Planning on a Big Sur day trip from Monterey or somewhere else in northern California? Well you’re in for a BEAUTIFUL drive! This drive, known as Highway 1, the 1, Coastal Highway, the 17 mile drive from Monterey, or the Pacific Coast Highway depending on who you talk to, is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world. The drive itself to Big Sur, even if you made no stops along the way, is worth the day trip from Monterey. However, there are some INCREDIBLE places to visit along this drive that, if you’ve got the time, you’ll want to explore. So if you want to road trip down the California coast, keep reading for my favorite Big Sur drive stops between Big Sur and Monterey.
The Short Version
The drive from Monterey, through Carmel, to Big Sur is magical with so much beauty. If you want to take a little more time and go on some hikes, you sure can, but all of the stops on this Big Sur road trip itinerary are stops you can pull over and see, that don’t require hiking. So, knowing that, here is my list of must-stops for when you’re driving Big Sur from Monterey (assuming you’ll be exploring Monterey separately):
- California Sea Otter Game Refuge
- Garrapata Beach
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Big Sur River Inn
- McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park
- Bixby Bridge
Others to definitely add to your Big Sur road trip itinerary that we didn’t have time for during our evening drive (we didn’t take a full day):
- Point Lobos State Park
The Long Version of My Favorite Stops for Driving Big Sur
There are so many beautiful Big Sur drive stops that you could literally spend your entire day driving and stopping, driving a little bit then stopping, and driving a little more then stopping again. Will you get whiplash? Maybe. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. But seriously, there’s truly so much beautiful scenery to enjoy on your Big Sur day trip that I promise you, if you stop at just two or three of these, you’ll be fully satisfied.
Monterey to Big Sur Road Trip Map
To get your bearings, here is what your drive will look like with all the stops along the way.
California Sea Otter Game Refuge
If you’re an animal lover, definitely make a stop here and see if you can see a famous California sea otter! This is likely the best spot when driving Big Sur to spot sea otters, but also just a beautiful stop along the way on your drive to Big Sur.
Garrapata Beach is another gorgeous stop along the 17 mile drive from Monterey to Big Sur. Walk down to the beach and enjoy the beautiful rocks jutting out of the water and this gorgeous California coastline.
Another gorgeous breach stop along the 17 mile drive from Monterey is Pfeiffer Beach. It’s known for its gorgeous rock formation that has a keyhole shape and is just a wonderful stop along the way.
Big Sur River Inn
Probably the most different stop on the Big Sur drive from Monterey is Big Sur River Inn! This hidden gem is a great stop to grab a drink, a snack, and sit in a chair along the river and relax in this nestled little bit of nature. We grabbed some mini wines and really just loved our time here, so highly recommend this stop to break up your drive.
You must stop at the famous Big Sur landmark of Bixby Bridge! This famous bridge is gorgeous and there are a lot of people who pull over to stop and take a photo, rightfully so. PRO TIP: instead of pulling off to the right closest to the coast, pull off to the left – it’s a much prettier view with the bridge and the ocean in the background, and if you’re there in season you’ll also get flowers!
McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park
McWay Falls are the famous falls you see when you Google Big Sur. They’re found in this little state park where you park and walk to the overlook and honestly, they’re so cute. This beach waterfall is so unique and fun, it’s a must stop along the drive on your Big Sur day trip.
Dinner at Nepenthe
It’s been a long day! Your Big Sur day trip should end with a phenomenal meal with an even better view. That’s where Nepenthe comes in. This gorgeous restaurant has magical views, and if you can time it around sunset you’ll thank me for the recommendation later.
The Other Stops We Would Have Made on Our Big Sur Drive from Monterey
Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Beach
The first stop along the 17 mile drive from Monterey should definitely be Carmel, and a swing through the famous Carmel Beach. This is a cute little seaside town and a phenomenally gorgeous beach (perfect for a sunset if you’re around). We planned on stopping here but were a little short on time, but I would definitely do this Big Sur to Carmel drive for sure.
Point Lobos State Park
Another stop I truly wish we could have made was Point Lobos State Park. If you’re creeping around on Instagram or Googling “Big Sur Road Trip” you are likely to see photos from this beautiful park. Honestly, we were on a bit of a time crunch and I think we just drove by the entrance and didn’t have time to go back. But during your Big Sur day trip you DEFINITELY need to stop here!