I finally visited Big Sur after living in San Francisco for over 5 years, and it was well-worth the wait. I wanted to see this place for the past couple of years but the 1-California Highway to Big Sur was closed in multiple areas because of landslides, so it became much more hard. The roads were finally open to public in 2018; and I spent my Christmas vacation of 2018 camping at Big Sur.

Here are the must-see places from my trip down south.

Bixby Bridge

This is one of the most photographed vantage point on 1-California Highway. Not only do you get a clear view of the Bixby Bridge; but you can also see the ragged coastline and multiple shades of blue on the ocean. The azure colored water, crashing waves on jagged mountain-edges along the coastline and human-made bridge make the perfect composition for a stunning sight.

My recommendation - Avoid crowds by going on a weekday and check the weather before going, because rain and fog are well known disruptors of this remarkable view.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

There are quite a few options for an overnight stay in Big Sur, but none as centrally located as the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Camping here is economical too; it cost us 160 $ for 3 nights and upto 8 people can stay in one campsite. We were able to snag a reservation for river-facing premium campsite only a month before the actual trip, so that worked out well. The campground has running water, hot showers and electric outlets at restrooms, which was sufficient for us from a facilities stand-point. There's no network access in the park, which was fine for us, but I wanted to call it out for those who can't live without internet :)


Despite not having beach access, this state park has good trails for hikers of all abilities. We did the Buzzards Roost trail which was a moderate loop, with nice views at the top.


We also did a tiny nature trail which had information on the ecology of Big Sur. All in all, a fine place to stay if you're planning to camp at Big Sur.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls are about 10 miles south from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, but because of the curvy road, the actual drive time is closer to 30 minutes. The Falls themselves were small, almost like a tiny stream from the view point above, but the view of the falls into the cove-like beach with the blue colored ocean water was pretty. What made the biggest difference to my experience at McWay Falls was the time when I went.

We reached there about half-hour before sunset; and watched the sky and clouds turn orange, yellow and pink with various hues in between. It was easily my best sunset of 2018, and I went crazy looking at the sky turn into so many colors. Extraordinary!


Plan a trip to McWay Falls during sunset; and you won't return disappointed.

Pfeiffer Beach

Oh man, this beach taught me that perseverance eventually pays off. In order to get to Pfeiffer Beach, there is a 2 mile drive downhill. There are limited car parking spots available downhill at the beach, so the road down is blocked off by California Coastal Conservancy, who allow people to drive down once enough car spots have opened up. You can't wait in line though because of the narrow roads, you simply need to drive by and keep checking if they're allowing people in. We got turned away thrice and almost decided to skip going before eventually getting through. Hurrah!


Since we needed to pay 10 $ for parking at this beach, we decided to stay until sunset and make the most of our time. It's not a big beach, and the really unique aspect of this beach was the key hole rock, where a giant rock has a rectangle-shaped hole right across the middle. This was the first time where I was seeing rocks so big in the centre of a beach, so it was distinct.

The wind was howling like crazy on the far end of the beach, so we sat behind a rock and watched as the the waves crashed into the rocks. Soon enough, it was time for sunset and I saw and captured the famed last rays of sunlight pouring through the key hole into the water and beach. I loved the entire experience, so I endorse it - but, try it on a good-weather weekday for a much better time.

Cabrillo Highway

This is more of a highway than a place, but the drive through Cabrillo highway from Big Sur to San Simeon is phenomenal, especially if you're driving down south :)


Almost every turn will provide you with stunning views of the crashing waves from the ocean hugging the rugged mountains forming a coastline so beautiful that you'll want to stop and stare. Let's not forget the tiny coves and beaches that lie here and there, making us wonder if a human has ever set foot on them. And the color of the ocean, from turquoise and azure close to the coast to deep blue as the ocean gets deep.


The rocks, birds and seals feeding off the ocean only add to the beauty of this wonderful location. No words I write can ever comprehensively describe this sublime terrain, you have to come and see it yourself!

Piedras Blancas

Elephant seals anyone? Close to Hearst Castle in central California, lies a sandy beach where humans are not allowed to enter. This is the territory of the elephant seals, which almost went extinct due to over-hunting in the late 1800's and early 1900's. You wouldn't believe that to be true if you saw the population of elephant seals there today. Almost 20000 visit this beach every year; and the population has been thriving. Yay!

The friends of Elephant Seal maintains a website which has a live camera of the seals should you be interested in watching them right now :)


Watching these huge mammals in their natural territory is a wonderful sight, and it's undoubtedly worth a pit stop on the 1 California route.

So those are my top spots along the 1 California Route. Some other places which deserve a honorable mention include Monterey, Carmel, Pismo Beach and Morro Bay.

What are your favorite coastal places in the world? Why do you like them?