Big Sur in One Day: Itinerary & Must See Spots

Whenever I told people we would be moving to California for 6 months, almost everyone kept saying I shouldn’t miss Big Sur.

Somehow we thought we would need a couple of days to visit so ended up postponing it for months. I wasn’t very clear on what was the best way to explore Big Sur. After doing some research, I realized that is it totally possible to make a day trip and that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to do it.

Let’s start with the basics: What is Big Sur?

Big Sur is a 90-mile stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway. Big Sur has no official start point and end point but most say it begins at the Carmel River and ends just north of San Simeon. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the USA for its dramatic coastal views.

Our Itinerary & Stops

We made it to our first stop (Point Lobos) at about 9:30am and drove back from our last stop (McWay Falls) at around 4:30pm. Here’s what we did and saw over those 7 hours in Big Sur:

POINT LOBOS NATURAL STATE RESERVE

We started our Big Sur adventure in Point Lobos. The views are stunning but the best part was the wildlife: we spotted sea lion pups, pelicans, albatrosses, geese, lizards. The park itself is relatively small and the trails are easy. Great way to start the day!

Open times: 8am-7pm
Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle

Point Lobos

GARRAPATA ESTATE PARK & CALLA LILY VALLEY

We were driving towards Bixby Bridge when we suddenly saw a valley filled with lilies and decided to pull off immediately. We parked our car at the entrance of the Garrapata Estate Park, followed the trail down to the beach and then a few steps north. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw this heaven of blooming white lilies spreading on both sides of a creek. It was truly a magical sight. If you visit in late winter and spring, don’t miss this hidden gem!

Access: Gate 19 for Garrapata State Park, near mile-marker 63
Entrance Fee: Free

Big Sur Calla Lily Valley

BIXBY BRIDGE

The ultimate icon and probably most photographed feature along the Big Sur coastline: Bixby Bridge. It is one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, standing 260 feet (79 meters) above the bottom of a steep canyon. Just a quick down the steep cliffs makes you realize how much effort and skill was needed to build it.

PFEIFFER BEACH

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most popular beaches for its large arch shaped rock formation called Keyhole Rock. It is a bit tricky to find the road that leads to it, but there is always park staff to assist in the area. Once you find the entrance, it’s about 1-2 mile drive down on a very narrow road that must be shared with leaving traffic. Plenty of parking space is available for $10 USD.

My husband and I had mixed reviews about this place. I loved it, but he thought that it didn’t match the price tag. If you’re a keen photographer, I would say go for it (I heard that sunset time is perfect for photography). Either way, I probably agree that the entrance fee should be cheaper. Oh, and be mindful it gets really windy here!

Pfeiffer Beach

MCWAY FALLS

We saved the best for last. This place is probably my favorite sight of all. McWay Falls is a unique waterfall that streams water from an 80 feet high cliff onto a beautiful white sandy beach below it. Don’t miss this place!

McWay Falls

Practical Tips

  • Get a full tank before your drive. Gas stations in Big Sur are extremely pricey.
  • Bring your own lunch and snacks and have a picnic with a view. You will save some money as restaurants in Big Sur tend to be overpriced.
  • Download Google Maps offline and flag the places you want to see in advance as there is no WIFI reception in Big Sur.
  • Pack a light jacket in case it gets windy.
  • As always, bring plenty of water and sun protection! Most areas in Big Sur are wide open with no shade, so hats and sunglasses are essential.

What to wear in Big Sur

 

Driving back

The next day, we wanted to explore Santa Cruz and the Monterey Wine Country so we booked this AirBnb in a quiet area of Santa Cruz. It was a perfect place to relax after a hectic but fun filled day in Big Sur.

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