Big Sur
January 3, 2004 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about making a day trip to Big Sur tomorrow (Sunday). I recently moved to Los Angeles from the east coast, so assume I'm ignorant of everything. How should I get there and what's a good one-day itinerary?
posted by lbergstr to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Drop by Nepenthe... wonderful gift/art shop and (although I've never tried it myself, I've heard..) good food.

And - if you can find it, there's a little place out there called Pfeiffer Beach - very secluded. (Not Pfeiffer state park.) I can barely remember where it is myself - I think it's North of Nepenthe, but you can only see the sign from the turnoff when you're headed south - it's a small turnoff and small sign. But then, since it's off-season, you probably won't run into TOO many crowds anyway.

Look out for a biker-type restaurant/bar in a little plaza somewhere out there too - really good burgers and fries! (Sorry I can't be more specific as I've only done these things once and can't remember any more details - it's a place to start though!)
posted by thunder at 1:22 PM on January 3, 2004

If you want to go the scenic route (and, in my opinion, that's half the reason to go to Big Sur), then it's Pacific Coast Highway all the way, baby! I'd advise getting on Highway 1 (PCH) in Santa Monica. If you get on the highway in late morning/early afternoon, you can stop soon thereafter for lunch just over the Ventura County line at Neptune's Net, a weird and wonderful divey clam shack. Of course, when you leave will be contingent on when you want to get to Big Sur -- it's a longer drive than I expected the first time I went, in part because PCH gets very twisty-and-turny the further north you go. Since it's winter, though, you may want to plan on leaving earlier in the morning so that you're not trying to drive the last hour or two in the dark.

By the way, I'm assuming by a one-day itinerary you mean one day to get there and one day to get back; if you do want to do the entire 600-mile round-trip in one day, I'd advise cutting over to the 101 Freeway at some point on the southbound trip home -- though I'd really advise you to spend the night!

The view from Nepenthe is incredible, too. Lodging in town (and that's a loose term) ranges from basic to extremely posh. I stayed several years ago in the early fall at Ripplewood Cabins -- pretty rustic (the fireplace ain't just for romantic atmosphere!) but I enjoyed it. All the beaches and woods are gorgeous, so allow yourself enough time to enjoy -- I second the suggestion for Pfeiffer Beach.

Welcome to L.A. by the way... have you begun measuring distance by time spent driving rather than actual mileage yet?
posted by scody at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2004

Well, here's my two cents-worth... go up early and take a fast route... then spend the morning and afternoon in Monterey and Big Sur, then wind your way down PCH to catch the sunset... then speed down the 101 back to LA via Thousand Oaks.

My personal suggestion would be to take the 5 up to Los Banos and cross over to Monterey via Salinas, but that's only because I don't know how fast the 101 is after you get out of Thousand Oaks.

The other concern with this plan is that the coastal mountains sometimes get snow... so be sure to check road conditions, also check and see whether any sections of your trip have construction projects : construction on an interstate is usually just a short inconvenience... but construction on the PCH will turn a leisurely drive into a painful nightmare.

(In my searches, I've discovered that there appears to be a national road conditions phone number: 511 — may or may not work in your area.)
posted by silusGROK at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2004

Make sure you visit the Big Sur River Inn and (if it's warm enough) have a drink while sat in one of their big chairs in the river.
posted by skylar at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah, it's gonna be a one-day trip. Going up fast and winding back slow sound like a decent strategy. Thanks for all the help so far, and wish me and my aging Volvo good luck.
posted by lbergstr at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2004

Another thought : why not whisk up to at least Los Banos tonight, and overnight at one of those $39 hotels at the interchange... then hop over the mountains in the morning?

It is, after all, a long trip... starting the day so close to the center of your trip may be the way to go.

Take pictures!
posted by silusGROK at 2:31 PM on January 3, 2004

Highway 1 is the best way to go. One day is too short.

Ripplewood cabins (or *resort* as they call it) are great, but SECRET! Don't tell anyone...

Nepenthe definitely - the food is average and overpriced, but the views are worth a million. If you're there in the evening, be sure to huddle around the firepit and toss back some of the mixed coffee drinks (NOT recommended if you're really going to drive back that night).

Pfieffer beach is an unmarked turnoff - jeez, it's hard to know how to direct you there. Here's a web site that has a hint on how to find it... (page down from the part about Molera park, unless you fancy horseback trail riding)
posted by jasper411 at 4:12 PM on January 3, 2004

I only found Pfeiffer because there were a few other cars parked along the road, even though I was looking for it. It was every bit as beautiful as I'd hoped. Make sure you are tanked up and have all the film you need, there are not many places to buy either.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2004

As others have said, Nepenthe does have a great view. I don't like their food very much though.

Esalen opens their tubs to the public in the dead of night and I've always thought that going there would be pretty cool but I never managed to make it.

I used to drive from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles fairly frequently and I found that using interstate 5 to get into and out of L.A. was the easiest. Unpredictable traffic jams can pop up on 101 any place Ventura county or south. I would then jump over to the coast on highway 43.

Have a wonderful trip and stock up on good music for the drive down PCH.
posted by rdr at 2:25 AM on January 4, 2004

Response by poster: "Hi there, I'm a mefi lurker and saw your post about Big Sur. Just wanted to offer my 2c as I used to live in Santa Cruz and spent some time down that way

If you go via 101 there or back, I highly recommend stopping for coffee at the Madonna Inn. If you get a chance some time, stay the night there in one of the gaudy themed rooms.

As for Big Sur itself, definitely stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park. It has a short (~15min) walk leading to a waterfall that literally falls down onto the sandy beach, with a view out over the ocean.

If you take the coastal highway (1), take a break at Cambria. Tons of little boutiques, cafes, and even a "Down Under" store (I'm from New Zealand so this was exciting for me) with weird souvenirs. Carmel is worth heading slightly further north for, for much the same reasons. Beautiful beaches too.

As someone said, watch out for the weather. Every year sections of highway come off in slips or are covered up by rocks from the mountains directly above. Don't travel in heavy rain if you can help it. Don't take the I-5 unless you really need to - it's dirty and ugly and boring as hell. The 101 is much nicer and about as quick (I think it's quicker, and you can cut to the I-5 at Paso Robles via 46 to go via the Grapevine into LA).

Have a great time!
Tracy (aka MonkeyFilter's tracicle)" [tracyh at earthling-net-nz]

By the way, my pics will be at when I do go (trip postponed until I have a full weekend available)
posted by lbergstr at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2004

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