Taking a road trip to Big Sur is truly one of the best things you could do in California. There are incredible places to stop on a Big Sur road trip, all with different personalities and things to see. We drove from our home in Los Angeles to Big Sur which took roughly 4 hours.
This list of pit stops is in order from south to north, or Los Angeles to Big Sur. Keep in mind that we did not do all of these stops in one day. We sprinkled some of these in on our way back home. Check out my Big Sur travel vlog to see how we planned out our itinerary. Here is a list of places we stopped at during our coastal road trip.
Stop 1: Solvang
The first stop on our Big Sur road trip is Solvang! A city that’s known for its Danish-style architecture, you pretty much know you’re in Solvang once you see a twirling windmill. We stopped in Solvang mainly for gas, but if you have the time, head into town for a little shopping and to take some photos.
Stop 2: Pismo Beach
Whether you’re looking for a place to stay after a day of wine tasting or simply looking for a romantic hideaway, Pismo Beach is a beautiful place to visit. This family-friendly beach is quiet and quaint but there are some fun activities you can do. We stopped here for a quick break, but it’s a picturesque town to stay in if you have time. If you’re feeling adventurous, ride an ATV through the Pismo Beach sand dunes or kayak in the ocean.
Stop 4: Paso Robles
Paso Robles is Central Coast’s wine country. Comparable to Napa Valley and Sonoma, Paso Robles is a standout in its own way. With good wine and good food, this city makes a great place to visit.
Wineries we visited:
Due to COVID-19, you need to make an appointment with the wineries you will be visiting. The best site to check and see which wineries are open and their hours is the Paso Robles Wineries directory. This site was so resourceful and also shows you which wineries are dog-friendly.
Another question that came up for me when I was planning this trip was where to stay after our wine tour. After some research, we decided to stay in Morro Bay, and boy was I glad we did. Paso Robles is great for wine-tasting but it does get extremely hot. If you’re looking for a place to stay afterward, go to Morro Bay or Pismo Beach.
Stop 4: Morro Bay
After our self-guided wine tour in Paso Robles, we made our way to Morro Bay and checked into the Morro Bay Inn. This hotel overlooks the bay and the infamous Morro rock. This coastal city is quiet but has cute little spots in town to grab food and coffee in the morning.
Stop 5: Cambria
There’s something about Cambria that feels historic, and there’s a reason why this town has an old-town appeal. Cambria is the Latin name for Wales and when I found that out, the architecture of the small town of Cambria instantly clicked in my head. Even the bars have an old-English style vibe to it.
There are some great breakfast spots in Cambria. We stopped here after leaving Big Sur and went to the Creekside Gardens for breakfast. The food there was amazing and they have a dog-friendly patio.
Stop 6: Elephant Seal Vista Point
Out of all of our places to stop on a Big Sur road trip, the Elephant Seal Vista Point was a total highlight! So many elephant seals nestle on the beach and water in this area. Onlookers can view them behind the wooden fence wrapped around the beach. There was a huge group of elephant seals sleeping, and some were flapping sand in the air. There were a few in the water trying to dominate each other. I especially loved watching a few of them “flop” their way around.
Stop 7: McWay Falls
McWay Falls is a spectacular waterfall that cascades into the ocean. Normally, you would take a short hike through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to get to the waterfall. The trail was closed for some unknown reason when we were there, possibly COVID related. We were still able to snap photos from the highway but would have had a better vantage point if we were on the trail. The McWay Falls is a sight to see regardless!
Stop 8: Big Sur River Inn
If you’re making your way up Big Sur, you have to stop at the River Inn. If you’re looking for a place to stay, this is also a good spot because it’s centrally located. Big Sur River Inn is a restaurant and hotel with the Big Sur river running through the back of the property. It’s a great place to have a picnic or relax by the river. You can also sit on the chairs on the river and crack open some cold ones with your group.
The River Inn is dog-friendly. We took the pups into the river which isn’t very deep. Later on, we grabbed some lunch to-go from the market and had a little picnic on the grass area before we headed out.
Stop 9: Point Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur Lighthouse was closed when we were there, again, likely due to COVID. It’s not hard to miss and even driving by is spectacular as the lighthouse just sits perched above the coast.
Stop 10: Carmel-by-the-Sea
One of my favorite places we visited on our trip! In my opinion, Carmel is where you’ll find really great food. On the food-front, Big Sur pales in comparison. The houses in Carmel are also total inspo, but we all know how expensive those places are. We took the pups to the Carmel dog beach and they had a blast running around.
Carmel Square is a cute area to shop around. It’s pretty quiet right now but stores and restaurants are open. We had dinner at a Thai & Italian fusion (crazy, I know) called Tree House Cafe. The food there was delicious and you sit on a breezy rooftop overlooking the square.
Other Places to Stop if You Have Time
- Santa Barbara
- San Luis Obispo
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