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Los Angeles to Big Sur

Cruise the California Coast on a Campervan Road Trip

Beach camping, great hiking, delicious food, and beautiful views–this road trip has it all! So without further ado, we’ll start our Los Angeles to Big Sur itinerary in sunny Southern California at our Los Angeles Escape Depot and drive north. Gear up in one of our four sizes of campervans and see the beautiful west coast scenery.


Directions Tips:

Distance: 300 (482 km)

Time: 2-4 days

Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

Van Camping in Southern California

Campervan surf trip southern California

Dockweiler State Beach

First of all, this is possibly the closest camping near LAX and the Los Angeles Escape Depot. It may not be our favorite beach camping spot in California but it’ll do in a pinch and the ocean is right there.

Directions: Where the Imperial Highway (State Route 90) and Playa Del Rey meet Leo Carillo State Beach. We like this campground. With 135 shaded campsites, this is a great place to stop of on Day 1 or 2 as you head north on Highway 1. Book in advance, especially on weekends, as this is a favorite vacation spot for the locals. Make sure you stop by Neptune’s Net just up the street when you stay there and grab some fried seafood and a cold one.

Book online: reserveamerica.com

Address: 12001 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey, CA 90293

Phone: (800) 950-7275 or (310) 322-4951

Pismo State Beach

This well-known campground/hangout is a favorite of the Southern California crowd because it’s the only beach you can actually DRIVE ON in California. Do NOT attempt this in an Escape Campervan but, we gotta admit, it’s pretty cool.

Address: 555 Pier Avenue, Oceano, CA 93445

Phone: (805) 473-7220

Refugio State Beach

Finally, this is a favorite of Escape Campervans. It’s what you have in mind when you think of camping on the beach in California.

Address: 10 Refugio Beach Road, Goleta, CA

Phone: (805) 968-1033

Roadside Attractions: Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo

Southern California campervan surf trip

From the moment Highway 10 dead ends into the Pacific Ocean until Highway 1 banks sharply away from the coast a couple of hundred miles later, you’re given a literal buffet of beaches and attractions to choose from. We’ll leave it to Surfer magazine and Condé Nast to parse the finer points of what to do along this otherworldly route and stick with the nuts and bolts of this leg of the trip.

Notable Beaches

  • Will Rogers State Beach – Crowded beach, clean showers. 3 miles north of the Highway 10 interchange on Hwy 1.
  • Zuma Beach, Malibu – Crowded beach, but less crowded than Will Rogers. Clean showers, easy street parking. You can’t miss it.
  • Silver Strand Beach, Oxnard – Great surfing, easy parking, hard to find. Hang a left on E. Channel Islands Boulevard, dead end at the coast, hang a left. Eat at Pepe’s Burrito shop just across the parking lot from the beach.

Best Eats/Drinks

  • Neptune’s Net — The real deal when it comes to roadside fish houses, cold beer, and seafood.
  • Woodstock Pizza — Exit 203A off 101. 5 blocks down on the corner of Higuera St. Wander down Higuera St and the adjacent Riverwalk.

San Luis Obispo

Next, spot by this college town before driving into Big Sur. Known as “Slo” to locals, this aptly-named community is something everyone should drive through at least once. It’s a great place to walk around, check out the River Walk, grab a slice of pizza, then get some petrol and head out of town.

Driving from Morro Bay to Big Sur

Big Sur Highway 1 road trip by campervan

Morro Bay is a beachside artist’s community–formerly a small fishing town that now boasts high-end restaurants, nice boats, and a cool vibe. Check out the artist shops and wander the waterfront. Then, grab a bite to eat before you head north and enter Big Sur.

Best Eats/Drinks

Giovanni’s Fish Market. Expensive but worth it. Get the chowder.

Road Trip Destination: Big Sur

McWay Falls Big Sur California road trip

Big Sur is both a place and a state of mind. The famous Highway 1 takes a turn for the spectacular once you head south from Monterey Bay. As such, make sure you carve out several days to spend here or you’ll miss a lot of what Big Sur has to offer. Bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and to the west by the Pacific Ocean, California’s central coast provides numerous state parks for hiking, camping, and beachcombing.

Rules of the Road: Highway 1 to Big Sur

  • Fill your gas tank BEFORE you head into Big Sur
  • If you’re prone to car sickness, be prepared for some windy roads
  • Bring warm clothes — it does get cold in California!
  • Watch out for bikers — some stretches attract lots of cyclists

Escape Tip

You must camp in designated campgrounds in Big Sur. Camping alongside both Highway 1 and Nacimiento-Ferguson Road is illegal. Campfires and BBQs allowed only in designated campgrounds. You can learn more about camping requirements here, and view campground options here.

Highlights

  • Bixby Bridge, a landmark that towers nearly 270 ft across a canyon floor
  • McWay Falls, an 80-ft. cascade over granite cliffs into the ocean reached by a short hike through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • Pfeiffer Beach, distinguished by its purple sand
  • Redwood groves on the headlands and in the foothills that offer hiking, horseback trails, and rustic campgrounds

Best Eats/Drinks

  • Nepenthe Restaurant – We’ve road tested this restaurant with several Escapees and the feedback has been 100% positive. A major dining destination for the jet set, this converted house (that used to be owned by Orson Welles) is a great spot to park it for a while, enjoy a beer or two and catch a sunset…or two. Splurge on a fancy dinner or hang a left at the fire pit and wander out to the viewing area below the restaurant for free.
  • Big Sur Bakery – Located just north of the town of Big Sur is a bakery that is a ‘must-do’ for any person in the know along this stretch of highway.

Best Camping

Veterans Memorial Park & Campground

We have some friends here who have promised that they will do everything in their power to make sure each and every one of our camper vans has a spot at their campground on busy nights when everywhere is sold out. So if you’re in a bind, this is the place to go! They are a couple of miles off of Hwy 1 above the heart of Monterey. They don’t have hookups but they do have a pump-out, fresh potable water and hot showers (showers included with the campsite or $2 for non-campers). Rates are $35 per site with one extra vehicle for an additional $9. They are 2 miles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 1 mile from Fisherman’s Wharf, and close to the start of the beautiful 17-mile drive which leads people south towards Big Sur. They also have a 2-mile hiking trail (Huckleberry Hill) that gives hikers a decent view of the ocean and Monterey Bay. Book here.

Kirk Creek Campground

A few miles north of Plaskett Creek are a couple of first-come-first-serve campsites that are tailor-made for Escape Campervans. Kirk Creek is the ONLY campground along this stretch situated on the western side of the highway. Bring your own water as there are no amenities, but it’s a fantastic place to watch the sunset over a roaring, legal campfire and fall asleep listening to the waves crash below you for $20. If you’d prefer not to pay the $20, cross Highway 1 and head directly up Nacimiento Fergusson Drive. It’s paved, liberally dotted with car pullouts and free. Even if you’re just driving through, head up this road anyway – the views are spectacular. Alternatively, Lime Kiln is located in a steep ravine just south of there and, if you’re lucky, you can snag one of the few campsites located right by the ocean.

Plaskett Creek Campground

This campground has some of the friendliest campers you’ll encounter on your entire trip. It’s right across the road from the often-missed Sand Dollar Beach, perfect for an afternoon walk. Access to the parking area at Sand Dollar will run you $5 but you can park on the road and walk in for free. (There’s free camping up along Plaskett Ridge Road. But remember, you are not covered by insurance on any unimproved roads, trails, and tracks, excluding county and state maintained roads).

Fernwood Campground

Last, but not least! Nestled among the redwoods with the Big Sur river running through the middle, this is an idyllic place to take a breather from the road for a couple of days. There is a great little hike just behind the stage that takes you into a large stand of redwood trees to the north. It’ll be tourist-free and a nice breather from driving the crowded roads of Highway 1.

Directions: West side of the road 1 mile (2 km) north of Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. It’s just south the Fernwood General Store and Cabins. Tell Andrew we said to take care of you.

Best Hike

Ewoldsen Trail

Best Side Trip

  • Hearst Castle — It took 28 years to complete William Randolph Hearst’s lavish estate, which includes 165 rooms on 125 acres. There are a variety of tours available. You can’t miss the entrance on the right up Highway 1 outside the town of San Simeon.
  • Pinnacles National Park — Want to tack one more breathtaking side trip onto your Big Sur adventure? As one of America’s newest National Parks, Pinnacles has yet to gain the attention it deserves. The giant rock needles and vertical canyons are all that remains of an ancient volcano that was literally sheared in two by tectonic plates (have we captured your interest yet?). This area attracts hikers, rock climbers, and a whole lot of bats. There’s also a small rookery of endangered California Condors that make Pinnacles home.

> Read our blog on the best places to see wildlife in Big Sur.

Tip submissions from past renter, Morgan

  • Smoked albacore tacos from Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos. Eat them on the beach.
  • Highway 46 to Peachy Canyon Winery
  • Artichoke fields between 101 and Santa Cruz. Choke Coach food truck for fresh fried/grilled artichokes and fresh veggies for sale
  • Big Basin National Park – great to see rings in the trees marking history
  • Coffee at Boulder Creek roasting company where they have a giant redwood growing through the building in the back room
  • Jameson Creek road to the coast from there. Stop at Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport for fresh jam and pies. Cash only & you pay by the honor system!

Tip submissions from Escape West Coast Manager, Will

  • Highway 154 – beautiful
  • Cold Springs Tavern
  • Solvang – little Dutch town
  • Los Olivos for wine tasting
  • Union Hotel in Alamos
  • Jocko’s Steakhouse in Nipomo

Looking for the best surf spots on Highway 1? Check out this Highway 1 Road Trip itinerary in an Escape Campervan from our friends at LushPalm!

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