Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip

Written by  Christine Fisher

  • Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
  • Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
  • Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
  • Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
  • Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
Photo of Big Sur California: 5 Day Road Trip
Photo by flickr user Ed Coyle Photography

California is home to some of the West Coast's most magnficent landscapes and natural treasures. This 5-day road trip along California Highway 1, winds you along rocky Pacific Ocean outlooks, through majestic forests and past mountains that roll into the sea. On your journey you will visit the famed towns of Monterey, Carmel and San Simeon, experiencing for yourself the charm that has earned them their prized reputation.

Days 1 and 2:

Start your journey in Monterey where you will need two days to experience all the area has to offer.

Monterey Bay AquariumVisit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, voted the premier aquarium in the United States, awarded for its interactive displays and exquisite displays.

From the aquarium, stroll down Cannery Row – the street made famous by Monterey resident John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row which featured the street’s colourful residents. Along Cannery Row you will find galleries, tourist shops, hotels, restaurants, bakeries and more. See a movie in the IMAX Theatre or continue past waterfront parks to Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can indulge in fresh clam chowder or seafood pulled straight from the bay. On the wharf, Monterey’s true colours, tastes and smells come out.

Monterey's Old Fisherman's WharfAlong the footpaths and from Fisherman’s Wharf you will see both sea lions and otters playing and lounging in the sun. From Fisherman’s Wharf you can set sail on a number of whale or sea life watches.

Looking to explore the area’s natural beauty you can walk, run or bike along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail. Feeling more adventurous? Try sea kayaking or scuba diving – a popular option for many visitors who benefit from experienced rental and guide companies.

With any extra time explore the area’s many beaches and state parks – accessible by both foot and car.

Day 3:

Carmel-by-the-Sea is still part of Monterey County but it deserves a day’s visit of its own. Not only is Carmel nearby, it is also connected to Monterey’s neighbour Pacific Grove by 17-Mile Drive – one of the world’s most scenic routes.

17-Mile DriveOn your third day, set out from Pacific Grove on 17-Mile Drive. This will take you along magnificent coastal outlooks and through the majestic Del Monte Forest. Mid-route stop at the iconic Lone Cypress, which has stood atop its rocky, coastal perch for over 250 years. Stop as you please at coastal outlooks including Fanshell Overlook, Spanish Bay and Point Joe. 17-Mile Drive will bring you right to Pebble Beach, home of Pebble Beach Golf Course. The course is renowned for its beauty and design. It is famed for hosting several of the most prestigious tournaments with world class players.

After cruising 17-Mile Drive and visiting Pebble Beach, head to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Said to mix Hollywood glamour with San Francisco sophistication and European charm, Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the top ten destinations in the United States, and with attractions like the pristine Carmel Beach, it is no wonder.

Pebble Beach Golf CourseStroll along the beach – often regarded as one of the United State’s cleanest, most beautiful beaches – before visiting the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission. Carmel Mission was built in 1770 as the second mission in all of California. Today it is considered the most authentically restored Franciscan mission and still an active parish. It offers both self-guided and docent-led tours and houses four museum galleries.

While in Carmel, you can swing into former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch for drinks or dining served with majestic mountain and ocean views or visit Hog’s Breath Inn, a popular bar and restaurant also once owned by Eastwood.

You will likely be overwhelmed with fine shopping and dining options in Carmel – especially with Carmel Plaza’s collection of four-star shops - but no matter what you choose you will surely be satisfied with your decision.

Day 4:

The only way to truly understand California’s coastal beauty is to see it for yourself. For some of the most picturesque vistas, drive south from Carmel along California Highway 1. You’ll likely find yourself inspired by the gorgeous views as famed artists including Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Robinson Jeffers and the Beach Boys have been.

Stop at any point along your drive and you’re likely to find delicious food at restaurants of various cuisines. Stopping at any of the many state parks along your drive you will be similarly satisfied with the natural beauty you find. Feel free to stop along the highway at whatever catches your eye as you will find coastal outlooks and attractions like Bixby Bridge – one of the largest single-arch concrete bridges in the world at its completion in 1932.

End your day’s journey with dinner in San Simeon. Try booking at San Simeon’s beach front hotel, the Best Western Cavalier Resort or find lodging in Cambria or Morro Bay. Spend a relaxing night at your hotel of choice and look into local arts and entertainment.

Day 5:

Hearst CastleSpend your last day exploring the many attractions the historic beach town San Simeon has to offer. The most popular of these may be Hearst Castle – one of the largest and most lavish historic house museums in the United States. The 90,000 square foot estate was home of William Randolph Hearst and hosted famed Hollywood guests in the 1920s and 30s. The design, which mixes global architectures and over-the-top details, is worth seeing yourself.

After touring Hearst Castle, visit Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. Built in the 1870s, the lighthouse was one of few classic lighthouse towers built on the Pacific Coast.

If you’re looking to stretch your legs after your 5 day road trip, join in some of the recreation San Simeon offers. Your options range from hiking and boating to camping and fishing. State parks in the area include W.R. Memorial State Beach and San Simeon State Park and offer you one last glimpse of California’s coastal beauty before you end your holiday.

With Extra Time:

With extra time on either side of this itinerary you can visit San Francisco and/or Los Angeles. San Francisco is 120 miles north of Monterey. Los Angeles is a bit further away – approximately 250 miles south of San Simeon. Though the drive would take approximately 4.5 hours, it meanders along the coast and through other popular California towns including San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

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