Winding, narrow California 1 Highway cuts into cliffs and overlooks the ocean, offering outstanding displays of Big Sur’s famous scenery. Be mesmerized by tall rocks and breaking waves, with new views after every turn.
As you drive south from Carmel Highlands, appreciate the change from city to oceanside setting, breathing in salty air and seeing crashing white waves over blue-green waters. Park at a vista point to take the first of many photos. After 10 miles (16 kilometers), you’ll see Bixby Creek Bridge, an arched span 260 feet (80 meters) in the air, stretching across a small creek. Stop at the south end after crossing the bridge for amazing sunset views.
Join a guided tour at Point Sur State Historic Park with a hike to the the 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse, standing guard over the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Continue on to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Camp or stay in the Big Sur Lodge and watch for wildlife while walking along the Big Sur River. Drive to the ocean’s edge to relax on the sands of Pfeiffer Beach, another great sunset destination.
Bring binoculars to view marine animals. Gray whales migrate past in December, January, March and April. Even without binoculars you can see and hear the elephant seals at Seal Beach Overlook. Often they’ll be resting, looking like smooth elongated rocks on the sand.
Hike with little risk of crowds from marked trailheads with roadside parking. Follow serpentine paths up into the Santa Lucia Mountains or down to the Pacific Ocean. Walk to the rocks in Partington Cove in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. View the narrow cascade of McWay Falls dropping from a granite cliff to the beach.
Drive south from Monterey, reaching the Big Sur highway within 30 minutes, near Malpaso Creek. Continue to San Simeon and Hearst Castle, the hilltop estate built by William Randolph Hearst. Check travel conditions before starting your drive because landslides occasionally cause road closures. Note that parks charge access fees.