14-course omakase tasting menu featuring everything from fresh seafood to locally-harvested herbs.

We enjoy a front-row seat as we watch the chef prepare everything from sashimi to nigiri and temaki at the sushi bar. It’s an unforgettable experience, not least because we enjoy a spectacular sunset as we dine.

Wild Coast Sushi Bar at Treebones
Wild Coast Sushi Bar at Treebones

Day 3

The next morning our Big Sur itinerary sees us check out of Treebones and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to the northern part of Big Sur. We’ll be staying in this part of the region for the next two nights, and we’re excited to explore more of the area.

Big Sur Coastline
Big Sur Coastline

McWay Falls in Big Sur

Our day starts with a drive up the Cabrillo Highway past Limekiln State Park and over Big Creek Bridge. We’re making our way to McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s the most iconic waterfall in Big Sur, and it’s worth a special trip.

We find parking along the road, then enter the park on foot. We walk down a trail and through a tunnel to get to the vista point above the waterfall. The cascade pours down a cliff in a thin line before reaching the beach in the sandy cove. It’s a stunning sight to see.

McWay Falls, Big Sur
McWay Falls

Partington Cove Hike

After taking some pictures, we walk back to the car and drive north to the next stop on our Big Sur itinerary: Partington Cove. This small inlet is located a short distance from McWay Falls. It was used as a loading point for ships in the 19th century, and it’s a popular place for hiking today.

We park next to the highway near the unmarked entrance (I’ve put the exact location on the map below), then walk down the curving path leading to the ocean.

We hike alongside a redwood grove, then go through a tunnel to reach the cove on the other side. It’s a wonderful hidden place, and coastal fog adds an element of magic to it.

Partington Cove
Partington Cove

Henry Miller Memorial Library

After exploring Partington Cove, we hike back up the hill to the car and drive north to the Henry Miller Library. It’s a nonprofit arts center comprised of an open-air sculpture gallery, bookstore, and outdoor performing arts venue. The whole place pays homage to late writer Henry Miller.

The shop is housed in a home Miller once lived in. It sells books by both Miller and celebrated writers like Jack Kerouac. The outdoor space is used for concerts and exhibitions, and the whole complex feels like a throwback to California’s hippie days.

Henry Miller Memorial Library
Henry Miller Memorial Library

The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe

The next stop on our Big Sur itinerary is located just north of the Henry Miller Library. The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe was founded in 1964, and it offers a variety of eclectic gifts to satisfy the body, mind, and spirit.

The shop is brimming with home furnishings, decorative items, books, games, and clothing from around the world. We busy ourselves browsing the shelves and soaking up the ocean views from the deck outside. In the end we purchase everything from jigsaw puzzles to hot sauce, shirts, and handbags.

The Phoenix Shop in Big Sur
The Phoenix Shop

Lunch at Big Sur Bakery

After shopping, we get back in the car and drive a little way north to Big Sur Bakery. This roadside restaurant is known for its hearty California cuisine and delicious wood-fired pizzas. We order at the counter and settle in for lunch outside in the sunshine.

All around the restaurant are open-air art galleries, gift shops, and gardens full of succulents. We walk through them after eating, letting ourselves be tempted by books, paintings, and other fun finds. Someone’s even setting up for a wedding in the garden.

Succulent Garden, Big Sur
Succulent Garden in Big Sur

Glen Oaks Big Sur

After lunch we drive to the next place on our Big Sur itinerary. It’s our accommodation for the night, and it’s called Glen Oaks.

This Big Sur hotel is known for its luxurious cabins, all of which are nestled in the redwoods. Originally a 1950s motor lodge, today this place offers high-end rooms in picturesque natural surroundings.

Big Sur Hotel Room
Glen Oaks Cabin Interior

We get settled into our cabins, both of which have comfortable beds and intimate seating areas. They also come with outdoor fire pits and baskets with all the ingredients for s’mores. They’re perfect.

After getting unpacked, we walk along the trails that connect the cabins and head down to the Big Sur River, which is on the premises. There are redwood groves all around, and footbridges spanning the water. We even stumble upon a wedding on a little lawn in the trees.

Redwood Trees in Big Sur
Redwood Trees at Glen Oaks

Drinks at Big Sur River Inn

Later our Big Sur road trip itinerary continues as we drive over to Big Sur River Inn, the region’s first hotel and restaurant. This place is known for its Adirondack chairs, which sit right in the middle of the stream.

We head to the bar to order drinks, then carry them down to the water to enjoy them as the river runs over our feet. The water is ice cold, but it’s fun to brave it anyway. It’s certainly one of the most unique experiences we’ve had so far.

Big Sur River Chairs
Big Sur River Chairs

Dinner at Deetjen’s

After drinks we drive over to Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a one-of-a-kind 1930s hotel and restaurant tucked away in the redwood trees. Deetjen’s Restaurant has low atmospheric lighting and walls full of eclectic knickknacks. Stepping inside feels like traveling back in time.

Seated at a round table in one of the restaurant’s small dining rooms, we tuck into a dinner of beet salads, paella, risotto, and steak. The wine is good and the service unimpeachable. It’s our favorite meal in Big Sur.

Back at our hotel, we ignite the logs in our fire pit, roast marshmallows, and enjoy s’mores under a sea of stars. We can’t think of a better way to end the day.

Big Sur Restaurant
Deetjen’s Restaurant

Day 4

The following morning our Big Sur itinerary takes us to breakfast at the Big Sur Roadhouse restaurant at our hotel. We tuck into complimentary coffee and doughnuts before ordering huevos rancheros and other breakfast favorites at an outdoor table with a fire in the middle.

Big Sur Roadhouse
Big Sur Roadhouse

Hike in Andrew Molera State Park

After eating, we make the quick drive to Andrew Molera State Park. This relatively undeveloped part of Big Sur spans 4,800 acres and features diverse coast range terrain.

The park offers 15 miles of hiking trails, many of which pass through coastal scrub, wildflower-laden uplands, and sandy beaches along the Central Coast.

We pay to park in the lot, then embark on an 8-mile hike that follows the Creamery Meadow Trail, Ridge Trail, Panorama Trail, Spring Trail, and Bluff Trail.

The beginning of the route takes us across a stream and leads us up a high hill with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera State Park Hike

From there the trails take us to everything from redwood trees to a driftwood waterfall on the beach. We even come across a Pacific gopher snake on the path.

At the end of our hike we arrive at the beach at Andrew Molera State Park. With hulking rocks and layers of smooth wood, it’s a picturesque picnic spot.

We brought sandwiches from Big Sur Deli, so we find a place to sit and enjoy a late lunch as the wind whips up the waves along the waterfront.

Driftwood Waterfall in Big Sur
Driftwood Waterfall in Big Sur

Drinks and Live Music at Fernwood

Later in the day our Big Sur itinerary continues at Fernwood, a campground and resort dating back to 1932. There’s a band playing on the bar’s outdoor terrace, and we order cocktails and listen to the music as the sun goes down.

Live Music Big Sur
Live Music at Fernwood

Dinner at Nepenthe

After enjoying a drink, we hop in the car and drive to dinner at Nepenthe. It’s one of the most famous restaurants in Big Sur. Set on a cliff above the coast, its outdoor terraces and indoor dining room are some of the most popular places to eat in the region.

We pull up right at sunset, and we take in the tree-lined views as we order salads and mains. The food isn’t the best we’ve had on the trip, but the atmosphere here is second to none.

Nepenthe View in Big Sur
Sunset at Nepenthe

Day 5

The next morning our Big Sur trip itinerary comes to an end. We have French toast at the Big Sur Roadhouse before checking out of our hotel and parting ways to drive to San Francisco and LA.

French Toast
French Toast in Big Sur

Bixby Bridge

But we have one stop left before we go: Bixby Bridge. This local landmark is one of the most popular places to photograph in Big Sur. Completed in 1932, it’s one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world.

We park along the highway and walk over to the viewpoint north of Bixby Bridge. The views of the metal arch and surrounding coastline are amazing.

Back in the car, my boyfriend and I take the fast route back to San Francisco. We get to the city in two-and-a-half hours, and our Big Sur itinerary is officially done.

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge

Big Sur Map

As promised, you’ll find an interactive map of all the places in my Big Sur itinerary here. If you click on the blue pins, you can see the name of each one.

I hope the map helps you understand where things are relative to one another so you can plan a Big Sur road trip of your own.

Big Sur Coast Wildflowers
Big Sur Coast Wildflowers

Big Sur Itinerary for a California Road Trip

If you get a chance to go, I hope you enjoy your Big Sur itinerary as much as we enjoyed our time on this part of the California coast. From the landscapes to the beaches, hikes, shops, hotels, and restaurants, it gave us a good overview of what the area has to offer.

We enjoyed seeing both the northern and southern parts of Big Sur, too. Most visitors choose one or the other, but it was worth giving each its due. The landscapes were different, and it was fun to spend time in each half to take in the highlights and not have to drive long distances every day.

If you want more inspiration, you can take a look at my blog post about a Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey itinerary. Happy travels!

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Big Sur Itinerary

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