Must-Sees on a Road Trip From LA to Big Sur, California

McWay Falls on the Big Sur coastline in California
McWay Falls on the Big Sur coastline in California | © Christopher Crawford / Alamy Stock Photo

The coastal trek from Los Angeles to Big Sur is undeniably scenic – with dramatic waterfalls, beaches, cliffs and dunes. Yet, the man-made spectacles are just as compelling, from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst’s lavish mansion to a castle made from scavenged materials. Here are the destinations to pack into your California road trip.

Lotusland, Montecito

Botanical Garden
Map View
Lotusland
© Damian P. Gadal / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in upscale Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, Lotusland is the estate of the late Madame Ganna Walska. Nine years after her death in 1984, the estate’s botanical gardens opened to the public for tours. The gardens span 37 acres (15ha) and contain more than 3,000 different kinds of plants.

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes

Hiking Trail
Map View
Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area California State Park
© SiliconValleyStock / Alamy Stock Photo

The Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes complex extends over 18mi (29km) of beautiful coast, which includes Oso Flaco Lake, the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve and the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. An interesting piece of history: in 1923, Cecil B. DeMille shot the silent movie The Ten Commandments here, but instead of removing the set pieces, the crew buried and abandoned them. Some pieces remain buried; others can be viewed at the Dunes Center.

Atmosphere:

Accessible (Deaf), Family Friendly, Dog Friendly

Madonna Inn

Hotel
4.5/5 (1426 Reviews)
Dining room, Restaurant Kult-Motel Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California, USA
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
The Madonna Inn is a historic and unique hotel where every one of its 110 rooms has a different theme. It’s been around since 1958, though the original building was destroyed in a fire, making way for the quirky rooms such as the Caveman with stone walls that you can stay in today.
More info

Nitt Witt Ridge

Building
Map View
Nitt Witt House in the town of Cambria, California. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.
© Dimitry Bobroff / Alamy Stock Photo

Nitt Witt Ridge was constructed by the artist and garbage collector Art Beal, beginning in 1928. It’s a castle made out of scavenged materials, resting on 2.5 acres (1ha) in Cambria. Although Beal has since died, the property is maintained by Mike O’Malley, who offers tours to visitors.

McWay Falls

Hiking Trail
Map View
McWay Falls
© Dylan Epstein / Alamy Stock Photo

Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls flows 80ft (24m) into the ocean. It is one of the most gorgeous views along the Big Sur coast. Fun fact: you might recognize this waterfall from the music video for Dr Dre’s I Need a Doctor (2011).

Atmosphere:

Accessible (Deaf), Dog Friendly, Family Friendly

Nepenthe, Big Sur

Restaurant, American, $$$
Map View
Overlooking Pacific Ocean, Los Padres National Forest and Cafe Kevah from verandah of Nepenthe Restaurant, Big Sur, California.
© Don Douglas / Alamy Stock Photo
For a meal with a spectacular view, hungry travelers come to Nepenthe, up in the Santa Lucia Mountains perched over the Pacific. It’s been around since 1949, welcoming notable guests like writer and long-time local Henry Miller along the way. It serves American cuisine and an extensive selection of wine.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bridge
Map View
Bixby Creek Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, Central Coast, California, USA
© davidwallphoto.com / Alamy Stock Photo
The Bixby Creek Bridge, built in 1932, offers coastal views at numerous turnouts along its 714ft (218m). It’s a particularly tall bridge – 260ft (79m) above the canyon below – making it one of the highest single-span arch bridges in the world. Lately, it earned even more fame after appearing in the opening credits of the popular HBO series Big Little Lies.
These recommendations were updated on March 17, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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