One of California’s most iconic road trips is the 99-mile stretch of highway that hugs the Pacific coast on Highway 1 between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cambria. Don’t let the short distance fool you – there are plenty of stops and sights to see. Many people do the drive in a day, which is very possible, but if you want to linger in the coastal mist and be inspired by the landscape like the artists and authors that revere this special place it’s possible to make a weekend or longer trip out of the drive. 

From Los Angeles, Carmel-by-the-Sea is about 330 miles north while Cambria is about 230 miles north of the city. Whether you start from the north at Carmel-by-the-Sea or from the south at Cambria – the winding highway has no shortage of stunning views of the Santa Lucia Mountains meeting the Pacific Ocean coastline. Fun fact, this stretch of Highway 1 opened in 1937 and is noted as one of the first scenic highway routes in the state. Make note that there is very limited cell service along the route.

If you have extra time, we recommend a pit stop en route at Ojai, Los Alamos, or New Cuyama – other destinations north of Los Angeles that we dig. We also recommend checking for local road closures on Highway 1 before you head out on the route. 

Where To Dine: The Best Spots to Eat in Big Sur, CA

Exterior of Big Sur Bakery including the sign and outdoor seating area.
Big Sur Bakery is absolutely worthy of the hype. Arrive early to avoid long lines. Photo: Escape LA.

Many people stop for a bite in Carmel-by-the-Sea which offers many dining options, and if you are driving north to south on the route, is the last real town before you hit Cambria. Along Highway 1, expect to be pulling off to small tucked-away dining spots. There are a variety of options from grab-and-go to more formal dining along the way. 

The back deck at Fernwood Tavern is a great spot to drink or dine with a mix of locals and travelers amongst the towering redwood trees. Service is friendly and easy going and it’s worth checking their calendar of events for nighttime entertainment hosted on the small interior stage. Arrive early to beat the line at Big Sur Bakery – believe us it’s worth the wait – and enjoy your delicacies in their ranch-style house or beautiful little garden. 

For indoor and outdoor dining with a view, Nepenthe is a must for lunch or dinner. If your table isn’t quite ready we suggest grabbing a drink from the bar and walking the property to take in the epic view (the property overlooks Graves Canyon and a 50-mile stretch of the Pacific). Their sister business Café Kevah, located on an outdoor terrace directly below Nepenthe, is a good pick for breakfast or coffee.   

Night view of the patio at Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, California
The iconic Nepenthe in Big Sur, CA overlooks a 50-mile stretch of the Pacific. Photo c/o Nepenthe.

Established over 70 years ago, The Restaurant at Deetjen’s is a longstanding favorite serving home-cooked meals alongside thoughtful beer and wine selection – also open for A+ breakfasts. One of our favorite stops along the way for the intimate atmosphere and careful attention to their dishes. Farther south, stop by COAST for elevated casual cuisine crafted with a focus on locally sourced Central Californian ingredients. The cafe also has a selection of picnic provisions and beer and wine sourced from small products in California.  

Farther to the south you’ll land in the town of Cambria which offers a handful of restaurants and cafes for a variety of dining options. 

Culture Trip: The Henry Miller Library & Shopping in Big Sur, CA

Exterior view of the Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe in Big Sur, California
The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe in Big Sur, CA. Photo c/o Nepenthe.

Carmel-by-the-Sea has many small boutiques and nearly a hundred art galleries and is worth spending a few hours or even a day exploring if you have the time.

Down Highway 1, shopping and services are limited but there are a few fun and funky general store-style shops to stop for provisions or local and handmade goods (like the Big Sur River Inn General Store, the Fernwood General Store, or the Gordo General Store). Another notable spot is The Phoenix at Nepenthe for locally produced goods, souvenirs, books, and art pieces.

A favorite for literary fans, the Henry Miller Library is a part art hub part book store built and operated by Henry’s best friend Emil White. A meeting place for all things artistic and cultural, the space is often open for special programs and community events (mainly in the summer months).

In Cambria, there are a handful of small shops and galleries along the main drag in town.

The Great Outdoors: The Best Hikes & Beaches in Big Sur, CA

Coastal view including the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, California
The Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, CA. Photo: Escape LA.

The Big Sur route provides plenty of opportunity to step out of the car and into the majestic California landscape.

In Carmel-by-the-Sea, explore the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (the 6-mile Point Lobos Loop Trail is an exceptional coastal trail and there are many shorter trails for getting a quick hike in) or wander the quaint cottage-filled town and pop by the numerous cafes and galleries. For a sunbathing fix, Carmel Beach is a popular stretch of white sand for swimming, surfing, and walking.

The popular Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the first sights along the way – plan a stop to get the perfect sunset snap. If you have more time to stop than just snapping a photo, consider the also picturesque Rocky Creek Bridge just north of the Bixby which has access to the Rocky Creek Beach below to explore. Both bridges are open-spandrel bridges that opened in 1932 and are a favorite draw for road trippers down the 1.

View from Buzzards Roost hiking trail in Big Sur, California
Buzzards Roost hiking trail in Big Sur, California. Photo: Escape LA.

Heading south on Highway 1, there are many places to hop out of the car for a nature pitstop in Julia Pfeiffer State Park – we suggest taking a picnic and lingering awhile. The Buzzards Roost Hike offers great coastal and mountain views on a moderately challenging 2.6-mile loop. Across the road, Pfeiffer Beach is a 2-mile drive down a windy road to an easy 0.9-mile out-and-back trail that leads to a secluded cove below the highway for soft sand and photo ops of the famed Keyhole Arch rock formation.

Heading south, but still in Julia Pfeiffer State Park, there are several short hikes to get out and stretch your legs. The Partington Cove hike is a good pick for a few short and easy-to-access viewpoints and the short 0.5-mile McWay Falls Overlook Trail to a viewpoint of the 80-foot waterfall teeming into the Pacific.

Coastal scenery in Big Sur, California.
The somewhat hidden Partington Cove Trail offers incredible views of the coastline near Big Sur, CA. Photo: Escape LA.

Farther south, Sand Dollar Beach is the longest stretch of unbroken sand in Big Sur and is a favorite for surfers, swimmers, and fishing. There is a short trail to an overlook where you can gaze out over the ocean and, if in season, try to spot migrating whales. Continuing south, Ragged Point has a challenging 0.8-mile downhill trail with views of waterfalls and access to a black sand beach.

If traveling from mid-November to mid-January, take the time to stop at the Elephant Seal Vista Point near the small town of San Simeon to stroll the boardwalk and view the elephant seals who mate and live in this stretch of sand just off the highway. Nearby Hearst Castle, the former residence of newspaper entrepreneur William Randolf Heart, offers a variety of daily tours of the extravagant building and grounds (allow a few hours at minimum).

Where to Stay: The Best Places to Stay in Big Sur, CA

From rustic to luxury stays, Big Sur has a mix on offer. Book ahead (especially in high season) as lodging is limited along the route. You’ll find additional places to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cambria on either end of the drive.

*Disclosure: Escape LA independently reviews and curates everything we recommend. When you book through our links, we may earn a commission. All views and recommendations are our own.
Meadow view of rental cabins at Fernwood Campground and Resort in Big Sur, California.

Photo c/o Fernwood Campground and Resort

Offering a mix of camping, RV spaces, glamping, cabins, and a motel – Fernwood has been a popular spot to stop for years. The property also features a General Store (for those last minute supplies) and an on-site Tavern (for making new friends naturally). 

Rent a Forest Cabin for direct access to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Rates vary depending on accommodation type.

Poolside view of the Trixie Motel in Palm Springs, California.

Photo: Escape LA

With a variety of rustic-inspired accommodations from singles with shared bathrooms to private Queen rooms. The grounds here are so lovely and we suggest hiking the Bench Trail with your morning cup of coffee. Give the guestbook a glance for interesting stories from those that stayed before. 

The Hayloft Hostel is a great option for solo travelers (rates start at $100/night). 

Rates vary depending on accommodation type.

Alila Ventana Big Sur Exterior Property Bird's Eye view.

Photo c/o Alila Ventana Big Sur

For a luxe getaway, Alila Ventana Big Sur offers breathtaking views from their secluded suites. An on-site spa offers everything from facials to reflexology, while the resort’s dining options focus on regional ingredients and producers (wine list included). 

The property also has several tent cabins on site for glamping in style. 

Rates vary depending on accommodation type.

Where to Stay: The Best Vacation Home Rentals Near Big Sur, CA

Living room view of Carmel-by-the-Sea vacation home rental called Pinewood Prints (Plum Guide)

Photo c/o Plum Guide

You’ll find a mix of old and new in this restored beach house that sleeps up to six (3 beds and 3 baths). OG elements like the stone fireplace and original windows sit alongside modern touches for an oh-so-cozy beachside vibe. The covered porch or outdoor seating is the perfect place for a coffee or cocktail. 

Located in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, you are a quick walk to the art galleries and restaurants in town and about a ten-minute walk to Carmel Beach. 

Photos c/o Plum Guide. 

Min 7-night stay ~$1000/night

Living room / bedroom view of a Cambria studio rental called Ocean Light (Plum Guide).

Photo c/o Plum Guide

Concrete floors and redwood beams give this seaside studio a chic modern feel. The cozy space sleeps up to four and large glass windows and doors blend the interior and exterior space with ease. The property has direct access to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve for a quick seven-minute walk to the beach. 

Located in the heart of Cambria a few minutes drive from shopping and dining. 

Photos c/o Plum Guide. 

Monthly rentals only at ~$8000/month

Living room with fireplace view of Cambria vacation home rental called Crow's Nest.

Photo c/o Plum Guide

Located just steps from the beach in a quiet neighborhood of Cambria, this 1937 cabin sleeps up to 6 (3 beds, 2 baths). Steps away from walking trails in the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and from the beach, you can wake up to the sound of waves in the namesake upper bedroom of this thoughtfully restored space. 

Fun outdoor features include a Traeger barbeque, multiple fire pits, and (our favorite) an outdoor shower for daytime or nighttime fun. 

Photos c/o Plum Guide. 

Monthly rentals only at ~$13,000/month