Big Sur, California is a region that was unified by the completion of the Pacific Coast state highway in 1937 to allow through traffic from Carmel to San Simeon, a distance of 90 miles. The paved highway shifted the rugged California central coast economy of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties from pioneer subsistence on logging, mining and cattle to tourism.
When referencing the world famous Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway drive, Big Sur means a 135-mile drive from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. This drive typically takes around 3 to 3.5 hours with little stopping. Average speed tends to be about 40 mph or less. From July to October the traffic traveling the Highway 1 coast can range from 5,000 to more than 10,000 vehicles daily.
There are many sights to see along the way. This post covers some of the sights, hotels and restaurants from Carmel Highlands to Big Sur village in geographic order traveling north to south on Highway 1.
Hyatt Highlands Inn is a historic hotel originally built in 1917, The property has been managed by Hyatt since 1999 and was remodeled in 2009-10. There are 48 rooms with 11 suites and 32 ocean view rooms. The tip for this property is $250 per night for the vacation timeshare rooms using Hyatt Stay Certificates. The hotel rooms run from $300 in off-season weekdays to $700 in summer, holidays and weekends most of the year.
Carmel Highlands was land on the edge of the Big Sur wilderness until the 1930s. Even today, once past the adjacent hotel properties of Hyatt Highlands Inn and Tickle Pink Inn on the inland side of Highway 1 in Carmel Highlands 20 miles north of Big Sur and ten miles south of Monterey, there are fewer than 500 lodging rooms at 16 hotel locations over 80 miles of road between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. Only a few of these hotels have more than 20 rooms and the majority of these are located around the Big Sur Valley. There are 10 hotels in the main Big Sur region stretching 15 miles between Point Sur Lighthouse and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands Big Sur Coast is how the Hyatt website describes the hotel.
Highlands Inn room in foreground and Tickle Pink Inn rooms in the multi-story building in background.
Garrapata State Park and Soberanes Point are a location for hikes located about four miles south of Hyatt Highlands Inn. I have written a couple of pieces about hiking at Soberanes Point as a nice hour excursion with fantastic ocean views. In July 2012 I wrote Manifest Destiny, Nature and Fog in July on the Monterey County Coast that describes the takeover of Monterey by U.S. Navy Commodore Sloat on July 7, 1846 during the Mexican-American War and the piece includes photos from a hike around Soberanes Point. Last December I filmed two California condors at Soberanes point feeding on a dead sea lion: Wild Condors of Big Sur is my Loyalty Traveler post with photos. Here is my YouTube video showing the condor feeding on the sea lion carcass. This video shows the condors taking off in flight and then hopping around on rocks. These are unedited videos that need sound turned off to avoid the wind noise. A report this week claims California Condors of Big Sur show evidence of DDT poisoning attributed to a diet of feeding on dead sea lion carcasses.
Rocky Point Restaurant
Rocky Point Restaurant is the first location for food once you have passed the Highlands Inn area. Rocky Point is 7.6 miles past Carmel Highlands Inn and about 10 miles past Rio Road in Carmel. There is no lodging at Rocky Point.
Rocky Point Restaurant outdoor deck on a foggy afternoon April 2013.
Rocky Point Restaurant has been around since 1950 and had a change of ownership in the past year when Peter Wang purchased the place for $4.5 million. This restaurant had four owners in its first 62 years. This is the only public place for food and drink on the 22 mile stretch between Carmel Highlands and Big Sur village.
Big Sur is a village area located 26 miles south of Rio Road on Highway 1 Carmel. Nearly all the businesses and services of the Highway 1 Big Sur coast drive are located in pockets over a 15 mile stretch of road past Point Sur, the 361-ft rock outcrop on the coast surrounded by cattle grazing grassland.
Point Sur is the location of a lighthouse that started functioning on August 1, 1889.
Point Sur National Historic Landmark is open for tours, but these quickly fill up in peak season summer months.
The Pfeiffer Family were one of the original homesteading families of the Big Sur coast and two of the state parks here with redwood forests are located on the former Pfeiffer lands at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the main park along the coast located within the village area of Big Sur. The other park is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park ten miles to the south.
Big Sur is a place that used to require three or four days of travel to reach from Monterey until the mid-1800s. A wagon trail shortened the journey to about 11 hours prior to the State Highway completion in 1937. Electricity did not arrive until the 1950s.
Hotels in the Big Sur area developed out of a historic need for lodging in this wilderness on the central California coast. Several of the lodges today were started by the early pioneer families who settled places like Big Sur, Lucia and Gorda. One of the charms of Big Sur is a place to get away from the busy city life and do nothing in nature. Most lodging in these parts is considered rustic.
Bixby Bridge is the most famous of the many bridges crossing over the Big Sur coast creek valleys and often is used as the image of Big Sur in publications.
Big Sur Village Hotels
Big Sur River Inn is the first community with a pocket of businesses reached when traveling south on Highway 1 past Carmel Highlands. This is a place with a market, gas station, restaurant and pub. From May to September there is a Sunday music concert at the River Inn. Room rates are $125 to $310 per night. Rooms do not have televisions, radio or telephones.
Big Sur Riverside Campground with 12 cabins ($95 to $205) and 40 RV/tent sites alongside the Big Sur River. Five of these cabins in the lower price range have shared baths. Keep in mind that Big Sur River in summer is little more than a creek easy to walk across with a depth under 1 foot of water in most places. Big Sur Riverside is 22 miles south of Carmel.
Ripplewood Big Sur Resort has 17 cabins, some with kitchens ($105 to $225 per night). Located beside Big Sur River in redwood trees. There is a restaurant on site.
Glen Oaks Big Sur, although built in 1957 is updated to modern room standards compared to the previouslylisted rustic Big Sur lodgings and the room rates reflect that upscale décor.
- Adobe Motor Lodge Queen $265
- Adobe Motor Lodge King $315
- Big Sur Cabins ($275 to $490)
Big Sur Campground and Cabins has 16 cabins all have private bathrooms.
- one room cabin with gas fireplace $170 to $215.
- one bedroom with kitchen $230-$275
- A-Frame with loft, kitchen and wood stove $290-$335
- 2-Bedroom off river kitchen and wood stove $290-$335
- 2-Bedroom on Big Sur River kitchen and wood stove $360-$405
- 1-bedroom with loft on river kitchen and wood stove $360-$405
Fernwood Big Sur Resort has a motel with 12 rooms, some with hot tubs priced from $115 to $180. The Fernwood Property is next to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There are cabins for $195 per night for 2 people and $10 more for each additional person. Off-season rates (November – March may be lower).
Big Sur Lodge is in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The location was the original homestead of John and Florence Pfeiffer in 1902. There are 61 cottage style units at Big Sur Lodge. Rates include admission to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Limekiln Creek State Park.
- Fireplace rooms $189-$329
- Kitchenette Rooms $259-$364
- Standard Queen or King Rooms $159-$209
- Standard Family Room (sleeps 4 to 6) $189-$294
- Fireplace/Kitchenette Rooms $299-$364
There is even a swimming pool at Big Sur Lodge.
The prices are high, but just remember you are inside a California state park when staying at Big Sur Lodge.
There are three more lodging accommodations a few miles south of Big Sur Lodge with Post Ranch Inn, Ventana Inn and Deetjen’s Big Sur cabins. I will cover these properties in a separate post. Post Ranch and Ventana are luxury priced resorts in the $500 to $2000 per night range. Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is a family-owned historic property in the redwoods from the 1930s and retains much of its character from those early days.
Deetjen’s Big Sur
Places like Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn at Big Sur are considered two of the most romantic hotels in the U.S. These are places with comforts, views and extraordinarily high room rates. Big Sur hotel guide.
Dining in Big Sur
There are only a few restaurants along the coast not associated with a lodge. Rocky Point and Nepenthe are the best known. Big Sur coast restaurant guide.
View from Nepenthe Restaurant and Bar.
Big Sur Chamber of Commerce operates a website with good resources to what there is to see and do along the Highway 1 coast road. You can download a Big Sur guide here. Here is a useful map of locations in Big Sur.
Driving North to South
Two reasons why I think Highway 1 is better driving north to south from Carmel to San Simeon. First the drive in this direction keeps you car on the ocean side of the road for easy pull-out to view the scenery and take photos without having to cross over the oncoming traffic lane.
Second reason is the redwood groves in the numerous narrow valley ravines grow on the north facing slopes and driving south on Highway 1 provides far more opportunity to see the trees. The south facing slopes are mostly covered by chaparral, low lying shrubs on rocky and barren looking hillsides.
View looking south.
View looking north.
Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out my page of collated current hotel promotions.