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California Dreaming: What You Need to Know Before Driving Highway 1

The trip through Big Sur is a breathtaking experience that everyone should do at least once, but here are some tips to consider before taking on the legendary span

A big bridge continues the road on the California coast at sunset

Every view in Big Sur is postcard worthy. Hugging the California coastline, you’ll zigzag through rolling hills and up roller-coaster ascents to incredible outlooks over the Pacific Ocean below. And, you don’t have to abandon that easy-going Californian mentality—just keep a few things in mind before you hit this rustic, gorgeous stretch, whether you’re driving south from San Francisco or making your way north from Los Angeles. 

Plan your arrival

Don’t just stumble on Big Sur—time it so that you arrive in daylight. Ideally, stay overnight so you can set out in the morning. As majestic as the swerves and steep cliff-drops are during the day, getting caught in the dark—and, wow, it gets dark—can be a stressful experience. Plus, you really don’t want to miss out on the incredible scenery.

Book in advance

If you plan on staying overnight, don’t leave where you sleep to chance. Hotels are few and far between and the chances of stumbling on one that has vacancy and is reasonably priced are slim, especially during high season from June to August. Also, cellphone reception can be unreliable, so calling in last-minute reservations is not always an option.

Pack a lunch

There are so many incredible places to picnic, but not so many places to sit and be served or even convenience stores right off the highway. You’ll be happy for the snacks. However, do plan a splurge at the upscale Sierra Mar—try the nine-course Taste of Big Sur dinner, including chilled heirloom tomato consommé and Monterey red abalone—or opt for the more casual Nepenthe Restaurant for their Ambrosia Burger and just as stunning views.

Venture off

If an off-road route looks enticing, veer off and follow it (cautiously, of course). There are plenty of parks and paths to explore—fallen logs to balance on, small rivers to follow, boulders to climb. And don’t forget to dress the part (flip flops are not ideal). Hike among massive redwoods and oaks in the 1,000-acre Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Stop at McWay Falls and look out on the crystal-blue bay. Find Pfeiffer Beach and lounge on its purple sand, or walk the length of beautiful Sand Dollar Beach.

Take your time

You can drive through Big Sur in a day, even with room to stop and explore a bit. If you can, though, take a few days to meander. There are a variety of accommodations to choose from—high-end spas, glammed-up yurts, cozy cabins and tons of state parks to set up tents and park RVs. From the luxurious Ventana Inn & Spa to the oceanside campgrounds in Kirk Creek, you’ll likely want to stay forever.

Feeling inspired? CAA Consultants can help you plan your epic drive through Big Sur. Call1-800-992-8143 for more information.