Two weeks ago I returned from a big road trip in the US but before I tell you about it, I take a look back: The very first road trip I did was one of the most scenic ones you can do: Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. I say down because we started in San Francisco and ended up in Los Angeles. Since then, I did this road trip a few more times – it was always part of a longer trip with a rental car in California.
Why is it so special?
Waves smashing at the cliffs, salty wind in your hair and crisp, fresh air in the redwood forest: When you stop at a vista point or go for a short hike in one of the National Parks in Big Sur, you know why road trippin’ the highway 1 is so special. You get the full package: Stunning views of the ocean, little shops in Carmel by the sea, cabins in the woods and the sophisticated beach in Santa Barbara. And finally: Los Angeles.
How much time do you need for the Pacific Coast Highway road trip?
When you drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Highway 1 you need at least two days. Driving time from SF to LA via Highway 1 is about 12 to 13 hours. Now include sightseeing, photo stops, hiking, lunch breaks and some lazy time. If you spend two or three nights along the Pacific Coast, you’ll be able to do a little bit of everything. We always drove from San Francisco to Big Sur with just a few stops and spent one or two nights in the National Park. There we did some tours and the next day we moved on to Santa Barbara and finally Los Angeles.
Where to stay on your trip
We stayed inside Big Sur National Park on every road trip on Highway 1. Accomodation in the park is quite expensive but you’ll wake up amidst the redwood forest with deers grazing next to your cabin. If you want to spoil yourself with an upper-class stay, choose one of the few luxury hotels like the Post Ranch Inn for a romantic dinner or a spa-treatment. If you are on a budget, skip spending the night in Big Sur National Park and choose a Motel in Carmel, Cambria, San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara – depending on how far you get on the day of your road trip. There are a few resorts, lodges and campsites in Big Sur, here are a few recommendations for hotels where I stayed or at least poked my nose in.
Cosy in Big Sur
Ripplewood Resort: We rented a cabin there on two of our trips. Some of the little houses are nestled along the river and have a deck or a fire place. It was quite chilly when we were there in February so we didn’t sit on our deck. The resort also has a little shop where you can buy all things necessary (read: cookies and craft beer) and in the restaurant you can have breakfast or lunch. Keep in mind that they don’t offer dinner! Luckily, next to the Riplewood Resort you can get excellent dinner at the Big Sur Roadhouse. We went there very spontaneously after a hike and thought they serve burgers and pizza. Turned out it’s a little bit more sophisticated but they didn’t blink an eye when we stumbled into the restaurant in our rather dirty hiking gear. And the food was delicious!
Big Sur Lodge: To be honest, we stranded there by accident or to be more precise: because of a road closure due to rock slides. We just spent one night at the Big Sur Lodge, the room was huge and cozy. The staff was very helpful, despite the late hour we arrived. Very good breakfast where you can get Eggs Benedict, one of my favorite breakfasts.
Deetjens Big Sur Inn: If you’re looking for a romantic getaway in Big Sur, look no further. We made a stop there and had a look at the restaurant and asked for a room, unfortunately they had no vacancy. From what I saw it’s a beautiful historic hotel right next to the redwood forest. Having a nice restaurant directly into the hotel doesn’t hurt too when you keep in mind, that dining options in Big Sur are limited.
What to do?
The basics: stop at every vista point along the Pacific Coast Highway, grab your camera and snap away! There are places where you can stop regularly just next to the road. Besides the obvious photo stops (Bixby bridge!) you should not miss doing these things:
- Take a walk in Carmel by the sea
- Visit Hearst castle – it’s one of a kind!
- See the elephant seals in San Simeon
- Go for a hike in Big Sur National Park
- Enjoy the stunning view at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Eat pastries in the Danish village Solvang
- Relax at the beach in Santa Barbara and don’t forget to visit the mission