5 In North America

10 Places to Visit Between Big Sur and San Francisco

During our California trip, we left Yosemite a day early due to flood warnings. While we felt disappointed at first, the upside was having more time at our next destination: the coast!

Big Sur San Francisco

And that extra time ended up being amazing. First, we were able to enjoy more time in Big Sur. After that, we drove back to SF by leisurely continuing along the ocean instead of hopping on one of the faster inland routes.

This gave us the opportunity to visit the incredible places listed here and get more QT with the Pacific before returning to New York.

Ano Nuevo State Park

Silver linings, right?!

If you find yourself in this beautiful corner of the world, here are 10 places to visit between Big Sur and San Francisco on or near Highway 1.

17 Mile Drive

Monterey

After spending the night at the Carmel Resort Inn, we started the next morning at Bright Coffee in nearby Monterey. The coffee bar shares its home base with a shop called Lilify. Lilify offers artisan goods in a beautifully curated space.

Let’s just say, you won’t get bored while you’re waiting for your mocha!

Monterey California

Coffee in hand, we drove down Monterey’s Cannery Row, the waterfront street that was once home to several sardine canning factories and was featured in John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. Today you’ll find hotels, restaurants, fishing companies, and an aquarium. 

We were planning to get out and take a look at the historic cannery buildings – the last of which closed in 1973 – but the area is very busy and prime parking is not easy to come by! If you’re driving through like us and want to make a pit stop, grab any spot you see as you approach the street and just walk over.

Pacific Grove

After Cannery Row, we continued along the water and ended up at Lovers Point Park in neighboring Pacific Grove. We walked out to the point and then sat by the beach to finish our coffee while soaking up some seriously spectacular California vibes.

Pacific Grove California
Pacific Grove California

17-Mile Drive

This gorgeous road leads you along the Pacific and through the Del Monte Forest by way of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.

17 Mile Drive

When you enter the drive, you’ll be given a guide with a map of the route and short descriptions of the 17 highlighted stops along the way, including Point Joe, Bird Rock, and Fanshell Beach.

17 Mile Drive

The most famous stop along the drive is at the renowned Lone Cypress tree, whose likeness has become the logo for Pebble Beach. The formidable tree has stood atop its precarious seaside perch, steadfastly braving the elements, for more than 250 years – and looking photo-ready all the while! 

17 Mile Drive

Since the drive passes through the gated community of Pebble Beach, it’s a toll road for non-residents, and you have to pay $10.25 per vehicle just to gain access. Ever the budget travelers, we felt undecided on whether or not we wanted to pay this fee.

17 Mile Drive

After chatting with our barista that morning, we decided to go for it, and in the end we felt like the drive was completely worth the price of admission. The beaches and views were so much fun to visit, especially as a one-time treat.

If you’d rather not pay, there are many other areas nearby where you can enjoy the coastline for free.

17 Mile Drive

Carmel-by-the-Sea

We entered 17-Mile Drive at its Pacific Grove entrance and exited in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Our first stop was at Carmel Beach, a gorgeous expanse of white sand and ocean.

Carmel by the Sea

While the beach was a highlight in its own right, I found myself unexpectedly enamored with the colorful and inviting town center.

Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea

In addition to a variety of Tudor Revival and Spanish Romantic Revival structures, the city is home to a number of English-inspired “fairytale cottages” designed and built by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s.

You can easily see them for yourself during your visit: eleven of them are clustered together right in downtown Carmel. Click here for a map.

Carmel by the Sea
Not a Comstock cottage, but charming nonetheless!

While walking around, I would recommend a stop at Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore. Head through the back entrance and into their peaceful “secret garden” complete with plants, local goods, and pathways leading by more whimsical buildings to the other side of the block.

Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea

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Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea

Santa Cruz

A classic California city conjuring images of beaches and towering palm trees, I was excited to stop by Santa Cruz even if briefly.

We were hoping to check out the boardwalk amusement park, but our visit was on a Friday in October, and it was closed! (Click here to check hours before you go.)  

I’m not hugely into rides, but I do love historic amusement parks. (This one dates back to 1907.) What’s better than vintage vibes at the seaside?

Not much of a rollercoaster girl, I had my sights set on the colorful Sky Glider. Next time! 

Santa Cruz
Views of Main Beach from the wharf

After a quick stop by the wharf (not my favorite, but maybe it’s more vibrant during the summertime) we continued on to Lighthouse Point. This is a great spot to watch the surfers below. It also offers views over Lighthouse Field State Beach and further north toward popular Natural Bridges State Beach.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz

Swanton Berry Farm

This shop offers an extensive variety of pies, soups, cider, coffee and more. You can also pick your own organic strawberries and sample jams, many made with berries I had never heard of before our visit. (Olallieberry, anyone?)

Swanton Berry Farm
Swanton Berry Farm

Not your average roadside farm stand, you’ll be tempted to hang out at this inviting space for a while, maybe over one of the books or board games scattered around. It has a rich history, one of the highlights being its status as the first unionized organic farm in the country.

Swanton Berry Farm

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Swanton Berry Farm

We passed several other farm stands along this stretch of road, too, so keep an eye out and you’ll be spoiled for local snack options!

Pacific Coast Highway

Waddell Creek Beach

We pulled off at this beautiful beach that’s popular for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Our timing was perfect as we were treated to a colorful show of both activities.

Waddell Creek Beach

With more time we would have loved to explore Big Basin Redwoods State Park, stretching inland from the beach.

Waddell Creek Beach

Año Nuevo State Park

This state park was a highlight of our time on the coast. The timing didn’t hurt – we arrived at golden hour, and the vivid sunlight accenting the trails and beach made for some stunning views.

Ano Nuevo State Park

We hiked a circular route, combining parts of three trails and a walk along the beach. You can read about all of the hike options and look at a trail map here.

Ano Nuevo State Park

Año Nuevo is also a great place to see elephant seals, but be sure to plan in advance; the viewing area is only accessible by a docent-led tour or a self-guided permit system. Visits become more restricted between mid-December and the end of May (the seals’ breeding season). Get all the details here.

Ano Nuevo State Park

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

On the lookout for a good place to watch the sunset, we ended up at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It was the perfect viewing point and an especially scenic end to our day of driving. (The daylight portion, anyway!)

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

If you’re looking for a place to stay, there’s actually a hostel on-site

In-N-Out Burger

Is any California road trip really a California road trip without a burger and shake at In-N-Out? Having never been before this visit, I was a big advocate for stopping on each of our big drives, and this was no exception.

In-N-Out Burger

Our bonus coastal drive between Big Sur and San Francisco was amazing. Being a last-minute addition, there was little to no planning. But that’s the beauty of California’s coast! Just follow Highway 1 and you are bound to pass countless places you’d like to explore, whether you’ve heard of them before or not.

Have you taken a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway? Where did you visit on yours?

Pin it for later!

Big Sur San Francisco

I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + HopHilary StyleOregon Girl Around the World, and Suitcases and Sandcastles. Follow the links to check out their sites!

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Janis
    February 1, 2019 at 7:07 am

    We did a similar trip a few years ago now, and we did it far too quickly. We really didn’t appreciate some the lovely places you went to. I love your photos, they’re making me want to return and stay longer. #farawayfiles

  • Reply
    hilary
    February 1, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Since I’ve done this drive too many times to count and you hit some of our favorite spots it was SO fun reading this post! I just love seeing favorite places from another person’s point of view! Thank you for sharing on #farawayfiles

  • Reply
    Liana moore
    February 1, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    Love this area of California. It has been too long. Maybe a trip is in order. I also love that you included In-and-Out Burger. Too funny!

  • Reply
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    February 5, 2019 at 9:47 am

    What a gorgeous post, Caity! I love your photos and it’s particularly lovely reading this on a very cold, rainy day here in the UK. I did parts of this drive years ago and you’ve really inspired me to want to return. Thanks for cheering me up on #FarawayFiles

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    February 17, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Oh I cannot wait until we visit this part of the world this year!! Thanks for sharing all your insider tips, it looks so beautiful here.

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