1 Day trip to Big Sur, California- Must-See spots

If your idea of the perfect drive is driving along the limitless ocean, then Big Sur is what you need to experience.

Driving through the winding road, overlooking the vast stretches of the pacific ocean, reflecting many shades of blue and green on one side and Saint Lucia mountains on the other side was a dream come true.

A gamut of feelings encompassed us, during our enchanting drive across Big Sur. Nostalgia, Amazement, Excitement, and being mesmerized were few of them.


1 day trip to Big Surprise, California
One of the USA’s most scenic drive – Big Sur, California
1 day itinerary to Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California

A rugged coastline bordered with mountains and dramatic cliffs, Big Sur is one of the popular scenic drives in California.

In this blog I will share our experience of this enchanted trip, along with important information, must-see spots, and some first-hand tips. I am sure this will help you ( the pictures will surely inspire you) to plan your day trip to Big Sur.

Must see spots in Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California

Wondering what exactly is Big Sur?

Big Sur is not the name of any town or tourist spot. It’s an area covering 90 miles of scenic drive in the Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. This area has many state parks, camping sites, hiking trails, beaches along with old fashioned cabin-style restaurants & lodges which makes it a paradise for all kinds of tourists.

The two-lane State route 1 or Highway 1, as its popularly known, is worth experiencing, especially if you are planning to visit West Coast, USA

Pacific ocean,Big Sur
View of Pacific Ocean, Big Sur, California

Best time to visit Big Sur

April to October is the best time to visit, given the clear weather and sunshine. However the drive is so amazing that no matter what time of the year, you must plan a visit whenever you are in California.

Is one day enough to visit Big Sur?

This Coastal highway can be explored in half a day also, if you just want to enjoy the drive and stop at few vista points. You can always choose, how far you want to drive according to the time available.

But if you are looking to explore all the spots leisurely, it’s better to plan at least 2 days trip.Given the lack of time, we clubbed our drive along with a visit to the Monterey Aquarium and spent a day in this area.

How much time it takes to reach Big Sur from San Francisco

Big Sur is around 140 miles from San Francisco and it takes around 2.30 hours.

1 day at Big Sur, California
Fun day at Big Sur, California

1 Day trip to Big Sur – Our Experience & see spots

It was a bright sunny day in October when we drove from San Mateo to Monterey. After spending half a day at Monterey Aquarium, our next spot was Big Sur.

After an hour of drive, we reached the famous road with a surreal view of the pacific ocean and sparsely green mountains.

Being to a dramatic coastal drive for the first time, all I wanted was to pop my head out of the car all the time. During the drive, we stopped at many vista points, each one has a distinct perspective and landscape.

1. Point Lobos natural state reserve

Apart from the incredible scenic beauty, Point Lobos offers a rich variety of flora and fauna including rare plant species, archaeological sites, and unique geological formations. You can also spot wildlife like seals, sea otters, sea lions, and migrating grey whales along with many sea birds. Guided walking tours are available here. Point Lobos natural state reserve, also has a cultural history museum called Whalers Cabin Museum which is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily

Must see spots in Big Sur
Point Lobos, Big Sur, California
I day itinerary to Big Sur, California
Big Sur, California

2. Bixby creek bridge

Bixby Bridge is an iconic spot on Big Sur and one of the most photographed also. Along with the unbeatable vistas of the Ocean from high Cliff, the bridge is of historical importance too. At 360 ft, it was the highest single-span arch bridge in the world, when it was built. Its aesthetic design makes it a perfect location for photography.

You can follow the trail a few steps down to get the perfect shot of the bridge. (Be careful the trail is slippery) . We spent a lot of time on this beautiful lookout.

Bixby Bridge, California
Bixby Creek Bridge, California
Must visit places in Big Sur
Bixby Bridge, California
1 day at Big Sur, California
Bixby Bridge lookout, Big Sur

3. Point Sur State Historic Park

You can spot it from far, a secluded island with a lovely backdrop of the ocean. Point Sur State Historic Park is a state park that contains California’s only complete turn off 20th Century lighthouse open to the public. Walking tours of light stations are offered on Saturdays and Sundays and last for 3 hours.

Whether you visit the light station or not, the large volcanic rock makes a great backdrop for some awesome photographs. We came across many ranches, that accentuated the countryside vibes.

Must visit places in Big Sur, California
Point Sur state historic park, Big Sur
Point Sur Historic state park
Point Sur state historic park, Big Sur

4. Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer beach

One of the most popular beaches in Big Sur, because of a unique arch-shaped rock formation called the Keyhole arch. Beach is located near Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park off the Pacific coast highway. Finding this spot can be a bit of a challenge given the fluctuating phone network. Parking space is available at the spot. If you are keen on photography, this is a good spot for capturing Sunset.

1 day trip to Big Sur, California
Key arch hole, Big Sur, California

5. McWay Falls

One of the major attractions in Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park is McWay waterfalls. This 80 ft waterfall lands into a pristine cove, creating one of the most magical sights to behold. However, this waterfall can be appreciated only from a distance. You can walk across the wooden trail, leading to the lookout which provides breath-taking vista of this untouched paradise.

1 day trip to Big Sur
McWay waterfall, Big Sur

Where to eat in Big Sur?

Being a popular retreat from urban life, Big Sur has quite a few restaurants ranging from old-style wooden cabins to fine dining ones with a great view.

During our trip, we stopped at The River Inn, one of the quaint and unique restaurants. The idea of enjoying the meal while dipping your feet in the river, while surrounded by redwood trees was too inviting. River inn is Big Sur’s first hotel and restaurant serving traditional Californian cuisine for more than 80 years. With barbeque and live music, River inn had a lovely festive vibe along with local flavors to relish on.

Best place to eat in Big Sur
River Inn Motel, Big Sur
River inn Motel, California
River inn Motel, California
River inn Motel, California
River inn Motel, California
River Inn Restaurant, Big Sur
River Inn Restaurant, Big Sur

What did you need to keep in mind and carry with you?

Now that I have shared our experience and most of the important information with you, here are a few tips to keep in mind before venturing on your trip.

  1. Do keep your car tank full, we dint spot a gas station anywhere nearby.
  2. The weather in California changes often, it’s good to carry a raincoat and light jacket to protect yourself from rain and wind.
  3. Phone service is sparsely available all across the drive, so download the maps, viewpoint locations and decide on the restaurant you want to visit in advance.
  4. Do carry water and snacks, especially when you are traveling with family. You can find many picnic spots to enjoy snacks while surrounded by nature.
  5. Don’t forget your sunglasses and hat.

Finally is Big Sur drive worth?

In my opinion, there are some places on this beautiful planet which we must aim to see at least once in a lifetime. Driving through the rugged coastline with breath-taking vistas makes was a blissful experience for us and it is surely one of the things which you should aim to do at least once in a lifetime.

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1 day trip to Big Sur,California

1 day trip to Big Sur, California

61 thoughts on “1 Day trip to Big Sur, California- Must-See spots

  1. My husband and I are planning a California roadtrip for next sumer and this is super helpful! He is desperate to drive along the Big Sur and stop to take photos of all the amazing view points on the way! It is good to know about bringing a raincoat – we would have presumed it was sunny all the time!

  2. Big Sur sounds like an amazing place to hangout with friends and family. All your photos are so beautiful and tempting!

  3. I love that California has so many road trip opportunities! Bookmarked this for future reference 🙂

  4. This year was supposed to be my road tripping across US year. sigh! I am defo coming back to your blog when this pandemic is over and I start realising my road tripping fantasies.

  5. This was the trip that helped me fall in love with California, and eventually lead to our move here. Big Sur is fantastic!

  6. Big Sur is so high on my bucket list for when I eventually do my Northern California trip. It looks so beautiful there. I’m definitely keeping this article handy. 🙂

  7. Thanks for all the info! I would love to take the family on a little road trip down there. I actually didn’t know the Big Sur was not a town but just a strip of Highway 1.🤣 I want to eat at that cute bbq place too!

  8. There’s nothing like the central coast of California! 😍 It’s definitely worth popping in to Monterey for the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium, too!

  9. It looks like this place has the most amazing coastline! I hope I will have the opportunity to see it! I visited Cali but didn’t go in that part if the state.

  10. I’ve been through Big Sur a few times but I didn’t know about all these places! It’s definitely one of my favorite road trips and I can’t wait to do it again someday with your helpful recommendations!

  11. What a beautiful spot! I’ve heard so many great things about Big Sur – I’ll have to add it to my list. Looks like there’s tons of great photo opportunities here! Thank you for sharing the must see sites!!

  12. Oh, I definitely agree that Big Sur should be near the top of anyone’s list if they’re visiting California! I lived in So Cal for 18 years and we headed north often to explore the coast. And if you have the time Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming overnight stop if you’re coming down from San Francisco. Cambria is a picturesque town if you’re coming from the south too.Thanks for sharing these gorgeous photos and tips for where to go.

  13. I’ve heard about Big Sur but haven’t had a chance to explore yet. Although I love driving scenic drives and this one looks beautiful

  14. A beautiful coastal drive! I can’t wait to get to the ocean once the restrictions ease off

  15. Big Sur looks like such a stunning area to drive through, I would really love to do a big west coast road trip one day. This spot is absolutely one that can’t be missed! Thank you for sharing such a useful post 🙂

  16. Aaaa where was this when I went on a Big Sur road trip last year?! It’s such a gorgeous place, thank you for writing about it! I loved looking at the seals!

  17. I have never been to California and want to visit it someday. I would love these road trips. The place looks gorgeous esp the keyhole arch. We have something similar in Australia as well.

  18. Love that post! I would really love to return to Big Sur one day, I feel like I didn’t appreciate it enough!

  19. So many lovely places on this drive! Glad you had the chance to visit and looks like you had the perfect weather too 🙂

  20. Big Sur is high on my bucket list for US places to visit in the US! Love all your photos!

  21. Your photos of the area are gorgeous. And so many things to do. I’ve traveled the area and didn’t find half the places you found.

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