Our Big Sur road trip began on a Wednesday afternoon when we picked up our van from the San Francisco camper van rental location. After an overview of the van’s features and some time spent organizing our gear, we set off on our California adventure. Immediately, we made our way north and soon found ourselves far from the busy streets of San Francisco. The Point Reyes national seashore was our first stop and was well worth the visit. We picked up the Highway 1 heading north at Muir Beach and were greeted with our first proper views of the ocean. The coastal road weaved its way along the natural geography with stunning views at every turn.
Point Reyes Seashore
The Point Reyes Seashore is a sparsely populated point north of San Francisco that has been established as a nature preserve and maintained by the National Park Service. Access to the park is free and camping is allowed, however, can only be accessed by foot and requires a reservation. The park feels isolated, and cell reception is spotty giving you a truly immersive experienced. Our top three recommendations for Point Reyes would have to be
The Point Reyes Shipwreck: Located behind the Inverness store, this hidden gem is a must-see for any visitor.
The cypress tree tunnel: Most photographers will recognize this iconic spot. We would recommend visiting at sunrise if possible for the best light and least people.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse: A perfect place to watch the sunset. There you will also find a canopy of wind blow cypress trees and endless views of the coast.
That night we camped at the Golden Gate vista pullout. This spot is excellent for an overnight stay close to the city. There is plenty of room for boondockers and washrooms if needed. In the morning we woke to a stunning sunrise and views of the golden gate.
Day two of our trip began with a morning drive across the golden gate, as we officially began making our way from SF to LA. After a quick stop for supplies, we loaded up the van and hit the road. Our goal was to sample some of northern California’s best beaches. Stops included
Shark Fins Cove: Located outside the town of Davenport this beach is characterized by the protruding shark tooth and surrounding sea caves. For great views, we recommend taking some time to explore the surrounding cliffs before descending the steps to the beach.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk: A well-known tourist attraction and for good reason. This lively boardwalk contains rides, games, and food as well as a stunning beach. Our tip for visiting would be to look for street parking as this will save you a ton if you only want to spend a few hours here.
Carmel by the sea: This was one of our favorite towns along the coast. Here you’ll find lots of great shops and restaurants as well as a beautiful beach.
Big Sur is characterized by its twisting roads and rugged coastline. Last year a large portion of the highway closed after the heavy rainfall and mudslides. This left much of the coast out of reach for visitors. Part of the road is still closed further down, however, there is still access through the Nacimiento-Fergusson road. Recently the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge reopened allowing tourists to once again visit the park.
The first thing you’ll want to do before entering Big Sur is fill up on gas and supplies as this will be more expensive once in the park. Depending on where you stay, there may be no service, so also make sure to send any texts before! If you plan on staying at one of the many resorts or campgrounds, always to book in advance as reservations fill up early on, especially during peak seasons.
The road has many interesting turn-off points with unique views. Keep an eye out for the cows grazing along the coast!
Our Favourite Stops in Big Sur:
Bixby Bridge: This is one of the first places you’ll come upon when driving in from the north. As this is the beginning of the park, it may be crowded and difficult to stop right away. However, there is parking on both sides of the road as well as across the bridge.
Mcway Falls: Get there just in time for sunset, and you won’t be disappointed. Follow the small trail along the cliffs for an impressive view of the falls and the ocean.
Sand Dollar Beach: Located near the Plaskett Creek campground. The beach is a short hike down to a hidden cove with plenty of waves for surfers and plenty of space for beachgoers.
Treebones Resort: We recommend stopping in for a delicious bite overlooking the ocean. The food and staff are great, and a stroll around the property will have you already booked your next visit to stay in one of their tree houses.
Coastal Camping: Find yourself a quiet pullout for the night. Our campervan made the perfect home for the night. Crack your window open and you’ll enjoy the sounds of the sea far below you. Also, don’t forget to have a look up before bed. On a clear night, the skies in Big Sur are dark enough for some of the best stargazing around.
Nacimiento-Fergusson Road: We ended our Big Sur visit with a winding drive through the Santa Lucia range. Currently, this road is the only means of access to the southern portion of Big Sur. Because of this, park officials no longer allow camping along the road, however, we would still recommend the drive. The road winds its way high up into the mountains with incredible views of the coast at every turn.
San Luis Obispo was the next stop on our drive south. The town is filled with little shops and restaurants. Only a short drive away is both Morrow Bay and Pismo Beach, both well-known central coast surf spots. Had enough of the beach and shopping? Head on into the mountains. A drive in the Los Padres National Forest is a great way to end the day. Tv Tower road is a recently paved forest road that winds through the park offering hilltop views of the San Luis Obispo and the Oro state park. It is also a great spot to pull off for the night.
The final leg of our road trip included stops in
Solvang: This small Danish village is a must-see for travellers. There you’ll find delicious pastry shops as well as windmills and many cute shops to explore.
Santa Barbara: Stearns Warf is an essential stop for any California road trip. Parking is free for the first hour (check)
El Matador Beach: This may have been our favourite beach during the trip. Although it does boast more crowds (especially during sunset) the natural arches are truly incredible to see.