A Perfect Fall Day Along the Big Sur Coast

A Perfect Fall Day Along the Big Sur Coast

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Summer along California’s Big Sur Coast.

Lots of gray clouds hanging over a gray-green ocean.

Point Lobos 2 DSC03165

Lots of tourists snapping photos with their camera and cell phones.

Lots of traffic.

For a picture-perfect day trip along California Highway 1 south of Carmel and Monterey, skip driving the cliff-hugging route during summer and come in the fall when the weather will likely be better, the scenery spectacular, and the road less traveled.

Begin the day with a hearty breakfast at your hotel or in Carmel early in the morning at a cafe like the Village Corner before the town becomes busy and parking problematic.

Carmel Breakfast IMG_2389

Then drive south on Highway 1 three miles from Carmel to Point Lobos State Nature Reserve.

Point Lobos 3 DSC03172

While you could easily spend an entire day here, a couple of hours or so will give you plenty of time to take an easy hike through the forests, around the rocky points jutting out into the ocean, watch scuba divers set off on underwater adventures, and look for seals, sea lions and sea otters near shore.

Point Lobos 5 DSC03219

By now, the calories from the breakfast you tucked away that morning will have been burned off and it will be time to “refuel” with lunch, New Orleans style, at the Big Sur Roadhouse, twenty-odd miles and about a half hour’s drive south of Point Lobos.

Big Sur Roadhouse Patio DSC03238

If the midday weather is just a little bit on the cool side, warm yourself up by dining indoors.

Big Sur Roadhouse DSC03231

Just minutes down the road from the roadhouse you can work off your lunch with a hike to a 60-foot high waterfall, or a stroll through the coast redwoods, at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. If you’re lucky, you may spot one or more of the endangered California Condors, a big bird with a wingspan of about nine feet.

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region Flickr Photo)
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region Flickr Photo)

For a different post-lunch option, drive six miles north from the Big Sur Roadhouse and take a three-hour walking tour at the Point Sur State Historic Park & Lighthouse.

(NOAA National Ocean Service Flickr Photo)
(NOAA National Ocean Service Flickr Photo)

On the way back up the highway to the Monterey Peninsula towns, stop just south of the Bixby Creek Bridge, easily the most photographed, and sometimes painted, spot along this section of the Big Sur Coast.

If You Go

Getting There

The Monterey-Carmel area is about a two-hour-plus drive south from San Francisco.

Alaska, Allegiant, American, United and US Airways provide airline service to Monterey Regional Airport where you can rent a car from Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, or National.

Lodging in Monterey-Carmel Area

The Monterey-Carmel area has a large number of lodging options including hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast inns, in all price ranges.

On the luxury end of the lodging scale, during my latest stay last spring I spent two nights and had lunch at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, and got a chance to check out the rooms, dining facilities, spa, and taste wine and food from the kitchen while messing about on the bocce ball court at the posh Bernardus Lodge & Spa just a few miles to the east in the valley.

My clean and adequate budget accommodations were at the Sand Castle Inn in the Seaside area of the Monterey Peninsula.

Lodging in Big Sur

Glen Oaks, just across the highway from the Big Sur Roadhouse, has a variety of lodging options.

The Big Sur Lodge, where I’ve stayed on past trips, has 61 rooms, cottages, a conference center, a cafe, a gift shop and a grocery store. You can camp in the park as well.

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn has been around since the 1930’s.

Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn and Spa offer upscale lodging.

The Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau Website lists 300 lodgings in all county towns and locations, including Big Sur, and allows you to book a room via Booking.com.

The Big Sur Chamber of Commerce Website also provides lodging information, as does the City of Carmel Official Travel Website.

Hearst Castle Area Lodging

If you plan on driving the nearly 100 miles south down Highway 1 from Monterey to visit Hearst Castle, the castle’s Website suggests on where you can stay nearby.

Be sure to read our story, “Seeing John Steinbeck’s Monterey,” published earlier this year, for information on visiting the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, along with suggestions on where to dine on the Monterey Peninsula.


Tales Told From The Road publisher, Dick Jordan, Big Sur, traveled to Monterey-Big Sur in April as guest of the Monterey County Visitors & Convention Bureau. In the summer of 1968, he spent nearly every weekend on the Big Sur Coast at Pacific Valley where his then-girlfriend (now wife) worked as a “summer hire” for the U.S. Forest Service, collecting fees from and answering questions for those pitching their tents or sleeping in “campers” or vans in the USFS coastal campgrounds.)

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8 Replies to “A Perfect Fall Day Along the Big Sur Coast”

    1. Susan, we didn’t see humpbacks at Point Lobos or along the Big Sur Coast when I was in Monterey in April. However, some of the group of writers that I was with did see them on Monterey Bay during a “eco-trip” with Fast Raft.

      The Big Sur Chamber of Commerce Website says that humpbacks can be seen from turnouts along Highway 1 in the Big Sur area
      , particularly at “the junction of Partington Ridge and Highway One there is a deep submarine canyon where the Humpback Whales are seen on a regular basis.” That location is about 8 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

  1. Wonderful article. Memories of when I lived in Monterey and Pacific Grove, and frequently drove down the coast. People are so surprised that the summer fog sometimes hangs around until early afternoon. Spring and Fall seasons are much better for doing things along the coast. I would often see whales (with babies) from Pfeiffer in February.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Charles.

      Even during winter months, such as February, the weather along the Big Sur Coast can be surprisingly sunny and warm compared to mid-summer.

  2. That really is one of the most spectacular drives in the country. Beautiful photos with great information and recommendations. It reminds me that it’s been far too long since we’ve made a trip up north. I actually spot a couple of travel bloggers I know around that lunch table.

  3. I can see why the view from near Bixby Creek Bridge is so photographed/painted. It all looks fascinating and we hope to visit this area ourselves one day. Lots of great info too.

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