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When the weather starts to feel a bit like Autumn, it’s time to pack up for the weekend and head down south where the sun always welcomes a weary traveler. The ride from San Francisco to Big Sur is one of the most beautiful road trips anyone could take and is filled with tons of amazing opportunities. Here’s a list of must-see stops along the way to get the most out of your weekend.
Start out on Highway 1 (AKA the best scenic highway in the state – and possibly the country) and make your way down the coast to Half Moon Bay. On your way, you’ll work up an appetite as you pass gorgeous views of the Pacific. Feel the lovely sea breeze as you crank up the radio (or, more likely, your Spotify playlist).
When you arrive, grab a bite to eat at the local farmer’s market (held on Saturday mornings) or stop in at the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company and indulge in one of its delicious sweet treats. Pro tip: some of the best views in the city can be found at the Ritz-Carlton.
Ritz-Carlton, 1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay, CA, USA +1 650 712 7000
Continue down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, and stop off at the Boardwalk for a ride (or two) and a walk along the beach. Then grab a slice at Pizza My Heart, whose pies are famous for their high quality ingredients and overall deliciousness – what’s a road trip without a bit of indulgence, right? Afterwards, walk off those carbs as you stroll through the city — it’s the best way to discover the many hidden gems and meet new people.
Pizza My Heart, 1116 Pacific Ave # B, Santa Cruz, CA, USA +1 831 426 2511
The 115 ft. lighthouse known as the Pigeon Point Light Station offers the ultimate cliff-side residence, combined with the novelty of staying at a lighthouse that’s served as a beacon since 1872. The converted space is ideal, because it also gives visitors the chance to be on the beach and close to the redwoods at Butano State Park as well as the northern elephant seals just seven miles south of Pigeon Point. Bonus: staying at a hostel will also offset the higher costs of staying in Big Sur.
Continue your journey down the coast to Monterey Bay, and have a crêpe at Crêpes of Brittany, located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Authenticity and flavor reign supreme at this small restaurant, and it shows in every scrumptious bite. Afterward, take a walk around the marina and check out Fisherman’s Wharf — there’s plenty to see in this charming downtown area, including whale watching (through December 11th) for the laid-back road tripper.
Crêpes of Brittany, 6 Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, CA, USA +1 831 649 1825
Don’t miss: An icon of aquatic life preservation in California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an absolute must-see. The exhibits are breathtaking and allow visitors the chance to get up close and personal with marine life of all kinds. Kid-friendly and adult approved, the aquarium is the perfect place to remind yourself of the wonders that live just below the ocean’s surface. Its central location will allow you to get a feel for the city as you stroll down Cannery Row after your visit.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA, USA +1 831 648 4800
Last Stop: Filled with gorgeous vistas and breathtaking views, the road to Big Sur is considered by some to be the ultimate scenic drive. The experience of driving through it is truly mind-blowing, but be prepared to take your time making your way down the coast: getting off the beaten path can be really rewarding, but you will probably lose yourself in the beauty of the Los Padres National Forest. A word to the wise: don’t rely too much on good cellphone reception; it’s spotty at best.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of adventure and exercise, the Ewoldsen Trail (4.5 miles) is the perfect way to stretch your legs. Located across the parking lot from the Ewoldsen Trail is the short but lovely McWay Waterfall Trail (.64 miles) — it may be a Big Sur tourist spot, but its famed scenery will not disappoint. Set up your picnic in the woods and eat lunch and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Once you’ve worked up a decent appetite, head over to the Big Sur Bakery for a delicious pastry.
Big Sur Bakery, 47540 CA-1, Big Sur, CA, USA +1 831 667 0520
One of the best ways to stay in Big Sur is in one of the most glamorous and unexpected of locations: in a tree house. There’s every amenity you could want (including a wood burning fireplace, an indoor spa tub, and WiFi.) You can overlook the forest around you and get a shift in perspective, just in time for your Monday morning commute. Or, try out a yurt (AKA a Mongolian tent) at the Tree Bones Resort for a more low-key experience. It combines breathtaking coastal views with a sushi bar and a ‘human nest.’
Post Ranch Inn, 47900 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA, USA +1 831 667 2200
Tree Bones Resort, 71895 Highway 1 Big Sur, CA, USA +1 877 424 4787