Last April, I checked off one of my bucket list trips by driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway (you can read more about that trip over on Jetsetter). There are a number of gorgeous towns, parks and vistas along the way, but a highlight for me was definitely Big Sur. The region is known for the stunning scenery created as the Santa Lucia Mountains drop off dramatically to the Pacific, the rolling green hills jutting out into the stormy blue ocean. A particularly photogenic spot is the pull off just before the Bixby Creek Bridge, 13 miles south of Carmel.
If you haven't hiked Big Sur before, your first stop shop be Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Named for the park's former resident, John Pfeiffer, who sold the land to the state of California in 1933, the park covers a little over 1,000 acres and is best known for its giant redwood trees. Start off by hiking the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, an easy 1.4 miles roundtrip that takes you through one of the park's best redwood groves and ends in a 60-foot high waterfall (the shot below is of our trip along this trail). Next, take the 2 mile Valley View trail, which leads hikers uphill for striking views of the Big Sur Valley and Point Sur.
For a casual lunch, head to Nepenthe Restaurant perched 800-feet above the ocean and order their signature "Ambrosia Burger" (a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll).
Afterwards, head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take the McWay Waterfall Trail, an easy hike that's under a mile and leads to an overlook facing McWay Falls, and 80-foot waterfall dropping onto a sandy beach. In December and January, this is also a prime spot for spotting gray whales as they migrate southward.
WHERE TO STAY
For Groups and Families: Big Sur River Inn, which has an expansive lawn that backs up against the redwood-lined Big Sur River. All rooms have private porches and suites work well for those traveling with kids thanks to trundle beds for little ones. There's also a great little restaurant, with live music on Sundays.
For Couples On a Budget: Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, a rustic little inn on the edge of the redwood forest, with a well-tended garden, cozy rooms and a restaurant focused on local, organic fare.