While the drive from Monterey to Big Sur might not be the typical length of a traditional road trip, this iconic portion of Highway 1 in California deserves a “road trip” title. Many people add this as a part of their full road trip that they take along Highway 1, but I would argue that staying in Monterey and dedicating a full day to drive along the coast down to Big Sur is the way to go.
Notes On The Drive Down to Big Sur:
- When you leave through Monterey you drive first past Pebble Beach and Carmel-By-The-Sea as you take Highway 1 down towards Big Sur. This area is mostly just passing through the towns until you hit Point Lobos. This is also a good reminder to stop for gas as you most likely will not find another gas station until you get to Big Sur. The drive straight through would be about an hour, but if you go on a busy day it could take a little longer on the two lane drive so getting gas is always a good idea.
- Point Lobos is the first major stop if you are driving down the coast from Monterey to Big Sur. We ended up skipping over this part since it costs $10 per vehicle and we did not want to worry about leaving early to make it to Big Sur by lunch time.
- My favorite stop along the drive was at Garrapata State Park. There is no charge for this stop, you just pull to the side of the road and walk along the path. Walking along through this trail, especially since it was foggy out, felt like walking through the set of a fantasy film. There was so much foliage I had never seen before and was not convinced was real. If you continue to the left you can see a few houses perched on the side of the cliff and a patch of sand.
- The stop with the most visitors was definitely the Bixby Bridge. Even though we took our trip on a foggy day, the bridge still was a majestic sight. Actually the fog gave it an intimidating look when we had to cross it to continue our drive.
- It can be difficult deciding when to take this drive since you want to balance avoiding crowds but going when the weather is nice. I would aim to start your day earlier in the morning and hope it is not too foggy that it blocks out all the pretty sights. Starting your drive in the middle of the day on a sunny Saturday is probably not ideal when most of the stops do not have many spaces for a bunch of cars at once, and when there is only one lane for each direction.
- The drive down from Monterey to Big sur, with stops for photos included, took a little over two hours. The traffic was light and we felt like we leisurely enjoyed the drive, but with bigger crowds the drive will get longer.
- As you get closer to Big Sur there is a stretch of the drive that goes a little further inland, with more space between the road and the ocean. I loved this part of the drive because of the long stretch of green looked as if you could be in Ireland, plus we stopped to see these adorable cows.
- Once you actually make it into Big Sur, the scenery makes a big shift to a woodsy atmosphere. Big Sur is incredibly charming and adorable as you see small town characteristics set among thick forests and beautiful, tall trees.
- I was expecting to be anxious the entire drive since it is only two lanes up against the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other side, but they actually built this road in a pretty safe manner. The road is not as close up against the side of the cliff as I expected it to be, and a lot of the drive has a protective barrier up. If you are afraid of heights this can still be very nerve wracking. I have also driven along the road from Denver to Vail, Colorado, which I think is very stressful, so I might have been desensitized already for this trip.