Big Sur is one of those places that people bond over the mention of. Before I planned my visit to this 90-mile stretch of California, I didn’t think I knew anyone who had ever been. As soon as I spoke about my trip out loud, so many people came out with advice to offer or just wanted to tell me how much they loved it.
Make sure to go to the Henry Miller Library and check out the view at Nepenthe. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must and make sure to visit McWay Falls while you’re there.
I’ve never had such direct advice from so many people about one place. I didn’t quite understand what people were talking about through the recommendation process, but after spending two days in Big Sur, I know exactly what they meant, how unbelievably gorgeous this place is and how often I’ll think about it for the rest of my life.
Big Sur has been written about over and over. It’s beauty attempted to be explained and the many stories of how locals come to end up staying forever still inciting questions by visitors. The best of all things nature: forest, beach, the sea, as well as the other world: unique shops, restaurants and lodging, you might not be able to see yourself ever living in Big Sur, but a piece of you wants so badly to never leave.
So like the many before me, I’ve tried to explain this mysterious section of California and will pass on the ‘musts’ in this reclusive piece of Highway 1 in what I think is the best order to do them.
First stop: Bixby Canyon Bridge
Driving south on Highway 1, my first ‘must see’ in this patch of Big Sur is an architectural marvel. The bridge was built in 1932 and made it a lot easier for visitors to enter and leave Big Sur, as well as for locals to travel from the area in the winter months, which was almost impossible before.
It is one of the tallest single span bridges in the world and has been the object of many photographs as well as films and songs. Death Cab for Cutie produced a song about the bridge you might want to download to make the crossing even more special. A white bridge snugged between two cliffs, rocky hills behind it and a tiny beach below, it’s located right on the water. Stop at a vista point before crossing it from the north for the best photo opportunity. Time your visit here for late morning or early afternoon when the sun is high.
Second stop: Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park
The trip from Bixby to this State Park is going to take at least 40 minutes. During the trip feel free to stop at shops along the way and grab something to eat. This is going to be the furthest south we venture. Get to the State Park, by 3 or 4 p.m. if you only want to visit McWay Falls, earlier if you want to see more of the park.
Named after a rancher who lived in Big Sur in the early 20th century, the six-square miles of this park includes forests, beach, several hiking trails, 300-foot tall redwoods and McWay Falls. Another photogenic road stop, McWay Falls drops from an 80-foot cliff directly onto the beach and into the Pacific. This waterfall is very easy to reach. Located right on the side of Highway 1, it’s only about a ten-minute walk from the parking lot at Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park.
The reason I recommend getting here by 3 or 4 p.m. is because the sun falls really nicely on McWay Falls at this time of day, whereas any earlier it might be blackened by the shade of mountains to the east. Also, our next stop is best at sunset and only a short drive from the Falls.
Third stop: Nepenthe Restaurant
Drive about ten minutes north on Highway 1 to reach our next stop: Nepenthe Restaurant. The modern, yet still rugged wooden building located on a cliff looking out to the Pacific has a massive deck that is the perfect place to spend the entire day in Big Sur, but especially sunset.
From this restaurant, people have an unobstructed view of Big Sur’s forest, jagged cliffs and dramatic drops to beaches on the coast and of course, the sun setting on nothing but ocean. I didn’t even attempt to eat here as every guide book I read and person I spoke to said it is very expensive, but the restaurant was very busy, so if you do want a nice meal in Big Sur, this is an option to think about.
If you just want an incredible view, walk along the deck at Nepenthe to the very back and give yourself some time to take in Big Sur in its last moments of light.
Fourth stop: Henry Miller Memorial Library
Depending on what day of the week it is, you might need to set off for this next stop immediately after watching the sun set as it usually closes around 6 p.m. Only a few miles north of Highway 1 is the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a non-profit organization that features works of art and literature by the late writer and Big Sur resident, Henry Miller, as well as others. A hippy haven in the woods, the quaint wooden house is no-frills on the outside but an eye full of color and design inside.
The Library is worth a trip on its own, but it often has live music acts on the weekend by local independent artists, as well as well-known performers like Patti Smith. Spend as much time as you can looking through everything this place has to offer. Make sure to give a donation outside in exchange for tea, coffee or just the joy you get from visiting a place like this. The Library has free wi-fi and the most incredible cat called Theo.
Final stop: Redwood Grill and Restaurant at Fernwood Resort
I’m going to finish this list of ‘musts’ in Big Sur with my own personal recommendation. I camped at Fernwood Resort in the most adorable spot right on the Big Sur River, next to a wooden bridge with colored lights. I thought the campground was amazing as soon as I parked my camper van there, natural, quiet, the staff friendly and fun.
Then a local guy who works at Henry Miller Memorial Library recommended a friend and I visit the restaurant attached, Redwood Grill, as he said it was ‘basically [his] living room’. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my travels, it’s that when you get a recommendation like that by someone who lives in the place you’re visiting, you follow it.
Inside, the restaurant has a small bar with lots of wines, beers and spirits. The restaurant includes several rooms set up like a house: one with leather couches, a TV, board games and a few tables. I spent a good few hours there chatting to locals and finding out what brought them to Big Sur. I couldn’t quite fathom where all these people live as I saw maybe two houses on the entire stretch.
What I got from my conversations with people who live in Big Sur, during my last night there, is that it just keeps getting better and better. The five things I mention in this post only scratch the surface. The longer you stay in Big Sur, you’ll notice tiny private streets coming off Highway 1, natural wonders that have yet to be photographed and people who came to this area for a visit, but still haven’t left.
I was perplexed about how people come to live in Big Sur, but I guess the longer you stay, the more it just makes sense.
Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
As always all opinions are my own.