After leaving San Francisco, you can make two choices. Take Interstate 5 to Los Angeles as soon as possible, or take the Highway 1, which is counted among the most scenic road routes in the world. On the central coast of California near the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the world's best known scenic drives with an impressive stretch dotted with sheer wild cliffs, which rise above the sea surging and roaring at a height of between 500 and 1,000 meters. What are we talking about? Of course of the scenic Big Sur, America's most famous byway.
And, that's why I came to stay at Big Sur. Here there is peace and serenity, very few men and many wild animals, trees, shrubs and wild lilac and beautiful yellow poppies, buzzards, eagles, and beautiful birds, the sea, the sky and the hills and boundless mountains.
I try to imagine what this place will be in a hundred or five hundred years. I guess there will be villas dotting the giant slopes and stairs that meander down to the sea. There will be planes, surfboards, helicopters and cars and vehicles of all kinds not yet imagined. In Big Sur, there are several stretches of private beaches marked by fences but no ignoble residences disfigure the nature and landscape. The ocean cliffs shaped by waves and the wind, the colonies of cormorants and sandy beaches are worth a stop.
The waves do not know the meaning of the word obstacle. These beaches are not suitable for a swim as the current is too strong. At best, you can see someone surf on the shore. In Big Sur stay longer especially at El Matador, a beach known for its natural arches and if you have time, take the path that arrives at Julia Pfeiffer State Park. Then head towards Piedras Blancas and if you are lucky, you may observe a colony of sea lions.
The coastline stretches on the legendary Highway 1 for 150 km, caught between the borders of two other California coastal pearls, Hearst Castle to the south and the elegant town of Carmel in the north. However the term Big Sur refers not only to the parkway but a real region, including the famous seaside cliffs, represent only a portion.
The area is in fact extends for 32 km inland and includes many natural parks, protected areas, beaches and forests, revealing a tourist destination suitable not only for lovers of the road who are content to enjoy the panoramic views from' cars, but also for those who enjoy hiking trails and why not, even the most romantic moments.
How to get to Big Sur
Big Sur is, in fact, more or less the center of the California coastline, and to get there, you have to come from San Francisco or Los Angeles. You just make sure you take the Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway and suddenly will open up the horizon bends and winding streets that open onto wonderful views and only then you will know that you have arrived!
From Los Angeles to Big Sur
Follow the 101 to San Louis Obispo, then take the Highway 1 and follow the road along the coast, you will pass Morro Bay, Cambria, and Hearst Castle before sighting the dizzying turns of Big Sur; or
Take the Highway 1 from Los Angeles, past Santa Monica and Malibu. After Point Mugu State Park, Highway 1 will take you for a short distance into the interior up to Ventura. From there you will return to the coast, you will pass two beautiful coastal resorts such as Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach and then on to San Louis Obispo. From there the route is the same as above.
From San Francisco to Big Sur
Faster Road: get off to the south from San Francisco through Daly City, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto and San Jose. Continue on Highway 101, after about 97 miles, take the 156 West towards Monterey Peninsula and continue on Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur; or
From San Francisco take Highway 1 and follow it until it takes you to your destination. Drive through the pristine wilderness areas, but will also have the opportunity to visit the interesting town of Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and the scenic route 17 Mile Drive.
The must-see destinations of Big Sur
Possible destinations in this limited stretch of coastline are much more than you think. I interject here the main ones, more than enough to fully enjoy Big Sur.
All along the coastal path, you will find many scenic places where to stop to admire the view, so are the opportunities to enjoy the surroundings! The most famous passage all over the Big Sur road is sure to Bixby Creek Bridge, known more simply as Bixby Bridge, the bridge built in 1932, over 85 meters high, which reveals remarkable scenic views.
Another unmissable viewpoint is Point Sur Lighthouse, where you'll find one of the most famous lighthouses of California, a very fascinating observation point to admire all the surrounding area. In this area were established the following parks famous in the world for scenarios mostly lovers and trekkers: Los Padres National Forest, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Garrapata State Park and Andrew Molera State Park. In these parks, you can engage in many activities such as fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and Hiking.
In the Big Sur area more than are available 80 trails for day trips, some who have as final destination the ocean panoramic views, others that will lead you to explore the wildest meandering wooded area. Here are two short hikes so really worth it to stop:
McWay Falls Overlook Trail came up to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, next to the parking begins a short path (just over 1 km), passing through a tunnel under Highway 1, will lead to a spectacular cliff. Right here you will find the waterfalls McWay Falls, which plunge 25 meters to the beach often forming rainbows, and a bench from the ideal location to enjoy the view and, if you come in March or April, the whales!
Partington Cove Trail is a hiking trail that is less traveled but equally charming. Again it is a walk pretty fast (mile-long) although slightly steeper than from Highway 1 down leads through a wooded canyon and old wooden tunnel leading to the secluded and scenic beach Partington Cove.
The beaches of Big Sur
Sometimes the cold currents make the area beaches than ideal for swimming, but it's wonderful beaches that are well worth visiting anyway. The most worthwhile destination is definitely Pfeiffer Beach. If you are looking for a wide beach and less windy instead make a trip to Sand Dollar Beach. Everything you would expect around here unless you find a hermitage of Camaldolese monks. Set in a beautiful position, the New Camaldoli Hermitage is open to visitors, with the option to purchase handicrafts and food products.
Where to stop to eat and where to sleep
Among Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located in Big Sur Village, a small settlement where you find shops, businesses, and accommodation. The most attractive place to eat, however, is the restaurants with the opportunity to dine on a romantic roof terrace watching the sunset.
The hotels in Big Sur are not cheap and along the route, you can find several motels but you do not know what you might find in their rooms! If you're planning a coast to coast trip to the US, stay in motels at night on Route 66. In Big Sur, get romantic, enjoy the ocean and enjoy the ride.
Those in the Village, especially in summer always fill up well in advance, so the advice is to book online as soon as possible and not to look for a room on the spot.
What to see during a trip to California on the road?
Our trip to California on the road lasted three weeks. Usually, with California, we always try to pair Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, but our choice was to omit these two attractions to be able to make a round trip to San Francisco that allow us to see the big parks and the Pacific coast. But to be honest we did it for a reason because in a not too distant future we hope to return to the United States for a new adventure that has as its protagonists Las Vegas and the natural beauty of Utah.
Our road trip in California took place in March when even some parts of the parks were closed due to snow or maintenance, while the Death Valley was absolutely livable even in the hottest hours of the day so much so that we have met many visitors.
Arrival in San Francisco in the evening.
To move from the airport to the city in a fast manner strongly we recommend that you use the cab service in California that is very popular both in the Golden Gate city than in the rest of the country.
We had high expectations and were not at all disappointed. Having a whole house available we preferred to spend four days in San Francisco in order to see in detail. San Francisco is a wonderful city and, in our opinion, deserves at least three full days.
The Sonoma Valley is the wine valley to the north of San Francisco, adjacent to the famous Napa but has many highlights not to be missed. You can choose to know the wine valley in the day but we, after visiting the beautiful cellars, loved sleeping a few steps from the ocean, admire the coast to the north of San Francisco. Sonoma and Napa valleys are very close and with one more day you can easily visit both. Located in Sonoma, we visited the beautiful Museum of Peanuts.
What Parks of California can be visited during a road trip?
Yosemite National Park
In winter, the park has several closed areas so we have limited ourselves to visit the most important parts around El Capitan, the most imposing massif. It can take a ring circuit in about three hours. So we left early in the morning, we reached the park in the early afternoon and, after the visit, with an hour and a half we arrived in Fresno trip to spend the night and break the journey the next day to the Kings Canyon.
The real gem on the way to stop for lunch before arriving at the park is La Grange Saloon and Grill, one of the memorable places on our trip.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park
Much of the Kings Canyon was closed for the state of the roads while at Sequoia we had a great half day literally captured by these wonders of nature. The duration from Fresno to reach the Kings Canyon in about two hours. In about two hours we arrived in Visalia for the night in order to reduce the journey to Death Valley the next day.
It was a life we dreamed of seeing her and it did not disappoint. The first day we walked in Beatty Nevada admiring the western part of the park while the second day we are dedicated to the most famous attractions like Zabriskie Point and Dante's View. Consider two days to see the other attractions such as Badwater and Artist's Drive. To reach Beatty starting from Visalia and considered through the park about five hours of travel and two for visiting the different natural attractions, three if you also treat yourself to a beer.
From Beatty to reach Joshua Tree on the second day, consider another five hours to visit the major attractions of Death Valley near Furnace Creek. Be careful driving at night, we arrived in Joshua Tree through the desert at night, was no doubt an adventure driving escorted only by the moon but also a real chance, there have been times when we have not crossed the headlights of another machine for a long time.
The Joshua Tree park is home to the sensational Yucca called Joshua Tree by Mormon settlers, the name means of Joshua tree because the branches reminded them of the arms of the prophet indicating the promised land. It's a park that I really wanted in our itinerary. Allow about three hours for the visit, and about an hour to get to Palm Springs. If you left the park feeling a hungry stop by the Pie for People for a pizza that will amaze you! Would you like palm trees, a swimming pool, a cocktail? There is and it is not enough you can also enjoy a campfire in the evening contemplating the desert stars. Not Bad!
When we travel so much on the road we like to enter a period of decompression in the itinerary. Our relaxing time there were taken with two nights in Palm Springs. The desert city invented by Los Angeles artists that as per contract could not stray beyond a certain number of kilometers from the town is lined with palm trees, golf courses, boulevard for shopping and leisure in the pool.
Salvation Mountain - San Diego
Wake up early to get to San Diego moving from a place that is a myth: Salvation Mountain. A real work of art commissioned by Leonard Knight. The road to get there is well worth the effort, skirting the Salton Sea, the lake because of the fertilizers used in the nearby fields guards dead fish.
San Diego is wonderful. It smells like Mexico and burritos that have one foot in the past centuries and the one projected into the future, but above all many, many things to see. Do not miss the Old Town, the Embarcadero, and Gaslamp. And if you can stop by one more day, you will not regret.
We had few expectations of Los Angeles and admit that have largely been overcome. Maybe the walk of fame is too touristy for our tastes but to walk at least once in their life is a must. Then Sunset Boulevard, Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills. The next day we dedicate to Santa Monica and drove to Santa Barbara for the night.
Santa Barbara is a real find, a little gem really cool with great wineries, a fascinating mission and a street full of stores for shopping.
We got up early in the morning to enjoy the beach in Morro Bay and then off to Big Sur, a favorite haunt of the Beat Generation, a succession of breathtaking views at every turn. Before arriving in Big Sur, we stopped at Hearst Castle, a real gem overlooking the sea.
Carmel - San Francisco
The last day we devoted to the 17 miles, the scenic route that connects Carmel in Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a short stop in Santa Cruz. While returning to San Francisco take a break at Highway 1 for the last beer.
How are Californians?
Friendly people, friendly and very, very pretty. Several times it happened to be stopped on the way from one person to give us any information on parking lots or help because they saw us in difficulty. Always with a big smile.
Weather in California?
In San Francisco applies the absolute temperature range, from large hot central hours to frost even in the hottest months. The coast enjoys a mild, spring weather all year round while some parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley can get very hot. Even in spring, it is therefore important to bring warm clothes that are light. In short, a real nightmare when it's time to pack!
How much does a trip to California on the road?
Let's face right away, California is expensive! Sometimes a double motel room in the city can cost well over $ 100 and have lunch with a burger and a beer costs about $ 15 per head. Considering that the dollar-euro exchange rate is 1 to 1 you can do from the comfort of your own accounts. To save money you should book in advance your room to have more choices available and eating in fast food restaurants.
Travel Insurance in California
Always remember to include in travel costs also insurance to cover medical expenses. Traveling so often this year we decided on relying on annual insurance with family policy in the US and Canada version.
Eye on Fuel
The cost of fuel varies greatly from area to area. San Francisco is the city where we found the cheapest fuel while in areas such as that between Carmel and Monterey found pieces almost double those of the city. So before taking a trip to California on the road, our advice is to refuel in larger centers and sensitive to different prices. Well if you are here it itself means that the idea of making a trip to California on the road attracts you so much so we just have to pray that your dream will come true soon.