Big Sur Roadtrip: Highway One, From LA To Big Sur
Long revered by artists and other adventurers, Big Sur is a dramatic triumph of natural beauty. The steep cliffs and hairpin curves that characterize the famed coastal stretch also make the drive north to Big Sur as much of an adventure as the destination itself. Autumn is an ideal time to explore this scenic byway, as the busy summer tourist season mellows and the falls colors peak. Your Big Sur road trip weekend starts now.
Get to San Luis Obispo
Complete the first leg of the trip quickly by taking the 101 Freeway north out of LA to the beach enclave of San Luis Obispo. Here, connect with Highway One and begin the grand meander up the coast.
Fill up on gas before leaving town; the price of fuel on the remote central coast rises as dramatically as the Santa Lucia Mountains do out of the Pacific.
Tour the Castle
Explore the luxury of the mid-twentieth century American super rich with a stop at William Randolph Hearst's magnificent Hearst Castle. Built between 1922 and 1947, the 165 room estate, (with 41 fireplaces!), is located on eastern side of Highway One 43 miles north of San Luis Obispo. The Castle offers a variety of tours that explore the grand salons, upstairs suites, cottages, kitchens and gardens that compose this 127 acre historical monument. <em>Hearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, (800-444-4445 or <a href="http://hearstcastle.org" target="_hplink">hearstcastle.org</a>)</em> Photo: Flickr/ <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/brunkfordbraun/" target="_hplink">brunkfordbraun</a>
Animal lovers should stop six miles north of San Simeon at the Elephant Seal rookery at Piedras Blancas. Fall finds this beach swarmed with young elephant seals, which can be seen sparring offshore and relaxing on the sand. The adult males with the big noses that give the seals their name return to Piedras Blancas every December through March for the birthing and breeding season. It is a loud, wild and sometimes smelly scene. <em>Piedras Blancas Beach, Highway One, Six miles north of San Simeon, (<a href="http://elephantseal.org" target="_hplink">elephantseal.org</a>)</em>
From Piedras Blancas, it is 58 winding miles to Big Sur. This leg of journey is best done during the day and with time to spare, as the heaven on Earth-style views are best appreciated in the light and because vehicles must drive slowly along the cliffs. Upon arrival, Big Sur offers overnight options at both ends of the financial spectrum. Coastal camping with five star ocean views can be had at sites including the Kirk Creek Campground and Andrew Molera State Park. <em>Andrew Molera State Park, 20 miles south of Carmel, Highway One, (831-667-2315 or <a href="http://parks.ca.gov" target="_hplink">parks.ca.gov</a>)</em>
Post Ranch Inn
The luxurious Post Ranch Inn has been voted the number one travel and leisure hotel in California, and accommodation options include a room shaped like a butterfly and an elegantly appointed tree house. <em>Post Ranch Inn, 47900 Highway One, Big Sur, (888-524-4787 or <a href="http://postranchinn.com" target="_hplink">postranchinn.com</a>)</em> Photo: Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenewcomb/" target="_hplink"> SteveNewcomb </a>
Deetjen's Big Sur Inn offers quaint mid-priced rooms and cottages, and the Hollondaise sauce at the charming restaurant is alone worth a stop. <em>Deetjens, 48865 Highway One, Big Sur, (831-667-2377 or <a href="http://deetjens.com" target="_hplink">deetjens.com</a>) </em> Photo: Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/r0wb0t/" target="_hplink"> r0wb0t</a>
Located in a 1936-built house, the Big Sur Bakery is a cozy coffee shop, wine bar and restaurant characterized by rustic sophistication and elegantly unfussy fare. Stop by for brunch, (the quiche is a house specialty and tends to sell out fast), or an Americano before perusing the unique wares next door at the Spirit Garden, a lovely outdoor performance venue and store specializing in one a kind multicultural instruments and art. <em>Big Sur Bakery, 47540 Highway One, Big Sur, (831-667-0520 or <a href="http://bigsurbakery.com" target="_hplink">bigsurbakery.com</a>) Big Sur Spirit Garden, 47540 Highway One, (831-238-1056 or <a href="http://bigsurspiritgarden.com" target="_hplink">bigsurspiritgarden.com</a>)</em>
The Artist's Life
The Henry Miller Library is a must see for even casual fans of the author, (who lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962), and for anybody interested in an eclectic assortment of literature, historic coastal culture and interesting characters. Located in a small house, the non-profit library is an artistic and cultural hub for the central coast and is earning a reputation as one of the United States' finest concert venues. Artists including Animal Collective, Phillip Glass, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Fleet Foxes have all played under the redwoods on the Library's front lawn. Gang Gang Dance, Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis fill out the remainder of this season's concert calendar. The Library is also excited about their upcoming Children's Writing Workshops. <em>Henry Miller Library, 49273 Highway One, (831-667-2574 or <a href="http://henrymiller.org" target="_hplink">henrymiller.org</a>)</em>
Star gazing is a thrifty and ever-epic event in this largely light pollution free stretch of coast. Boost the view even more with a late-night trip to the baths at Big Sur's famed Esalen Institute. The esoteric retreat center offers courses in all realms of personal development, and their natural hot spring fed tubs are open to visitors daily from 1am to 3am. For a $20 entrance fee, late night bathers are escorted to Esalen's cliffside concrete and sandstone bath house, where natural stone tubs perched over the ocean provide a prime location from which to spot shooting stars or watch the moon set over the Pacific. As Esalen advises, "swimsuits are optional at the baths, and nudity is common." <em>Esalen Institute, 55000 Highway One, Reservations required, (831-667-3047 or <a href="http://Esalen.org" target="_hplink">Esalen.org</a>)</em>