Travel Blog Big Sur California – One of the best American road trip routes

Highway 1 big sur california

Big Sur California – One of the best American road trip routes

Posted by Avis on April 20, 2018 | people viewed

Arguably the USA’s most iconic road trip Big Sur California– Highway One – is drenched in sunshine and joy and is one of the best places in California to go for a self-drive. It stretches 90 miles south of Carmel from Point Lobos all the way to Hearst Castle and is one of the most memorable sections of coastline on the planet. Hailed as the ultimate California road trip, driving the Big Sur is a coast-hugging drive, where the Santa Lucia mountains plunge into the sea, and the surf and wind relentlessly pound the rocks and shore below and bend the native cypress trees into otherworldly shapes. With its mild climate, the outstanding highway system, and nonstop-gorgeous scenery, you can rent a car in California, take the Highway 1 road to discover secret beaches and soaring cliffs along Big Sur California road trip.

Image Source: Pixabay


Map: Big Sur California – Highway 1

Highway 1 Big Sur California

Take an international outbound flight to San Francisco. On arrival in San Francisco make way to a downtown hotel to relax after your flight or begin to explore the city, perhaps taking a stroll in Golden Gate Park or exploring the brightly decorated streets of Chinatown. Hire a car rental in California and set off on one of the most striking journeys of your life.

Big Sur California – Highway 1: Mini Guide

Quick Preview

Distance: 656 KM Drive Time: 7h 35 min (2-day journey)
San Francisco Airport > Santa Cruz > Moss Landing > Monterey > Santa Barbara

Best time to travel:
Northern California can get hit by big rain storms from late November, hence summers are the hot season for taking this drive, but expect the hotels and motels to be filled and whatever vacancies available to be especially pricey.

Local Language: English

Recommended Car Rental in California:
Whether your objective is to check off California’s greatest hits, an all-in-the-family visit to iconic coastline, or an off-the-beaten-track adventure, just hire a car rental in California which has a vehicle to match your mood and style—snazzy convertibles, family-friendly vans, rugged models that can handle all types of conditions, all in excellent shape and with good road assistance and optional insurance policies. For booking visit

Driving Rules:
– California law states that everyone in a vehicle must wear a seatbelt, and motorcyclists must wear a helmet.
– Speed limits are posted in miles per hour (mph).
o Generally, the speed limit on multilane freeways is 65mph/105 kilometres per hour (kph); on two-lane highways, the limit is generally 55 mph/90 kph.
o The speed limit on city streets is usually 35 mph/55 kph, though in residential areas and near schools, the limit is generally 25 mph/40 kph
– It is against the law in California to write, send, or read text-based messages while driving, and drivers must use a hands-free device when speaking on a mobile phone.

San Francisco: Home to The Golden Gate

Big Sur California Golden Gate San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, United States | Image Source: Unsplash


Beginning your Big Sur California adventure in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, be sure to spend some time in San Francisco before you embark on this bucket list journey as you will have plenty of places to visit in San Francisco. While it’s impossible to reduce all of the amazing things to do in San Francisco down to a small paragraph, some unmissable activities include wandering over to Fisherman’s Wharf where you’ll see hundreds of sea lions at Pier 39, make your way over to San Fran’s famous winding Lombard Street to snap a few photos before venturing over to the famous Golden Gate Bridge, followed by a stroll around Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences, and a visit to the row of pastel-colour Victorian and Edwardian homes known as the Painted Ladies or you could even go shopping.  At the end of your trip, you can find great hotels in San Francisco to have rest and take a breather.

Santa Cruz: Big Sur California

Big Sir California Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz | Image Source: Unsplash


The classic Californian beach town of Santa Cruz should be your first stop. This ultra-mellow beach town along Highway One on Big Sur California Route is a surf town at its heart. Take a boat tour out from the wharf for excellent whale-watching—grays, blues, or humpbacks, depending on the time of year— or head inland just a bit to see the ancient trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The boho-funky beaches of Santa Cruz, where surfers carve waves and kids play on a classic waterfront boardwalk will surely leave you enchanted and complete your California road trip.

Moss Landing: Big Sur California

Big Sur California Moss Landing

A quaint fishing village featuring several antique shops, art studios, fresh seafood markets and delightful restaurants all within strolling distance of each other, Moss Landing is a seaside gem that holds the largest population of sea otters on the Monterey Bay. With over 600 slips for recreational boaters and commercial vessels, the Moss Landing Harbor along the Big Sur California route is a lovely spot to moor. Once you are on land, explore the Elkhorn Slough Reserve, a one-of-a-kind ecosystem home to diverse wildlife. In addition to this, during summers, when conditions are calm, experienced paddlers can take guided kayak tours into the open ocean off Moss Landing, putting them smack-dab in the middle of the whale-watching action.

Monterey: Big Sur California

Big Sur California Monterey Bay Aquarium


The modest seaside town of Monterey – a destination all by itself – is a two and a half hour drive from San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway on the Big Sur California Route. With its psychedelic jellies and bat-ray petting tanks, your first stop should be Monterey Bay to visit the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. Step outside and find yourself among hotels, shops, and restaurants filling former fish-packing plants along Cannery Row, made famous by local author John Steinbeck. For beach access, consider the Monterey State Beach (W1) where you can swim, surf, explore tide pools, beachcombing, kayak, scuba dive, and of course, enjoy a romantic stroll on the beach. The Asilomar State Beach (W2) also offers beach access, as well as coastal hiking and a boardwalk loop through a dune. Then take a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf before grabbing some on Cannery Row. Pick up the scenic ‘17 mile drive’ which is a private road from Monterey to Carmel through the gated community of Pebble Beach. The 20-minute drive passes beautiful mansions, golf courses and passing the ‘Lone Cypress’ tree on the coast. Spend an hour or two hiking around the gorgeous shoreline trails and wave-battered bluffs of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve(10 minutes south of Carmel), and don’t miss your chance for a photo of Big Sur California’s Bixby Bridge, another 20 minutes beyond the park.

Hearst Castle: Big Sur California

Big Sur California Hearst Castle


Lavishly designed by Julia Morgan (California’s first female licensed architect), as the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the complex, completed in 1947, is an extraordinary temple of opulence and excess. Now showcased within one of Big Sur California’s most visited state parks, it is a must-see, an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 127 acres/51 hectares of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools. The estate sprawls across acres of lushly landscaped gardens, accentuated by shimmering pools and fountains, statues from ancient Greece and Moorish Spain and the ruins of what was in Hearst’s day the world’s largest private zoo. Tours usually depart starting at 9 am daily, with the last leaving the visitor centre for the 10-minute ride to the hilltop by 4 pm (later in summer). The best way to reach this estate is by hiring a car rental in California.

Santa Barbara: Big Sur California

Big Sur California Santa Barbara


Your road trip along the Big Sur California route culminates in the perfect architecture and setting. Take it from the movie stars who sneak away to Santa Barbara all the time—or just straight up move here. Oprah, Brad, Ellen, and other first-name’s-enough A-listers have estates here. And why not? There’s that legendary Old World beauty that befits the city’s nickname, “The American Riviera.” Add wine country producing award-winning vintages, outdoor adventures on land and sea, big-city arts and entertainment, and you have a city that’s a poster child for the California good life. Stroll State Streets for excellent shops and dining, launch a kayak from East Beach to paddle under Stearns Wharf, visit the classic Old Mission Santa Barbara, and tour the 1782 Presidio for a look at original adobes like El Cuartel, the second oldest surviving building in the state. To take the best out of your trip you must hire a car rental in California.

The US is a vast country and hosts multiple routes to experience a great road trip. One such great drive is the White Rim Trail.


Special Mention: The Ultimate Summer Road Trip – San Francisco to Los Angeles

San Francisco

Hailed as the “Ultimate Summer Road-Trip”, San Francisco to L.A. incorporated a 450 mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, commonly known to Californians as “PCH” or the 1 with nonstop-gorgeous scenery and unarguably the best way to experience the “Californian state of mind.”

Begin your epic adventure by hiring a car rental San Francisco International Airport and setting off to explore a city packed full of character and diverse things to do and make your trip along the Big Sur California trip unforgettable.

Things to do in San Francisco:

  • Explore Alcatraz Island
  • Manoeuvre through Lombard Street
  • Dig into fish & chips at Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge

Along the way: Classic Waterfront Boardwalk of Santa Cruz

As you cruise south on the Pacific Coast Highway, getting afar from the city buzz in your rearview mirror, breath-taking sights unfold before you. Your first stop will be Santa Cruz – stretch your legs along this half-mile long beachfront amusement park before heading to the next destination.

Along the way: A mesmerizing underwater world in Monterey

Admire marine life at its best at Monterey Bay Aquarium and engage in water activities like whale watching and surfing. And after a dose of the magnificent marine ecosystem, why not sip some wine.

Just a reminder, don’t hesitate to pull over and take in the gorgeous Pacific vistas from time to time.

Along the way: The American Riviera – Santa Barbara

Immerse in the Spanish heritage, visit the city’s historical sites – Mission Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf and the Moreton Bay Fig Tree, go sea kayaking through caves in the Channel Islands, grab lunch at one of the 450 restaurants and café ranging from California-centric interpretations of Mediterranean flavours to spicy regional Mexican cuisine.

Suggested Read :  World’s Greatest Drives – A scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, New Zealand

Along the way to L.A., stop at some of California’s preserved beach towns on your drive south, like Carpenteria and Ventura, for a dose of Californian Surfer Culture. Don’t miss the Santa Monica Pier — the end of the iconic Route 66

Los Angeles

Take the U.S. Highway 101 South for 40 miles, and in 2 hours you will rub shoulders with celebrities along Hollywood Boulevard – Los Angeles.

Things to do:

  • get going at the Venice Beach
  • cruise Sunset Boulevard
  • shop in style at Rodeo Drive
  • drive to long beach
  • spend a fun day at Disneyland
  • fly to the stars at Griffith Observatory
  • go theme park crazy at Universal Studios Hollywood

Our Recommendations for your Big Sur California trip:

Stays along Big Sur California:

The Argonaut

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Booking

With a name like the Argonaut, it’s impossible not to speak of this hotel is grand, almost legendary terms. Located in Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco and inspired by the Greek legend and Gold Rush-era adventurers, it’s one of those rare places to visit in San Francisco that truly merits a term like iconic. Located in the historic Haslett Warehouse in Fisherman’s Wharf, the Argonaut hotel is a grand building built in 1907 of exposed brick, Douglas Fir beams and much seaside character; you feel as though you can almost reach out and touch the colourful Barbary Coast past here.


Intercontinental The Clement Monterey

Highway 1 big sur california

Enjoy panoramic ocean views and radiant sunrises on beautiful Monterey Bay at InterContinental The Clement Monterey. Overlooking the sapphire waters of Monterey Bay on Cannery Row, our waterfront hotel, resort and spa is where beauty and luxury indulge your senses. Whether you are planning a family vacation, romantic getaway, or special event, The Clement Monterey is an inspiring Monterey Bay hotel with urban energy, modern luxury, and coastal charm. Escape to the California Coast and feel the spirit of Monterey.


L’Auberge Carmel

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: L’aubergecarmel

L’Auberge Carmel is a full-service Relais & Châteaux property located in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea just blocks from the famed Carmel Beach. Originally built in 1929, the historic hotel is known for its graceful architecture, personalized guest services, European-style and elegance. Individually designed guest rooms feature the finest fabrics and linens and enlarged bath areas with radiant floor heating.
The highlight of the hotel is its award-winning restaurant Aubergine. Executive Chef Justin Cogley, a Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, and Executive Pastry Chef Yulanda Santos prepare skilful, ingredient-driven cuisine that celebrates the bounty of the region.


Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Booking

An exclusive 5-star resort set amid 160 forested acres on the rugged Pacific coast, Ventana (Spanish for “window”) is both inspired by and reflective of its majestic setting in Big Sur. Watch the sunset over the ocean. Explore rolling hills and old-growth forests. Reconnect with your body and spirit. With a thoughtful combination of private sanctuaries and interactive, social spaces, this is a place for all — whether you’re looking for romance and connection, or more interested in solitary reflection.

Hotel Californian

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: The hotel Californian

Featuring Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and modern Moorish themed interior décor from celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the Hotel Californian is the new centre of the Santa Barbara waterfront. Incorporating the façade of the original 1925 Hotel Californian, this 121 room seaside destination features a rooftop pool and event deck providing panoramic views of the coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Located steps from the beach, one block from Santa Barbara Amtrak Station and adjacent to Santa Barbara’s vibrant Funk Zone, the Hotel Californian includes a luxurious Turkish-inspired spa, fashion boutique and fresh and distinctive dining options.

Suggested Read :  How to make the most of your 24 hours In London

Zoccoli’s Delicatessen

Eateries along Big Sur California:

The Slanted Door

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Slanted Door

For every item on our menu, Executive Chef, Charles Phan goes to the original source region of that item. He studies the traditional ingredients, flavours and techniques, then retreats to his Mission district test kitchen, where he and his team recreate the original using contemporary methods and the finest and freshest local ingredients. The finished product is a faithful reproduction of a world classic, modernized in subtle yet powerful ways.

Where: One Ferry Building #3, SF, CA 94111
Contact: (415) 861-8032



Zoccoli’s Delicatessen

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Static.1

The Meatball Italiano or their raviolis are guaranteed to make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a little old Italian village where you can practically smell the marinara simmering on the stove. Not only do we they vegetarian choices for sandwiches – just think of all those fresh veggies and marinated treats and roasted eggplant that they make fresh – but the soups and raviolis are also great for the non-meat-eating crowd. The Tiramisu is beyond amazing as well as the selection of other homemade desserts (think blondies!). But the Deviled Eggs are fantastically special. In addition, their patio offers some of the best people watching available in town.

Where: Downtown Santa Cruz, 1534 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Contact: 831-423-1711

Suggested Read :  World’s Greatest Drives- Garden Route, South Africa

Montrio Bistro

Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Montria

Housed in the historic city’s first firehouse built in 1910, they opened our doors in 1995. Through the years we’ve gone on to win numerous national and regional awards for excellence (from the likes of Wine Spectator, Esquire, Wine Enthusiast and the American Culinary Federation). Most notably Montrio has been voted “Best Restaurant in Monterey County” for 10 years and designated a Sustainable Seafood Watch Ambassador.

Where: 414 Calle Principal, Monterey, CA 93940
Contact: (831) 648-8880




Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Shellfish

Located at the end of Stearns Wharf, the SB Shellfish Co. has been serving up live local crab & lobster for over 20 years! Shellfish Co. is known for its delicious chowder, signature cioppino, lobster tacos & abalone. Chow down on garlic-baked clams, crab cakes and coconut-fried shrimp at wooden picnic tables outside.

Where: 230 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Contact: (805) 966-6676



Highway 1 big sur california

Image Source: Hdnux

They offer a tasting menu that features a wide variety of seafood and vegetables, a few meat courses, and some sweets. Please plan three hours for your dinner. With advance notice, they will adjust the menu to accommodate certain dietary restrictions. The wine list contains 300 selections with an emphasis on France, California, Germany and Austria. They also offer a variety of wines and sake by the glass, select beers, and a beverage pairing to accompany the menu. Corkage is $80 per bottle.

Where: 22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, USA
Contact: 415-685-4860

Leave a comment