Big Sur, which is located five hours north of Los Angeles on California’s Central Coast, is the perfect weekend getaway. Just getting there is a treat. The road trip involves traveling along Highway 1 and follows the edge of the ocean cliffs, where every hairpin-turn reveals another breathtaking view. On one side, the Pacific Ocean fades from bright turquoise into dark blue, while the Santa Lucia Mountains hug the opposite side of the highway, offering a completely different experience of redwood groves, natural hot springs, waterfalls and miles upon miles of backcountry trails.
In June, Shoestring Adventures took a weekend road trip to Big Sur. We scored campsite reservations along the river at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park seven months in advance. The most popular time to visit is between April to October when the weather is warmest and coastal morning fog burns off into the afternoon. Or if you prefer, you can visit during the rainy off-season to avoid the crowds.
If Big Sur is on your bucket list, here are some of our favorite spots to help you plan your own weekend adventure!
Even if you have never been, you will probably recognize McWay Waterfall from your Instagram feed. The popular view of the 80-foot falls cascading onto the sandy shore below is easily accessible from Highway 1. Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you can follow the .64-mile out-and-back trail to see ruins of the old “Waterfall House,” built by Lathrop and Helen Brown. Just imagine waking up to that view outside your window every morning!
Walk through the pedestrian tunnel under the road to return to the parking area, and if you have time, continue your adventure on the Ewoldsen Trail.
If you only have one day to explore, the Ewoldsen Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park will give you a taste of everything Big Sur has to offer — redwood forests, babbling streams and sweeping ocean views! The 4.5-mile round trip hike begins from the same parking area as McWay Waterfall. About halfway through, you’ll come across a fork leading to a viewpoint. We definitely recommend this short detour. Just a little more climbing, and you will be rewarded with epic coastal views for as far as the eye can see!
Big Sur River Gorge
Just steps from the campground in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, climb over rocks and logs along the water to access the tranquil swimming holes of Big Sur River Gorge. Bring sunscreen, sandals, a bathing suit, towel and your favorite camp chair to soak in the afternoon sun. Watch out for sneaky poison oak along the trail.
This 3.1-mi round trip hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park climbs 450-feet through the redwoods to 80-foot Pfeiffer Falls. As the trail climbs, keep your eyes peeled for sweeping mountain views. Not surprisingly, this beautiful waterfall is a popular tourist destination, so we recommend getting an early start on the trail.
Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most popular destinations in Big Sur for photographers, famous for its purple sand and the Keyhole Arch rock formation. A short drive (or long hike) down a narrow road spotted with coastal cottages will bring you to the parking area for Pfeiffer Beach. The day-use fee is not covered by your State Parks Pass or campsite fee. The beach is an easy 5-to-10-minute walk from the parking area. Bring your camp chairs and blankets to enjoy a magnificent sunset!
Bixby Bridge is one of the most iconic spots in Central California and one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Take in the view as you drive along Highway 1, and pull over to photograph it from a viewpoint on Highway 1 or Old Coast Road.