I returned from my week away in California filled with excitement and gratitude that I get to follow my passion to see the wrold. I also returned with a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) due to our time exploring Big Sur. We rented a car from LAX and started out Sunday evening en route to San Fransico. We stopped in Malibu to spend some time at El Matador state beach before heading to San Barbara where we spent the night. We left Santa Barbara mid morning on Monday to explore Big Sur with plans to spend the night in Monterrey. Tuesday morning we explored Monterrey before heading to San Fransico for a few days. We ended our trip in San Diego. My favorite stretch of the trip was driving the winding roads of Big Sur. We got to see some incredible sights that still blow my mind and as I edit all the pictures I have to pinch myself because I got to see this beauty. Having done the Highway one route now - there are a few things I will do differently (especially on the Big Sur stretch). I thought I will share that with you along with some tips. I have a list of 18 , so here goes....
1. The drive from San Fransico is better. Having started our trip from LA, I honesty believe the drive from San Francisco is much better because most of the vista points and stops are on that side of the road.
2. Take your time. The stretch of highway from Santa Barbara to Monterrey is about 4 hours if you drive it in one shot. Big Sur is a stretch of 90 miles with a speed limit of 35 mph. I recommend starting early and just taking your time and stopping at the Vista points along the way.
3. Take advantage of the Vista points. There are clearly marked Vista points along the way. Stop at each of them. We only got to stop at a few (part of my regret) and each one offers a more incredible and unique view than the last.
4. Have cash on hand. We planned to stop at Limelkin state park and McWay falls. However, you need to pay to park to access both and they only take cash which we did not have. Parking was $10 at each of those stops.
5. Do your research. This is an add on to point 4 which we discovered after we returned - for McWay falls, if you can find a perch on the road side - park there and follow the footpath to the the falls. We did not know this until after we returned.
6. Stock up on food and gas. The stretch of road does not offer much in terms of affordable dining or gas stations (at least none that we saw) so it is best to have some snacks in the car and make sure you have enbough gas to make it across the stretch of highway.
7. Cell Phone and Internet service is very spotty along Big Sur - plan ahead. We had our map downloaded which was very helpful.
8. Recommended stops. If like us, you want to cover a lot of ground in little time and don't want to stop at every Vista point. Here are the ones I recommend - Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (McWay falls & Ewoldsen Trail), Pfeiffer Beach, and Henry Miller Library.
9. Plan some non-driving days. As with every road trip - it is good to camp out in a place for more than one night and to have one or two days of no driving. We chose to spend a few days in San Diego and San Fransico. Having those none driving days was helpful to relax and have proper vacation.
10. Make reservations. A few spots along big sur coast require reservations like Limelkin park. Besides not having cash on hand , the park was full when we arrived. The attendant told us it was best to make reservations.
11. Lodging. We found the best option was to avoid the big name hotels and chains. We stayed in a mix of inns and motels (some of them were significantly better than some chain hotels in terms of amenities and customer service). If you are on a budget I recommend this option.
12. Look at the fine print. In the San Francisco area, a lot of the hotels we tried to reserve had parking fees ranging from $25 to $45 per day in addition to the already steep room rates. Keep that in mind when you make reservations. We also had some places that wanted to charge a deposit even though we were going to have a credit card on file. Thankfully we discovered this before heading out and made alternative plans.
13. Uber Always (at least in San Fran). We discovered how priceless it was to have an uber account when we arrived in San Francisco. Our hotel was in Daly city (it was significantly cheaper and we did not have to deal with $45 daily parking) but that meant upping our transportation budget, tack on to that parking woes and fees in San Francisco - Uber saved us a ton. The rates were significantly better than cabs and public transport. We always chose the Uber pool option to save even more money and we met some fun people along the way - including the gentleman from Baton Rouge - it was great reminicing about the good days of LSU football and living in Baton Rouge.
14. Go with friends if you can. This is trip you can take solo, but I think it is better with friends to split cost, driving duties and company along the way (plus - a designated "instagram spouse or friend - lol).
15. Paid vs Free Beaches. If you don't have budget constrains then absolutely see them all but if you want to save some money - be mindful that some beaches are paid i.e Pebble beach. As an alternative, we went to Asilomar state beach instead. The picture above does not do it justice and it was free.
16. Plan to see Sunrise or Sunset. Specifically, along Big Sur, Carmel and Monterrey - you have to watch the sunrise/sunset. Personally, I recommend watching the sunset. The purple, gold hue of the sun set in Carmel was spectacular.
17. Rent wisely. This may not matter to most but having a car with great gas mileage meant we did not have to fill up as often. We drove over 1000 miles and filled up three times (including the fuel up before dropping off the rental car).
18. Take your time. This bears repeating. We missed some highlight in our rush to get to Carmel. I don't completely regret it because we saw the most beautiful sunset in Carmel. I guess that is the trade off for rushing along big sur coast.
Have you made the drive ?
If so, will love to read your tips and recommendations in the comment.