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

McWay Falls, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is a stunning stop on the Big Sur coast
McWay Falls, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is a stunning stop on the Big Sur coast | © Jordan Whitfield / Unsplash
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 12 destinations to pack into your California road trip.

Knapp's Castle

Historical Landmark

Businessman George Owen Knapp built himself a fine home in 1916. In 1940, German opera singer Lotte Lehmann and her companion Frances Holden moved in, only to lose the mansion to a forest fire just over a month later. The ruins still remain.

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Atmosphere:

Accessible (Deaf), Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes

Hiking Trail
Beautiful sand dunes of the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve in Central California.
© Jamie Pham / 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, yet instead of removing the set pieces, the crew buried and abandoned them. Some pieces remain buried; others can be viewed at the Dunes Center.

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Atmosphere:

Accessible (Deaf), Family Friendly, Dog Friendly

Morro Rock

Morro Rock is a volcanic plug – a hill formed from lava reaching the surface – that rises dramatically from Morro Bay Harbor. It is 23m years old, 576ft (176m) tall, and serves as a bird sanctuary.

Nitt Witt Ridge

Building
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.

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McWay Falls

Hiking Trail

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).

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Atmosphere:

Accessible (Deaf), Dog Friendly, Family Friendly

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bridge
ethan-dow-uCguIj7WSZQ-unsplash
© Ethan Dow / Unsplash
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.
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These recommendations were updated on August 13, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.