Driving Through Big Sur: One of World’s Greatest Drives


In the tradition of Sunday drives — does that tradition still exist? — I bring you the highlights of my spectacular drive through Big Sur on Highway 1. We didn’t do this drive on a Sunday, but on a fog-free, traffic-free Tuesday nearly three weeks ago. By this point, we were halfway through our 10-day Northern California trip (which had been spurred on by a wonderful wedding in Half Moon Bay) and we had already done two amazing drives: Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz and 17 Mile Drive. I knew that Big Sur was going to be even better, but I wasn’t sure how.

We entered Big Sur from the north, since we were staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea. (The Carmel/Monterey area is a great place to base yourself if you’re looking for mid-range accomodations, as Big Sur seems mainly to have ultra-luxurious hotels and rustic no-TV motels and little in between.) Big Sur has no official start point and end point, but most say it begins at the Carmel River and ends just north of San Simeon, by the Hearst Castle. If you drive that entire distance, you’ll go about 90 miles on Highway 1. Because we needed to go roundtrip, we only did about half of it, stopping a few miles south of the famous restaurant Nepenthe, where we enjoyed a lovely late lunch on the terrace after following a great hike to Buzzard’s Roost.

What makes the Big Sur stretch of Highway 1 so dramatic is that you are driving along the side of the cliff for most of it. You have not only the gorgeous Pacific views, but also lush, craggy cliffs and green mountains. The Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz section is pretty awesome too, but your views aren’t as far reaching because you’re much lower and closer to the ocean (see photos here). If you don’t like heights, you might prefer that one.

Highway One knows how beautiful it is and has lots of places to pull over on the side you can take photos. If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to pull over about every 10 feet. Here are some highlights from the Big Sur drive. Stay tuned for photos of the Buzzard Roost hike and Julia Pfeiffer State Beach.

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