Gemstone beaches, waterfalls crashing into crystal clear water, whales and dolphins playing in the ocean and luxurious castles sitting high above the world. Big Sur is all that and more.
I had been wanting to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco since Ryan and I went on our honeymoon a few years back, but didn’t quite have the chance (we went to Yosemite National Park instead) so we made it our mission to do it this time around with our friends, Mark and Monique. We grabbed an early breakfast in LA before heading on the first section of our drive to San Simeon. The first stop was in Los Alamos to stretch our legs and fill up with petrol. Monique and I couldn’t believe our luck when we stumbled upon an enormous antique store, Los Alamos Antiques Depot, filled to the brim with jewellery, vintage pin-up girl posters, furniture, ceramics, colourful glass and well… everything imaginable.
Side note: We passed San Jose not far out of Los Angeles, and had the song, “Do you know the way to San Jose?” stuck in our heads for almost two weeks after.
We checked into our cheap and cheerful motel in San Simeon before heading up to Hearst Castle for a tour inside and around the grounds. William Hearst built Hearst Castle between 1919 and 1947 and was the venue for many opulent parties, entertaining celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Joan Crawford in the 20s and 30s. The tour inside the mansion was pretty stock-standard – walking one step at a time behind 50 other people with a guide reciting a monologue about the history of the castle. But when that portion of the tour ended, you were free to roam and admire the fountains, statues, pools, views and lush gardens. The holiday feeling really kicked in here.
Before heading out further along the coast, we grabbed some rolls for lunch and stopped at Moonstone Beach in Cambria. Local artisans polish the stones found on the beach and make them into jewellery. We watched surfers enjoy a sunny morning swim while dolphins happily played in the distance.
Seeing the ocean along the coast for the first time was such an awe-inspiring moment. What a view. I was lucky not to drive at all (thank you Ryan and Mark!), so I just hung my head out of the window the whole time and soaked up the views.
Ryan had read about Limekiln State Park and suggested we stop for a hike to the waterfall. It was a really easy and rewarding walk with a waterfall at the end that you can go straight up to and dip your feet into to cool off. We ate our pre-packed lunch (simple and affordable lunches were pretty hard to come by) on a fallen log and enjoyed the trees and birds before heading off.
THE VIEWS. Honestly, wow. I’m pretty spoiled with beaches in Perth, but this view really takes the cake.
We checked into the much-loved Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, which was basically a little place right by the side of the main road consisting of rustic wooden shacks. I’m so glad Ryan has a rule of ALWAYS traveling with earplugs, because the walls were paper thin – every time the couple above us took a step it sounded like a T-Rex thumping around. A reservation for dinner was made that night in the rustic Deetjen’s restaurant, which is a quaint little cabin full of Deetjen’s memorabilia and their old photographs. Everyone enjoyed their meal (including me, who thought I was going to end up with a bland vegetable stack, but thankfully it turned out to be ace) and the service was really friendly.
There are a few walking trails that you can take from Deetjen’s, one which leads you to this incredible view.
The next day was spent enjoying all that Big Sur has to offer. We walked along the magnificent Pfeiffer Beach letting our feet touch the soft sand before heading up the road to hike two tracks at Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park. We walked for an hour or so to the top peak to see a view of the valley and Pfeiffer Falls before dipping our feet into the cool pebbled creek at the base.
One of the highlights of Big Sur was this spectacular view of McWay Falls. We parked precariously on the main road and walked down towards the viewing area. It’s such an unreal location. A waterfall flowing into the ocean, sea lions swimming in the perfect blue water, a group of whales blowing water in the distance and the sweet smell of Summer – it was like a dream.
We enjoyed dinner and drinks at Nepenthe (which was a little more of a cafe than a fine dining restaurant) while overlooking this unreal sunset, before heading back to Deetjens for our final night in Big Sur.
The next morning we headed off early for our last leg of the road trip up to San Francisco. We stopped at the windy and iconic Bixby Bridge for some photos and to enjoy the view before continuing to Monterey for lunch and a visit to the aquarium (which is one of the best in the world!). Ryan and I stopped into the aquarium for a couple of hours to hang out with otters and sharks before grabbing lunch on the pier.
Ryan drove the last leg into San Francisco (passing NASA was a highlight!) where we managed to get stuck in an insane traffic jam for an hour and then had to navigate around trams and crazy-steep roads before arriving at our AirBnB in the Castro.
The sun, sand and sea of Big Sur made me realise how lucky I was to be holidaying in one of the most beautiful places in the world.