Big Sur, California is located along Pacific Coast Highway. Big Sur refers to 90 miles of coastal beauty from Carmel-by-the-Sea in the North to San Simeon (Hearst Castle) in the South.
The Pacific Coast Highway hugs the entire coast of California, and specifically runs along the length of Big Sur with the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains on the inland side and the Pacific Coast to the west.
To reach Big Sur you will need to drive about 150 miles south of San Francisco or 300 miles north of Los Angeles.
The area was originally named El Sur Grande, or The Big South, but was shortened and popularized to Big Sur.
Super Picturesque Stops in Big Sur
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If this is your first visit or road trip to the area, you may be simply astounded by the super picturesque stops in Big Sur, California.
Be prepared to make lots of stops.
There are plenty of pull-outs all along the way. Use caution when driving South to North along the highway as you will cross the center line to access the pull-outs.
The day we spent exploring the Central California Coast with the GyPSy Guide Audio Tours was all about making stops along the way. The tour for us began in Carmel and spanned all along the coastline toward San Simeon.
If you were to drive the entirety of the Pacific Coast Highway in California, it would take you between ten to twelve hours without stops. We spent an entire day driving a much shorter distance and making stops and still didn’t make it all the way to San Luis Obispo from Carmel to complete the GyPSy Guide tour.
Bonus * We still have lots more to see next time.
That’s the beauty of the GyPSy Guide Audio Tours narrated by Dave Pettitt. Once you make a purchase, that specific tour is yours for good. You can do the whole tour again, pick up where you left off, or start from the opposite end for MORE sensational views and information.
Discover the best of Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Luis Obispo with the GyPSy Guide Audio Tour of Big Sur, PCH Hwy 1. Pretty sure you’ll agree that the drive will be stunning and takes advantage of the super picturesque stops in Big Sur.
Before You Start
Begin by downloading the GyPGy Guide App and then selecting the audio tour for the destination of your choice. These guides are super affordable and can also be purchased as bundles for extra discounts.
As you drive along, the GPS signal determines your location and when you pass a pre-determined point, the commentary from the app plays pre-recorded content automatically.
You don’t have to do anything to start the commentary.
Your audio tour guide will suggest side trips to take, often cracks corny jokes, gives a history lesson of the area, shares insight on significant historical figures from years gone by, and presents behind-the-scenes stories to enhance your visit.
Often locals know of little-known tips and locations to visit, especially for the most picturesque stops in Big Sur. GyPSy Guide shares them with you too.
You can travel at your own pace, choose to skip a side route, spend a little longer at a scenic overlook, or return to a highlight on the route that sparked your interest.
Bring along your magnetic air vent phone mount for easy viewing of your cell phone screen.
Get Your Camera Ready for ALL of the Picturesque Stops in Big Sur
Be sure to have your camera ready to make some stops. Seriously, when you have two photographers along for the ride as we did, you’ll hear, “Pull over!” quite often.
Whatever your skill level with a camera, be prepared for some amazing photos as you drive along Big Sur, California.
Here are a few camera suggestions if you are wondering which one to choose for your skill level:
Canon Powershot G1 – This camera is great if you are comfortable leaving the camera in AUTO mode and work well with a point and shoot. It gives you options for some manual photos if you want to begin expanding your skills.
Canon T8i – If you are a beginner with your photography skills and want to switch back and forth between Auto, Aperture Priority, or Manual Mode, this is a great entry level DSLR.
Canon 6d Mark II – A great camera for advanced photographers who are comfortable with shooting in Manual Mode. You’ll get some outstanding shots with this DSLR.
Smart Phone – Cameras on your phone nowadays are amazing. If this is your picture-taking device, you will surely capture some amazing images. I usually “tourist” with my DSLR around my neck and my Smart Phone in hand! And yes, I probably don’t “blend in” that well.
You may even wish to begin early in the morning for the best photo opportunities and to give yourself plenty of time for an all-day adventure making stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Believe me, you will need at least one day, two at best to discover everything along the way.
Whatever you choose as your camera as you discover Big Sur, you will want to have the battery charged and ready to go for the day (maybe bring a back up battery just in case).
Let’s get started on our audio tour of Big Sur!
First Stop: Beautiful Pull-Out Next to a Field of Cows
One of the benefits of traveling with the GyPSy Guide Audio Tours is being able to stop anywhere on your route. Before reaching our first “highlighted” stop on the tour at Bixby Bridge, we passed a beautiful field scattered with cows grazing right next to the ocean. Happy cows.
It was idyllic.
In fact, the conversation in our car included this comment, “If I couldn’t be a happy cow in Switzerland, I would want to be one right here!”
Bixby Bridge is one of The Most Picturesque Stops in Big Sur
This spot is so popular that cars begin to slow and prepare to pull over long before reaching the bridge. The famous Big Sur bridge, Bixby Bridge, is one sight you won’t want to miss whether you stop at the first pull-out and capture views there or cross over to the inland side of the highway to park.
It might even be one of the most Instagrammed picturesque stops in Big Sur.
It is truly a must-see attraction for photographers and sightseers alike.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
What is the attraction for stopping at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park? How about:
- Big Sur hikes
- Pfeiffer Falls
- Ice cream at the Visitor Center
- Redwood groves
- Hiking trails through a variety of trees in the forest: oaks, conifers, sycamores, willows
- Open meadows
You will need to purchase a State Park Pass to visit the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
One of the main hikes in the park takes you to Pfeiffer Falls and then branches off to Valley View Trail. While both hikes have some elevation, both are relatively easy hikes.
While Pfeiffer Beach is considered one of the must-see stops along the Pacific Coast Highway on the GyPSy Guide tour due to its beautiful beach, dramatic rocks, and purple sand, I will give a little caution here: IT IS SUPER DUPER WINDY!
Maybe there are days when the sea and wind are less restless, but it wasn’t the case on the day we visited. In fact, if you ever want to know what it feels like to be sandblasted, this beach will give you that feeling.
You will need to pay a separate entrance fee to access the beach and follow an 8-mile road to reach the parking lot. There are restroom facilities here.
Stopping along Big Sur at Nepenthe Cafe is a popular destination as a lunch spot as well as one of the recommended picturesque stops in Big Sur.
You may need to have a little patience finding a parking spot in the Nepenthe Cafe parking lot around lunch time, especially if you are simply stopping to take in the scenery.
There are two levels with a take out cafe on the lower level and a sit-down restaurant above. If you have the time, stay for lunch (or dinner) and enjoy the views!
Sand Dollar Beach
Chris and I were happy to explore this beach while our girls stayed in the van to nap.
If you want to find a beach that is beautiful, not so windy, and might just have some treasures, Sand Dollar Beach is the perfect spot.
In fact, the audio tour suggested that if you happened to find a piece of jade in the nearby Jade Cove, you are allowed to keep any piece that you can carry out. We didn’t find any.
Nor did we find any sand dollars—but not for the lack of looking. I am a bit of a beachcomber at heart.
And if your husband suggests that you remove your shoes and walk through the shallow water instead of across the rocky section of beach, be mindful that he might make it through the shallow section without getting wet. You (or me) on the other hand will be drenched by two or three rogue waves.
Elephant Seal Beach
At this point in our day, we still had a long way to go to complete the GyPSy Guide tour. We didn’t think we would make it all the way to San Luis Obispo, but Chris wanted to continue on to Hearst Castle.
Before we reached the castle, we stopped at Elephant Seal Beach and watched the seals.
They were still having mid afternoon naps, so while there were some noisy seals in the bunch, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement. Maybe the seals aren’t so picturesque but they can be fun to watch.
Hearst Castle was approximately 45 minutes from Sand Dollar Beach and one of our last planned stops for the day. However, we arrived to find that the Castle tours and the Visitor Center were closed due to emergency road repairs from significant storm damage.
We should have checked first.
Be sure to check first before you go. Especially since advanced reservations will be required when it reopens if you want to visit either the Hearst Castle or the Visitor Center.
So we turned around and started the two to three hour drive back to Carmel. You’ll hear the GyPSy Guide Audio Tour again on your return trip. It’s perfect if you missed anything on the first part of your trip.
Where to Eat Along the Way
I recommend bringing plenty of snacks, drinks, and a picnic lunch. We packed up our handy folding cooler with leftover pizza slices, apples, carrot sticks, and treats for the day.
If you need a snack along the way, consider Built Bar protein bars in your favorite flavor. I like chocolate. Chris likes anything with caramel.
Bonus * Use Code SJTRAVELS at checkout for 10% off your Built.com purchase.
There weren’t too many places to stop for dinner along the way back from Hearst Castle, so when we reached Gorda, we decided to stop and eat at Whale Watcher’s Cafe.
They definitely know how to capitalize on their market and the lack of places to stop in this section of PCH. $150 later we had filled our empty spots.
From Gorda we still had a two-hour drive.
Sunset Overlooking the Ocean
Just before reaching the Bixby Bridge on our return road trip, we had a fabulous view of the setting sun.
Chris pulled over at a pull-out overlooking the ocean, and we watched the sun go down. A perfect ending to an amazing day of picturesque stops in Big Sur.
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Final Thoughts on the Super Picturesque Stops in Big Sur with GyPSy Guide Audio Tours
Traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway is a must-do activity, not only for the Instagram-worthy stops along the way but also for the hikes and relaxing beach moments.
Big Sur, California is ranked by US News as the #2 place to visit in September in the USA. September to November is the perfect time to visit. If you are looking for a getaway for two, it is #11 on the best romantic getaways in the US.
If you have time for more than one day exploring Big Sur, California, do a little checking for Big Sur hotels or Big Sur camping spots along the way. I would recommend spending at least two days exploring.