Article by Christian Morgan
It’s one of the world’s most beautiful drives and needs no introduction, but the great question when you doget to make the windy trip down US 1 is where to take your pitstops. There are lots of ways to divide the drive.
Here are the basics:
- Should I drive North or South?
- Depends on when you want your trip to “peak.”
- Using Big Sur as your dividing point, the north has more variety, and the south is more relaxed
2. How many days do I need?
- Under no circumstances should you squeeze this into any less than 3 days. Especially if you plan to make stops and enjoy things along the way.
- If you’re looking for a means to an end for transportation, take I-5.
3. Where should I sleep?
- I love a good hotel, and don’t mind splurging to be catered. But if you have the right setup, at least in the central Big Sur area, car camping is the way to go.
- Campgrounds are booked months in advance and packed with people. The Hotels are lovely, but they are charging for location.
- If waking up to the sun peeking over jagged cliffs next to the roaring Pacific Ocean is a must, the Kirk Creek Campground achieves these things. And there are no mosquitos at night.
4. What will I eat?
- San Francisco, Carmel and San Luis Obispo have tons of amazing restaurants and awesome food.
- In Big Sur, expect to pay $20 for a mediocre meal. There’s always Taco Bell, or pack groceries for in between stops.
Now on to the fun stuff — where to stop!
Starting from San Francisco southbound:
1- Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay – Lucky for most of us, the Ritz graciously allows coastal access for non-hotel guests who check in at valet. Stick around for the bagpipe player at sunset if your schedule allows.
2- Santa Cruz Boardwalk – Kitschy, quirky, America’s best seaside amusement park. You have to at least see it.
3- Capitola Wharf – Skip the crowds at Natural Bridges State Beach and head to this vibrant little beach town nearby. It’s about time for a drink.
4- Monterey Bay Aquarium – If you’re traveling with kids, have the extra time or are just really into aquariums, this is the country’s largest aquarium, and they have penguins. If not, stroll along Seaside Beach nearby instead.
5- 17-Mile Drive – There’s really nothing along the 17-mile drive you won’t see if you keep driving.
6- Carmel-by-the-Sea – Eat Mediterranean food, and browse the galleries. Drive through the adorable little neighborhood along Carmel Beach. The food you have here is the best food you’ll have for a while, so eat up!
7- Point Lobos – Loads of great trails and hiking are just around the riverbend, but if you want a more established spot to get up close and personal with the coastline (or have a group with accessibility needs), this is your stop.
8- Soberanes Canyon Trail – This is a super popular trail among locals. Consensus says hike early in the day to beat the heat.
9- Calla Lily Valley – Valley of wild calla lilies leads to private beach oasis completely hidden from the highway. Hello, little paradise.
10- Bixby Bridge – TURN LEFT. Resist the urge to follow the crowds and head up that windy, dirt road (Old Coast Road) for a view through the valley. If you’re equipped in a truck or 4-wheel drive SUV, follow it all 10 miles back through some amazing terrain .
11- Big Sur River Restautant + Inn – Strongest WI-FI in Big Sur and an adorable setup out back with wooden chairs in the river.
12- Partington Cove – Unmarked trails lead to crystal clear streams, which lead to mysterious cave tunnel, which leads to super aggressive hidden cove with 90 foot sea kelps. A favorite adventure on this road trip.
13- Hearst Castle – Yes, this is a tourist trap and a half but it’s worth every bit of $25 and 45 minutes.
14 – Montana de Oro State Park – If you’re driving in spring, this is one of the largest wildflower spots in all of CA.
15 – Downtown San Luis Obispo – Eat! Shop! Shop! Drink coffee! SHOP! Seriously, so many cute boutiques here.
Overall, you’re in for the time of your life — this is the most scenic drive you will ever take. All the windy cliffside roads, sandy beaches, flowers and views for DAYS!