Oceanside at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on California coastline

10 Reasons That Big Sur Is the Best Coastal Drive in the U.S.

Oceanside at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on California coastline

10 Reasons That Big Sur Is the Best Coastal Drive in the U.S.

Big Sur spans 85 miles with some of the country's most stunning views. From Carmel to San Simeon, these stops prove Big Sur is the best drive in the U.S.

Arguably the best stretch of California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur encompasses 85 miles of some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. While driving the route may require some detours due to recent fires, mudslides, and bridge outages – which put some of the area’s top spots temporarily out of bounds on occasion (check the status of your route here before departing) – the drive is stunning when it’s possible. From Carmel to San Simeon, these stops prove Big Sur is the best drive in the U.S.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A view from Point Lobos near Carmel, California
Source: Adobe Stock

Boasting extraordinary views and natural beauty, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in

Carmel-By-The-Sea is a must-visit. Home to a variety of wildlife, the reserve has rare flowers and plants, hidden coves, archeological sites, beautiful geological formations, and more. Hike along one of the many coastal trails to experience this breathtakingly beautiful place.

Garrapata State Park

Beautiful summer mountain coastal landscape. Garrapata State Park and beach, Big Sur, California, USA
Source: Adobe Stock

Considered a hidden jewel along the coast, Garrapata State Park boasts not only jagged coastal beauty, but also majestic redwood groves along the Santa Lucia Mountains. Stop here to enjoy some of the best hiking trails in Big Sur, or pull off at Soberanes Point for a chance to view whales during their winter migrations.

Bixby Bridge

blue sky over ocean at Bixby bridge, Pacific coast, California
Source: Adobe Stock

An architectural wonder, Bixby Bridge is one of the highlights of a Big Sur drive. Built in 1932, the bridge is one of the highest of its kind in the world, running over a steep canyon as it hugs the Pacific coastline. Stop along one of the turnouts to better appreciate this iconic landmark.

Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur Lightstation / Lighthouse State Historic Park on Big Sur Highway, rugged California coastline
Source: Adobe Stock

Point Sur lighthouse commands its dramatic position from high atop a large volcanic rock. As the only complete turn-of-the century light station open to the public in California, it is a National Historic Landmark. Take a walking tour to explore this historic and remote landmark up close.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Point Sur Lightstation / Lighthouse State Historic Park on Big Sur Highway, rugged California coastline
Source: Adobe Stock

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has a bit of everything that makes Big Sur such an attraction — waterfalls, redwoods, hiking, meadows, incredible views, and plenty of wildlife. If you plan to split your Big Sur drive into two days, this state park also has plenty of camping options.

Pfeiffer Beach

Sunset through key hole Pfeiffer Beach, California
Source: Adobe Stock

Purple sands and jagged rocks surround Pfeiffer Beach, one of Big Sur’s greatest gems and a favorite spot for photographers. With the right timing (and a little luck), catch the sun setting through the “keyhole,” a unique rock formation on the famed beach. Note that due to road conditions, the beach is currently closed; check here for updated conditions.

McWay Falls

blue sky over palm trees and ocean at McWay Falls, Big Sur, California
Source: Adobe Stock

Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls is a picturesque 80-foot waterfall that plummets right onto the beach in a small cove. While the beach itself is off-limits, snag a good view from the McWay Falls Overview Trail, accessible via the state park entrance.

Limekiln State Park

Trail through tall trees in Redwood Forest, Limekiln State Park, Big Sur, California
Source: Shutterstock

Home to some of Monterey County’s oldest redwood groves, Limekiln State Park sits in the steepest coastal canyon in the continental U.S. Stop and hike the trails, which also offer beach access, or explore the historic kilns that hail from the 1880s, when workers quarried and smelted limestone in the area.

Piedras Blancas Rookery

Elephant seals on the beach along the central coast of California in Point Piedras Blancas
Source: Adobe Stock

Stretching across 6 miles of shoreline, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is a prime spot to view elephant seals sunning themselves along the beach. Viewing is free along the Elephant Seal Boardwalk. Although the seals are visible year-round, the best viewing occurs in January, April, and October.

Hearst Castle

bright blue sky and palm trees outside Hearst Castle in Big Sur, California
Source: Adobe Stock

A grand finish to the stunning drive, Hearst Castle is a 165-room mansion sprawling across 127 acres with terraces, gardens, and pools. The former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, this California State Historical Monument is filled with luxurious artifacts and artwork. Take a guided tour to see the full extent of its opulence and history.

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