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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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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