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Big Sur Coastal Drive Stops - Essential Itinerary for a Road Trip on California's Pacific Coast Highway

Essential Itinerary for a Road Trip through Big Sur on PCH

Big Sur is one of my favorite things about California, and possibly even the entire United States. It has been called "the greatest meeting of land and sea," and from my experience, I have yet to find a meeting of land and sea that was more spectacular. An unbelievably pristine coastline on one side, and a barely touched ancient redwood forest on the other side make this coastal drive a sensory treat. It is so beautiful, so magical, that you can not believe you are still in California, or that you have not seen it before.

I have a few must-see stops when driving up the California coast through Big Sur that I always recommend to friends, so I thought I'd document them here in this week's Travel Tuesday blog post. Here they are for you to experience for yourself. This is done from Los Angeles to Monterey, so if you are doing this from the north (San Francisco south for example), you just need to reverse the bullets. You may want to print a map too so that you can gage how far you might be between stops. I like this map here (also displayed below).

Itinerary and stops for a road trip through Big Sur:

  • Eat fish n' chips at Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market in Malibu (25653 Pacific Coast Hwy, 1.5 miles north of Pepperdine University). Not only the best fish n' chips in LA, but possibly some of the best you've ever had. Just trust me on this, and try it. You will NOT regret it. If you are not in the mood for fish n' chips, I have also sampled and loved some of their other fried seafood options, an especially good choice being their fried Seafood Combination. It includes the must-have fish n' chips, as well as fried oysters and scallops. Definitely can't go wrong. But if you are not as adventurous or are on a budget, go with the staple fish n' chips, available in 1, 2 or 3 piece options.
  • The outlet mall in Camarillo has some great designer outlets, including the new Neiman Marcus Last Call, so stop for a quick shopping trip if time allows.
  • You'll drive through Santa Barbara on your way north. Enjoy the beautiful ocean views during this part of the drive, and if you want to stop, check out some of the boutiques on State Street, and finish off with a snack or meal at Longboard's on the pier. I recommend sitting on the patio.
  • If you have time and are interested, around Buellton you’ll see a turn-off to head towards Solvang (3-5 miles east from the freeway). Drive around Solvang for a bit, it is an old Dutch style town with old style buildings and windmills. Kind of a random piece of California to check out since you are in the area.  The Hitching Post restaurant here has some special memories for my husband and me.
Essential Itinerary for a Big Sur Road Trip: Solvang, CA

Key Stops during a Big Sur Road Trip: The Hitching Post in Solvang, CA

  • This part of the central coast is wine country (my beloved Sideways was filmed all around this area)!! Feel free to stop off at any of the wineries you see around here.  For a full Sideways wine map, click here.
  • At this point, you won't be driving right on the coast, as the 101 has cut inland a bit. I highly recommend you stop in Santa Maria for the BEST BURGERS EVER (and where they filmed part of Sideways), go to Santa Maria Burger (used to be called Orcutt Burger): 1785 S Broadway, Santa Maria, CA 93454, (805) 928-0811. Trust me, you will not be disappointed. Burgers are huge, BTW, so doesn't hurt to share, and they only take cash.
  • Just south of Pismo Beach, right off the freeway, you’ll see a sign for Laetitia/Barnwood Vineyards. Their tastings are FREE so stop off for a quickie tasting.
  • Some cute towns around here are Cambria and Morro Bay. If you see signs for these towns and you need a bathroom break or snack, this is one of your last chances to see civilization before Big Sur.
  • Next stop, San Simeon – you can see Hearst Castle up in the hills. If you have time, the tour is cheap and it’s a cool thing to see, but make sure you make note of the tour timing first (as the tour hours are limited).
  • Just north of San Simeon you’ll see a pull-off for the Elephant Seals. Definitely stop and take a look at them, they are amazing and right on the beach right off the road.
Elephant Seals near San Simeon - Recommended Stop for Big Sur Road Trip

Elephant Seals near San Simeon - Recommended Stop for Big Sur Road Trip

Elephant Seals near San Simeon - Recommended Stop for Big Sur Coastal Drive

Elephant Seals near San Simeon - Recommended Stop while Driving through Big Sur
  • Next stop, Ragged Point. YOU MUST check out the view from Ragged Point. You can also get gas here if you need. Walk their little trail to the edge of the cliff to see the view of Big Sur.
Ragged Point: Recommended Itinerary for a Road Trip through Big Sur
  • On the right side of the road (if heading north) you will see a sign to pull off for Salmon Creek. I highly recommend stopping here and taking the hike. It is an easy hike (no incline), but you may find yourself crossing a log, so wear appropriate shoes. The reason this hike it so worth it is because it ends at a hidden lagoon with a waterfall. Amazing!
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (not to be confused with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which is farther north). Park there and walk to the ocean view of McWay Falls (this gorgeous hidden waterfall spilling onto the beach in an untouched cove…. Absolutely breathtaking).
McWay Falls in Big Sur - Essential Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary

McWay Falls in Big Sur - Essential Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary
  • Monterey. What more can I say besides that's it is part of California and literary history. Stop for some great seafood and check out Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row. Click here for more on what to do in Monterey and Carmel, California.
California PCH Road Trip Itinerary: Cannery Row in Monterey

Here's the map that I love that was referenced above:

Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary and Recommended Stops
Photo Source:

Enjoy! If you try this Big Sur driving itinerary and check out any of these stops, I'd love to hear your stories and feedback!

For more epic road trip ideas, check out these other articles:


Hollybelle2015 said...

Cayucus is a great place to stay. One of the old beach towns. The last time we were there we stayed in a motel right on the edge of the ocean. also they had the greatest place to eat. I think it was 'something Shack', then ran by an elderly woman. Best pies ever. Cayucus isn't fancy just down to earth and fun

ramonaruby said...

Oooh, sounds good @Hollybelle2015! I will need to look that up next time I am in the area.

Grace Serna said...

Is it possible to do this trip in 3 days?

ramonaruby said...

Grace, you could do the trip in that about of time 1-way, but it would be tough to do it roundtrip in that amount of time.

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