This list was first published on ARTIST-AT-LARGE.
Traveling down (or up as the case may be) the Big Sur Coast should be easy and fun and beautiful. Here are some tips that will make your drive and stay a little smoother:
1. Take it slow! If you thought you could go the 80 miles between Carmel and Morro Bay in an hour and a half doing 60mph in your sports car, you are sorely mistaken! The road is narrow and full of hairpin curves, not to mention a lot of other cars in the summer and fallen rocks in the winter. Sometimes even a landslide!
Although enticing, this is also not a road for racing cars or motorcycles … it’s a road for making a slow, meandering drive, making stops along the way, and taking in the spectacular views.
2. Check the weather and prepare for it. You don’t really want to get caught in the fog if you are a Big Sur newbie. If you do find yourself in that situation, follow Tip #1 – take it slow, and pull over if you have to.
Sometimes the fog can be gorgeous. I’ve driven the road at sunset with the fog layer socked into the lower part of the hills so that the road went up into blue sky then down into the fog repeatedly, all while the sun was setting. Incredible visuals!
Make sure to take your camera!
3. Plan on taking at least a whole day and stop wherever your whims take you. Big Sur is such a beautiful stretch of coast that it’s almost a sin to breeze through it! Even a whole day is breezing through.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my life on the Big Sur coast. The longest I’ve spent hanging out at any one time on that part of the coast was two weeks – and it never gets old and it’s never long enough.
4. Go off season in the early spring or late fall. Traffic is much lighter and the local people are more into spending time with you. The vibe is more laid back and you’ll also have a sense of having lived there, even if you do only go for a day.
5. Even if you are not a hiker, plan on doing a few of the short easy hikes through Pfeiffer Big Sur or to some of the easy to access beaches like Jade Cove or San Simeon.
6. Accommodations are expensive. If you have any hesitation about spending money, take your tent and camp in any of the State Parks or Private Campgrounds in the area.
Another alternative is to stay in San Simeon. There is a cluster of motels seemingly out in the middle of nowhere that may be somewhat reasonably priced. San Simeon is on the South End of the Big Sur Coast and has a desolate beauty all of it’s own.
Big Sur is also easily accessible (by car) from San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in the south and Carmel, Monterey and Santa Cruz in the north, so staying in one of these places is also an option.
7. Food is also expensive. If you are camping, go shopping before hand and take food with you. If you want to eat out and are on a budget, then breakfast is the affordable meal to eat at one of the cafes in Big Sur. Try Deetjen’s, Ripplewood, or the Big Sur Bakery. The Big Sur Bakery is known for its baked goods. If your pockets are deeper, try Nepenthe’s anytime of the day or Deetjen’s for dinner.
The Camp Store at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is actually reasonably priced for food and forgotten items you might need while camping. Most people don’t know that the store is there because you can’t see it from the road. Turn into the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance and head to the parking lot. You won’t need to pay an entrance fee just to visit the store.
There is also a general store and cafe/restaurant at Fernwood. You can also get gas here, but if you are heading north and have enough fuel to get to Carmel, it might be less expensive.
There are Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and a few other supermarket options along the way in San Luis Obispo and Carmel/Monterey/Pacific Grove, and in Santa Cruz.
8. Read about the literary history of Big Sur before you go. Big Sur has a rich literary history having attracted the likes of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Check out Miller’s “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” or Kerouac’s “Big Sur“.
9. Visit the Henry Miller Library. Hang out and chat. Play some ping pong. Read some books. Hang out with Magnus, his knowledge of Henry Miller and the Big Sur area is extensive. Buy something to support the library!
The library also hosts writer’s workshops, small concerts, and it’s own short film festival. Check their web site for events.
10. Carmel’s creative history is in the field of Photography. Edward Weston and his sons Brett and Cole Weston called this place home. Check out the Weston Gallery in Carmel. The city of Carmel is full of art galleries and antique stores and has quite a beautiful beach at the end of the main street.
Addendum: I would be remiss as a travel writer if I did not mention this:
May 2021: Each year the California fire season has been getting longer. A season that used to start in early October and last until the first rains sometime in November can now start as early as June or July, although August and September are more “common” and run until who knows when. With droughts and climate change, expect the unexpected. This also goes for rains in the winter as once the vegetation has burned off on the hillsides, landslides become common and Highway 1 can become impassable for much of the winter.
- ALWAYS check the weather and road openings and closings on the morning before heading into the Big Sur area.
- ALWAYS follow the rules in regards to camping, campfires, and outdoor cooking. When in doubt – please do not light a fire.
Do you have any other tips for taking the coast road through Big Sur? Add them in the comments!