San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip: 22 Awesome Stops 2023

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Are you planning a road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur and wondering what are the best spots to visit along the way?

If so, you have come to the right place. I’ve got you covered with the ultimate road trip guide that includes 22 epic stops between San Francisco and Big Sur.

Also, I’m going to tell you about tips you need to know before your road trip and where to stay and eat in Big Sur. Trust me, this restaurant is incredible!!

I live in the Bay Area and have made this road trip on multiple occasions, and it never gets old. We just returned from a day trip from San Francisco to Big Sur and planned an incredible day of exploring this unbelievable location.

The drive alone is by far one of my favorites to do in California! Besides the dramatic beauty of the coastline, there are also so many amazing stops along the way.

From the white and sandy beaches at Half Moon Bay to the colorful and vibrant houses in Capitola, whatever stops you decide to make, I promise you will fall in love with this dreamy slice of California.

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Big Sur to San Francisco Road Trip 20 EPIC Stops

San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip

Before your road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur, there are a couple of essential tips you need to know beforehand.

Make sure to have your maps and directions downloaded in advance because once you reach Big Sur there is little to no service.

Also, keep your eyes on your gas tank. If you can, I suggest filling up before you get to Big Sur. There is only one gas station, and as you can imagine, it is very pricey!

The best way to get from San Francisco to Big Sur is by car. If you need to rent a car before your trip, I suggest Discover Cars.

Avoid the hassle and book your car rental ahead of time for the lowest rate by clicking here! 

How to Get to Big Sur from San Francisco

Big Sur is located along the central coast of California, nestled between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

There are two main routes to get to Big Sur from San Francisco. You can travel inland and drive along the CA-101 S. Or your second option, which is the more scenic route and the one that I recommend, is to drive along the PCH or Pacific Coast Highway.

A straight-through drive from San Francisco to Big Sur is about 146 miles and approximately a 3-hour drive. A trip to Big Sur is ideal for a weekend getaway, but if you start early and are prepared for a long day, it can be done as a day trip too.

Pro Tip: Always check for road closures before your trip to Big Sur. Unfortunately, road closures happen often due to landslides, especially during the winter rainy season.

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    Best 22 Stops from San Francisco to Big Sur

    1. San Francisco

    On a San Francisco to Big Sur road trip, I of course have to do an honorary mention of San Francisco.

    San Francisco is an iconic location and home to several world-famous landmarks. It is known for its picturesque coastline views, unique architecture, diverse and exciting culinary scene, vibrant arts and culture, and so much more.

    A couple of musts when visiting San Francisco are biking across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, taking a ferry to Alcatraz Island, walking among giant Redwoods in Muir Woods, riding a cable car, a hike to the Sutro Baths and Lands End Trail, and eating as much food as possible at the many incredible restaurants throughout the city.

    2. Pacifica

    Located right outside of San Francisco is the city of Pacifica. This coastal town is a popular location for surfing, stunning beaches, cafes and shopping, and a Taco Bell. 

    This probably has you thinking, what is so special about the Taco Bell? 

    The Taco Bell in Pacifica is known as “the most beautiful in the world”. The fast-food restaurant is located on the beach and showcases beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

    Plus they serve alcoholic beverages! The Cantina has a bar that serves beer, Mountain Dew Baja Blast, the Cantina Margarita, and Sangria.

    3. Devils Slide

    The next stop after Pacifica is Devils Slide. It is renowned for its stunning cliffs, jagged rock formations, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

    best day trip to half moon bay

    Devils Slide gets its ominous name for being known for landslides! It was once a dangerous and daunting road that was part of Highway 1, but later got turned into this hiking and biking trail.

    It is a 1.3-mile trail that stretches along a steep cliff high above the Pacific Ocean. When you enter Devil’s Slide, the steep slopes sit on both sides of the paved trail. You feel so small amongst them. The left side of the trail opens up to scenic views of the ocean crashing against the rugged rock.

    mystery house by devils slide

    Also, keep your eyes peeled for the Devils Slide Bunker that sits on top of a cliff at the side of the ocean. It looks like it is about to crumble from the peak at any moment. It was a bunker from WWII. The area is roped off, so you cannot get close-up views.

    4. Half Moon Bay

    Half Moon Bay is a charming coastal town located outside of San Francisco. We love planning a last minute day trip to Half Moon Bay or a relaxing weekend getaway. And Half Moon Bay is extremely dog friendly! So bring your pups along with you too.

    best day trip to half moon bay

    Half Moon Bay, is a cozy beach town situated along Northern California’s coast. Just 45 minutes from San Francisco, this coastal gem provides a diverse range of activities, there is something for just about anybody to enjoy.

    You can stroll the quaint downtown area that’s lined with plenty of great restaurants, boutique shops, cafes, a brewery, and history. Grab a pint at Sacrilege Brewery and Kitchen or a coffee and pastry at Moonside Bakery before your head to the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail.

    The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail stretches along the Pacific Coast for 4 miles for a scenic walk or bike ride. It’s beautiful and a must-do activity during your visit to Half Moon Bay.

    After you have worked up an appetite, head over to the harbor for lunch at our favorite restaurant in Half Moon Bay, Sam’s Chowder House. A must is ordering one of their famous lobster rolls. There are huge chunks of lobster overflowing the buttery sandwich with every bite.

    5. Pescadero

    The next town along the PCH is Pescadero, a hidden gem in the Bay Area. One of the best things you can do when visiting Pescadero is stop at Harley Farms.

    It’s an adorable goat dairy farm that welcomes visitors to stop in and say hi to the farm’s goats and donkeys, sit down for a picnic around the pond, or browse their farm shop for some homemade local products.

    Wine tasting from Sante Arcangeli Winery is also offered at Harley Farms in their rustic barn. We have done this tasting twice because we loved it so much the first time.

    I highly recommend you do their 6 flight wine tasting paired with Harley Farm’s award-winning goat cheese, local honey, and chili salted caramels.

    The cheese is so yummy, we actually brought some home with us to enjoy later as well!

    Downtown is small but definitely worth a visit! Stop inside Arcangeli Grocery, for some delicious garlic herb and artichoke bread. The bread has the perfect amount of herbs and garlic. When you get to the center of the loaf, that is where you will find layers of tender artichoke. 

    Arcangeli Grocery also has a deli, where you can order from a list of specialty sandwiches or create your own. They also have all of the fixings for your own picnic with a selection of cheese, meats, wine, dippings oils, and jams.

    Duarte’s Tavern is another popular restaurant in downtown Pescadero, known for its artichoke soup and pies.

    6. San Jose

    San Jose is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and is the third-largest city in California. It is a bustling and diverse city known for its thriving tech industry. San Jose is inland but still could be a great stop on your road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur.

    The area offers a plethora of activities to do including numerous museums, the quirky Winchester Mystery House, outdoor shopping and restaurants along Santana Row, the world’s largest Monopoly board, as well as a rich history showcased in its historic downtown area.

    7. Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    Big Basin Redwoods is California’s oldest state park and home to redwood trees that have been around for 1,000 to 1,800 years. These majestic giants tower over 50 feet in height, leaving you in awe of their grandeur.

    With over 80 trails, Big Basin offers abundant opportunities to immerse yourself in nature’s beauty. The park boasts captivating waterfalls, diverse bird species, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and a history and nature center.

    If you are on limited time, the Redwood Loop trail is a 0.6-mile hike that will lead you to some of the largest redwoods in Big Basin.

    8. Año Nuevo State Park

    A fun and unique stop from San Francisco to Big Sur is Año Nuevo State Park, where you can find one of the largest elephant seal breeding colonies in the world. 

    A 3-4 mile hike will bring you up close to view the beach covered with massive northern elephant seals. For the hike, be prepared with sturdy shoes and lots of layers to protect from wind, sun, and rain.

    If you have more time, hike along the ocean bluffs and explore one of the many trails at the State Park, such as the Ano Nuevo Point Trail.

    9. Shark Fin Cove

    Shark Fin Cove located south of Davenport, gets its unique name from its distinctive rock formation that resembles a shark’s dorsal fin. There is a descending steep trail down to the cove, but it is so worth it for the views and dramatic seascape.

    10. Santa Cruz

    Santa Cruz is a quintessential beach town and a favorite vacation spot for many Californians. It is famously known for its lively beach boardwalk, expansive beaches, and surf culture.

    One of the oldest amusement parks in California, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers a nostalgic experience with its classic rides, games, and attractions. It is particularly famous for its historic Giant Dipper roller coaster.

    A beach that is a little off the beaten path from the touristy area of the Santa Cruz boardwalk is Natural Bridges State Beach. The white sandy beach is known for its iconic Natural Bridge, a captivating arch rock formation that stretches across the water.

    During low tide, you can walk underneath the bridge and explore the tide pools looking for sea stars, anemones, and crabs.

    11. Capitola

    Tucked away on the central coast of California, Capitola is an adorable seaside village in Santa Cruz County. It is the perfect halfway point between San Francisco to Big Sur to grab a bite to eat and stretch your legs.

    Visit Capitola Beach, which is located in Capitola Village along the famous Esplanade. The beach features breathtaking views and is lined with boutique and souvenir shops, waterfront restaurants, and cafes. 

    This is also where you can spot the instaworthy and well known colorful painted houses of Capitola. These vibrant pastel houses create a very whimsical and artistic feel to the beach town.

    Sit down at one of the oceanfront restaurants for a gorgeous view of Capitola Beach or enjoy a coffee and pastry at Zelda’s, like what we did.

    12. Gilroy

    If you are a garlic lover, then Gilroy is the perfect stop on your San Francisco to Big Sur road trip. Gilroy is frequently called the “Garlic Capital of the World” and draws many tourists to the area for its annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.

    In addition to garlic, Gilroy also offers a historic downtown area full of restaurants and shops, nearby wineries, and many family-friendly parks.

    13. Monterey

    Monterey is one of the best stops you can make from San Francisco to Big Sur. Situated along California’s central coast, Monterey is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

    We love visiting this iconic California location as much as we can and have been to Monterey on multiple occasions. This coastal gem offers something for just about everybody. From the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium to a Whale Watching tour, there are countless top-notch attractions and activities for you to partake in.

    Some of our favorite things to do are stroll along Cannery Row, go wine tasting, visit the historic Fisherman’s Wharf, and grab a delicious ice cream cone from Revival Ice Cream in downtown Monterey.

    Monterey is great for families, it’s extremely dog friendly, and a location for couples to spend a romantic weekend together.

    There is so much to do in Monterey! If you want to break up your road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur, this is a great spot to spend the night.

    We have personally stayed at Portola Hotel & Spa in Downtown Monterey on two different occasions. It’s in a great location and within walking distance of many restaurants, wine bars, cafes, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Cannery Row.

    Check rates & availability for the Portola Hotel & Spa here

    17-Mile Drive

    Located in Pebble Beach in Monterey County is the scenic 17 mile drive. The world famous route winds through the impressive Del Monte Forest and features breathtaking natural beauty. 

    You will drive along the coastline and experience magnificent views of the ocean, rugged coastal cliffs, sandy white beaches, multi-million dollar homes, and a legendary golf course, Pebble Beach Golf Links.

    We always love stretching our legs and dipping our toes in the Pacific at Spanish Bay Beach. Another stop we love is The Restless Sea, the most turbulent section of the coastline at Pebble Beach. Where you can be mesmerized by the crashing waves and wild pacific ocean.

    Another must is stopping to view the lone cypress tree. The famous cypress tree has existed on a rocky pedestal overlooking the ocean for the last 250 years. The views from here are also incredible!

    14. Carmel-By-the-Sea

    Another location that is worth visiting between San Francisco to Big Sur is the small and adorable beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

    About a 10 to 15-minute drive from Monterey, it is a charming and idyllic town that has this captivating and whimsical European village vibe. Carmel is Known for its fairytale-like cottages, beautiful white sand beaches, and thriving arts scene.

    Spend your afternoon walking along the enchanting streets filled with art galleries, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, and gourmet restaurants, or catch an unbelievable sunset at Carmel Beach and soak in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

    15. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

    Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a nature lovers’ paradise. Often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the California State Park system, Point Lobos boasts dramatic cliffs, turquoise waters, amazing coastal hikes, and abundant wildlife.

    Hiking trails wind through cypress groves and offer stunning views of the rugged coastline and hidden coves. The park is a haven for wildlife spotting, with opportunities to see sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters, and orcas. 

    A great trail you can hike is the Bird Island Trail, a short and easy trail along the rugged coast. The Bird Island Trail features the stunning jade green waters at China Cove. 

    You can view the cove from the trail, or head down to the beach to get a closer look. Make sure to arrive early to Point Lobos because parking does fill up. 

    16. Bixby Creek Bridge

    Bixby Creek Bridge is an iconic landmark along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, California. The breathtaking bridge has a unique architecture that makes it one of the highest single-span bridges in the world.

    It spans across the rugged cliffs of the Big Sur coastline, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

    The views from your car are amazing, but it is definitely worth taking the time and pulling over at the famous vista point.

    17. Point Sur Lighthouse

    Point Sur Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located atop a volcanic rock in Big Sur. The lighthouse was built in 1889 but is now a California State Historic Park. The only way you can visit the landmark is by a 3 hour walking tour that is offered on the weekends 

    18. Pfeiffer Beach

    Pfeiffer Beach is known as the purple sand beach in Big Sur. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in California.

    The gorgeous swirls of deep purple sand and the fascinating rock formations are why this beach is a favorite among many locals and visitors throughout the year.

    One of its most incredible features is the Keyhole Rock, which on certain days of the year can perfectly frame the sunset in a breathtaking display of light and color.

    Pfeiffer beach purple sand beach

    You will truly be blown away by Pfeiffer Beach’s natural beauty. It is absolutely a must visit when in Big Sur.

    Getting there is a little tricky, it is unmarked, so have your eyes peeled for the entrance because it is not the easiest to spot. Look for the large yellow “Narrow Road” sign along Highway 1, the turn to Pfeiffer Beach’s entrance is just after that.

    Be aware it is a very sharp turn and a steep road into Pfeiffer Beach. After you make that turn, you still need to drive an additional two miles down a one-way narrow dirt road.

    Also, parking is first come first serve. So arrive early and try to avoid the busiest time of day between 12 pm to 2:30 pm

    19. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    One of the standout attractions at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is McWay Falls, an impressive 80 foot waterfall that cascades from the cliffs directly to the ocean and a secluded beach.

    There is no beach access to McWay Falls, so the best way to view the falls is by hiking the Waterfall Overlook Trail. It is a 0.5 mile

    This trail can be accessed from the south parking lot or the stairs near the entrance kiosk.

    mcWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Beach

    Another popular trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is Partington Cove Trail, a short and easy hike located two miles from McWay Falls.

    The Partington Cove Trail showcases some of the best of Big Sur. The trail splits into two endpoints, you can either head towards Partington Cove or to Partington Point. Either trail you decide to do offers incredible views of the coast. Or if you have time, do both!

    20. Limekiln State Park

    At the time of this post, Limekiln State Park is CLOSED until further notice due to storm damage and Highway 1 road conditions. 

    If you are looking for a beautiful campground and lots of hiking trails in a breathtaking natural oasis located, then Limekiln State Park is the spot for you.

    This enchanting park is renowned for its picturesque and lush scenery, towering redwood forests, and remarkable historical landmarks.

    21. Big Sur Bakery

    Big Sur Bakery is a cozy restaurant known for its artisanal bread, delicious pastries, and high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. The ambiance is very woodsy and magical. It is a great spot to grab your morning coffee and enjoy some tasty baked goods.

    Tip: Make sure to come early, they sell out of popular items fast. Also, Big Sur Bakery is also open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday.

    22. Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur

    If there is one place you must go for dinner in Big Sur, it is Nepenthe. It is perched on a cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains. Nepenthe offers not only a memorable dining experience but also some of the best views in Big Sur.

    Cozy up next to the fire outside or sit towards the back of the restaurant overlooking the water, and get panoramic views of the sun slowly setting.

    Their specialty is the Ambrosiaburger, a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll with a house Ambrosia Sauce. I got Lolly’s Roast Chicken Dinner, which is a play on Thanksgiving dinner with stuffing, gravy, and house-made cranberry sauce. It was delicious!

    Tip: They do not take reservations, so arrive early. This restaurant fills up fast!

    Where to Stay in Big Sur

    Big Sur offers a variety of accommodations from the luxury 5-star hotel at Alila Ventana Big Sur to the rustic cabins and campgrounds at Big Sur Campgrounds & Cabins. You will be sure to find the perfect stay for you on your Big Sur road trip!

    Alila Ventana Big Sur

    ⭐️ RATING: 9.5 out of 10 Stars | ✅ BOOK NOW

    By far, Alila Ventana Big Sur is the most incredible place you can stay in Big Sur. This gorgeous 5-star hotel features fantastic views of the Pacific coast and world-class amenities, including a renowned spa, fitness center, two swimming pools, and a serene and secluded retreat. The Alila Ventana is best for couples, it is an adult only resort.

    Check rates and availability for the Alila Ventana Big Sur here

    Big Sur Lodge

    ⭐️ RATING: 7.7 out of 10 Stars | ✅ BOOK NOW

    My top recommendation for a stay in Big Sur is the Big Sur Lodge. It’s a little more budget-friendly compared to Alila Ventana, and a great option for families. Big Sur Lodge offers numerous amenities including an outdoor swimming pool, hiking trails, an onsite restaurant and cafe, and many nearby activities.

    You can beat the location of the Big Sur Lodge, it is less than two miles from the famous Pfeiffer Beach and is situated in the heart of Pfeiffer State Park. Where a lush forest of redwood trees, waterfalls, and miles and miles of scenic hiking trails will surround you.

    Check rates & availability at the Big Sur Lodge here

    San Francisco to Big Sur Tour

    ⭐️ RATING: 4.8 out of 5 Stars |⏳ TOUR LENGTH: 10 hrs | ✅ BOOK NOW

    If you want all of the planning and details done for you, then a tour from San Francisco to Big Sur is the perfect way to enjoy a stress free visit to Big Sur.

    This highly recommended private tour of Carmel, Monterey & Big Sur allows you to explore California’s central coast at your own pace. Your knowledgeable tour guide will help you customize the best road trip for you and your group.

    All you need to do is, sit back and relax on this scenic drive from San Francisco to Big Sur! I recommend this tour for groups of 3 to 4 people.

    Fred was an outstanding guide, very flexible and took us where we wanted to go. I would love to recommend him to friends and family. – Susan (read more reviews)

    Check rates and availability for the San Francisco to Big Sur Tour here

    Is Big Sur Worth Seeing

    Big Sur is definitely worth visiting and should be at the top of everyone’s travel list! With its stunning coastal scenery, unique purple sand beach, enchanting redwood forests, and picturesque hiking trails, Big Sur offers a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.

    Big Sur is a special place and one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline along the PCH.

    When is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Big Sur

    Big Sur is a year-round destination, and I think any time of the year is a great time to visit.

    For the best weather, you will want to visit between April to October. The summer months will typically have larger crowds, foggy days, and higher prices for accommodations.

    I think the best time to visit to avoid big crowds, have cheaper lodging options and still experience pleasant weather would be between the end of September through November.

    No matter when you visit, I always recommended that you check weather forecasts and road conditions before planning your trip.

    Fire season in California is from summer to mid-fall and often will cause road closures. Also, landslides are common during the rainy season. Here you can find updated information on road closures for Highway 1 and Big Sur.  

    How Do You Get From San Francisco to Big Sur Without a Car

    The best way to get from San Francisco to Big Sur is by car. There was an option where you could take a bus from Monterey and Carmel to Big Sur. However, that is currently suspended with no timeline on when it will return.

    If you do not have a car, the other option would be to book a tour from San Francisco to Big Sur or rent a car.

    Frequently Asked Questions: San Francisco to Big Sur

    Is Big Sur in between LA and San Francisco?

    Big Sur is located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1). It is approximately a 3 hour drive from San Francisco to Big Sur. However, currently due to road closures, Los Angeles to Big Sur is at least a 6-hour drive.

    Is Driving Big Sur safe?

    Driving to Big Sur is safe, you will just want to be aware of some important factors and take certain precautions before your trip. Always check for road closures prior to your road trip.

    Another thing to be aware of is the winding roads of Big Sur. They can be narrow, with sharp curves and steep drop-offs. It’s essential to drive cautiously, obey speed limits, and stay alert at all times. Keep an eye out for signs indicating any road closures, construction, or hazards.

    Can you Drive Big Sur in a day?

    Yes, if you leave early enough and are prepared for a long day you can drive to Big Sur and back in a day from San Francisco. We have personally done it with our two dogs and 6 month old. However, if you can, I recommend spending a weekend in Big Sur to be able to take your time and explore the area.

    How scary is the drive to Big Sur?

    The cliffside drive can be intimidating. The road to Big Sur is windy, and at times narrow. However, if you drive cautiously and keep your eyes on the road, the drive to Big Sur is not scary.

    In Conclusion: San Franisco to Big Sur

    That is a wrap on the ultimate San Francisco to Big Sur road trip! I hope this guide has helped you plan an epic and unforgettable journey to Big Sur.

    I am a Bay Area local and love exploring the gorgeous state of California. For all of my California guides and tips, you can check them out here. Such as Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Death Valley, and more!