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How to Plan a Weekend Trip to Big Sur


Waking up at 3AM to drive 5 hours up the coast might sound like a nightmare to some, but for us the short trip to is well worth the time in the car! The natural beauty that the 101 and Highway 1 have to offer makes the drive seem about half as short as it actually is. As such, we love to take random weekend trips up to Big Sur.

We have taken quite a few trips up the beautiful Big Sur coast and have tried new things each time, so we have figured out what works best. After have many of our friends ask us for recommendations in Big Sur, we finally decided to put together a guide on how to plan a weekend trip to Big Sur.

Why would we start driving at 3AM you ask?  Well, BigSur campsites are generally booked out about 6 months in advance (at least for the weekends). Typically our weekend trips are spontaneous and planned relatively last minute. As such, it’s imperative that we arrive at the ranger station about an hour before they open to ensure we can get a walk up camp site. So unless you book your trip well in advance, try campsites like Pfeiffer Big Sur or Limekiln and just be sure to arrive well before the ranger station opens to ensure you’re at the front of the queue.

Of course, you might ultimately end up without a campsite if every person who reserved a site actually shows up. In this scenario, you can either drive home after a day of adventure or you “can” sleep in your car on the side of the road. Technically, this isn’t entirely legal, but if you’re approached by a police officer (unlikely) just explain that you’re too tired to drive and you should be fine.

Once you have your camp site secured, be sure to check out each of the following sites:

-Camp at Pfeiffer-

Our choice to camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur was based on a couple things. First, its location is great. It’s in close proximity to Pfeiffer Beach, and is about equidistant between McWay Falls and Bixby Bridge. Second, as we mentioned, they are known for having great walk up camp availability. Third, it’s gorgeous!

The campgrounds line the Big Sur River, and many of the sites are directly on the river. You’ll find kids playing in the water, a rope swing in one area, and little areas for swimming.

Expect to pay $35/night for sites not directly on the water and $50/night for sites on the river.

-Limekiln State Park-

Limekiln State Park is something that can easily be overlooked by travelers heading to Big Sur. If you’re heading up Highway 1 from the south side, you’ll approach Limekiln before you hit all of the more popular sites like McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach. Limekiln park is famous for the “limekilns” and the gorgeous waterfall that can be found at the end of a beautiful 1 mile hike. Make sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet as you’ll have to cross the river a number of times during the hike. If you’re careful, you should be able to manage without getting too wet. However, if you’re clumsy like us, you’ll probably get your shoes at least a bit damp.

Plan to spend some time here. The 1 mile hike (2 miles round trip) would generally only take us about 40 minutes. But this is not simply a hike you want to complete and be done with. You’ll love walking through the trees and across the river and we are willing to bet you’ll want to spend a bit of time at the waterfall.

-McWay Falls-

McWay falls is like something out of a fairy tale. Where else have you ever seen a waterfall cascading onto an untouched beach that is encompassed by beautiful rocks and redwood trees?

You will generally never see anyone walking on the sand, but you might see some foot prints. It is illegal to climb down to the beach, but it is perfectly legal to kayak onto shore! Obviously, avoid doing this if you’re a novice kayaker. The ocean can be quite rough in this area and the surrounding rocks could definitely be bad news should you lose control of your kayak.

Regardless, the walking path above McWay Falls provides one of our favorite vantage points in the world.

-Bixby Bridge-

If you’ve ever seen a car commercial, you have about a 50% chance that you already know what Bixby Bridge is. After the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Bixby Bridge is probably the most famous bridge in California. Many car commercials shoot vehicles driving across the gorgeous bridge that spans a vast canyon on the coast. This is the perfect spot for you to stop and take photos (which you’ll inevitably see about 50 people at any given time doing).

If you’re entering Big Sur from the south, Bixby Bridge will be the northernmost point on the coast that we suggest you visit. It’s about 30 minutes north of the center Big Sur, but it is absolutely worth the drive! The coastline on the way to Bixby is absolutely stunning!

-Sand Dollar Beach-

A huge stretch of sand surrounded by towering green cliffs. When the flowers are in bloom we love to walk the cliff side trails and look down on the beach. It’s uprising, but not many people know to stop here. If you’re feeling a beach day before heading home, this is the spot!

Big Sur truly is the perfect romantic getaway for couples and even a perfect weekend getaway for solo travelers, families, groups of friends etc. Big Sur is definitely our favorite stretch of coastline in California!

1 Comment

  1. […] For help planning, check out our newest blog over on Couple’s Coordinates that will teach you how to plan a weekend trip to Big Sur. […]

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