When writers list the Pacific Coast Highway as one of the most scenic drives in the world, they’re mostly thinking of BIG SUR, where the rocky fingers of the Santa Lucia mountains reach into the ocean for ninety zig-zagging miles north of Hearst Castle. Famously described as “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world”, this beautiful, rugged stretch will become the picturesque benchmark against which all of your other road-trips are measured for years to come.
You won’t be long into the journey before making your first stop, as just five miles north of Hearst Castle, and less than 15 miles from the town of Cambrai, PIEDRAS BLANCAS plays host to an elephant seal rookery, where you can peer down from clifftop boardwalks onto the mass of blubber that lies snorting in the sands below. From here, it’s just under fifty miles to MCWAY FALLS, the most popular part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and worth a short stop to see the ribbon of falls crashing onto the beach; the viewpoint is a ten-minute walk (through a tunnel under the highway) from the car park.
The focus of today, though, is PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK open daily sunrise till sunset | $10 parking fee], the southernmost limit of California’s mighty redwoods. There are a couple of great walks here: the sun-dappled Pfeiffer Falls Hike, which climbs up from Big Sur Lodge through old-growth redwoods to a tumbling waterfall, and returns via a lookout with sweeping views over the Big Sur Valley; and the more adventurous boulder-hop up the Big Sur River Gorge, which initially follows the Gorge Trail from Day Use Lot 3 but then requires criss-crossing the river on your way upstream to a crystal-clear swimming hole.
Heading north from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, it’s around 30 miles (with a drive across Bixby Creek Bridge, a Hwy-1 icon) to MONTEREY, the base for the last two nights of your epic trip.
WHERE TO STAY
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From beachfront hotels to Downtown B&Bs – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in California
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of California’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety, and how to get around
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