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How to Have a Perfect LA to Big Sur Road Trip

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Out of all the travel destinations that California has to offer, one of the most memorable travel experiences that I’ve had here in this beautiful state actually didn’t take place in one city but rather on a road trip over the stretch of highway from LA to Big Sur.

Big Sur is located on the central coast of California, and the LA to Big Sur drive time is only about five to six hours. With this road trip though, the journey really is the destination—driving up Highway 1 and hugging the lush coastline is a magical experience and will leave you awestruck and in love with this part of California. 

Keep reading to learn how to go from LA to Big Sur and have the best road trip!

Why should you visit Big Sur?

Bright blue ocean by the sand

Big Sur is one of California’s natural wonders, and it’s easy to understand why. With a combination of coastal bluffs, forests, waterfalls, and beaches, Big Sur really seems like a paradise on earth. Whether you’re a beach person or a forest person, there’s something for you here. 

There are several state parks to explore in the Big Sur area, including Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and Hearst San Simeon State Park. One trip really isn’t enough to cover all of these parks! 

Because Big Sur takes a bit of a road trip to get to, you can really take the opportunity to slow down and savor the natural beauty of the state on your way there.

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Where should you travel next?

Along Highway 1, whether you drive down from San Francisco or up from Los Angeles, there are plenty of opportunities to pull off the road, step out of your car, and breathe in the fresh coastal air. 

From camping to hiking to dining or just driving along the coastline, I would say that a Big Sur itinerary isn’t even really necessary. You’ll have a spectacular time in Big Sur, even without any plans. Just go with the flow!

How to Travel from LA to Big Sur

Iconic bridge near the mountains

If you’re staying in LA and planning on making the trip to Big Sur, I highly recommend renting a car if you aren’t already in possession of one. There are no trains or buses that run on Highway 1, so driving is really the only way you’ll be able to get the full Big Sur experience.

The LA to Big Sur drive can take anywhere from 5-10 hours, depending on how many stops you’d like to make in between. You can make the trip in one day, or if you’d prefer, you can take two or three days (or who knows, you could even take a whole week!) and spend more time in the towns along the way. 

California really is enormous—in the twelve hours that it would take you to drive from the border of Oregon to San Diego, you could drive across seven states, from New York to Georgia.

All this goes to say; that there is so much to explore along the way from Los Angeles to Big Sur. From Malibu, Ojai, and Santa Barbara, to Solvang, San Luis Obispo, and San Simeon, there is an abundance of stops that you can make. 

Tips for Visiting Big Sur

Road on a bridge by the water

If camping, make reservations early!

Because Big Sur is such a popular location, reservable campsites always fill up months in advance. If camping in Big Sur is something you know you want to do, set a reminder for yourself several months ahead of your travel dates to look at the available sites and make a booking!

Download a map or get a physical one

Don’t bother searching for a place to get cell service in Big Sur because you won’t find it! Make sure you download a map to your phone or get comfortable reading physical maps.

When is the best time to visit Big Sur?

Aerial view of the road by the ocean

The great thing about Big Sur is that the weather is decent year-round. The area doesn’t get any snowfall, so you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in the freezing cold even if you do decide to go in December. The most ideal times to go though, are the spring, summer, and fall seasons. 

One thing to keep in mind, though, is the possibility of mudslides along Highway 1. Before your visit, make sure to check on whether or not there have been any recent mudslides or highway closures. Also, make sure you’re aware of rainy weather during the early spring, as that will slow down your drive. 

Best Places to Visit on an LA to Big Sur Road Trip

Beyond the typical pit stops that you could make on your way from Los Angeles to Big Sur, like Malibu and Solvang, there are many off-the-beaten-path gems that can really add character to your road trip.

Read on for some of the stops that I like to make when I drive from LA to Big Sur! This list applies to anyone making the drive from LA to SF or from SF to LA as well.

Stop in Santa Barbara for a coffee at Dune Coffee Roasters

Girl holding a blue mug with coffee

The first stop that I usually like to make after I depart from Los Angeles is Dune Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara. After about an hour and a half to two hours of driving, you’ll arrive in Santa Barbara, a charming little seaside town with a walkable downtown area. 

Dune Coffee Roasters serves reliably delicious coffee, and if you didn’t get a chance to have a hearty breakfast in Los Angeles before setting off on your journey, they also have delicious pastries. 

In general, I think Santa Barbara is a great place to stop on the way up to Big Sur because of the abundance of options. There’s often a farmer’s market open down the street from Dune, and you can also walk down State Street all the way to the beach if you have the time!

Feed the ostriches at Ostrichland USA

One of the wildest stops that I’ve made while driving from LA to Big Sur is at Ostrichland USA. Located just outside of Solvang, Ostrichland is a large ranch where, you guessed it, ostriches (and emus!) roam. 

There’s no reservation needed to visit Ostrichland USA. General admission is $7 for adults and $3 for kids 12 and under, and for just a dollar, you can purchase bowls of bird food and get up close and personal to feed the big birds. Or, if the big ones scare you, you can feed the baby birds! 

Feeding the ostriches here was so much fun, and I even got to witness a male ostrich perform his mating dance, which was spectacular! 

Have lunch at Bell’s in Los Alamos

If you take anything away from this blog post, it should be this: Bell’s in Los Alamos cannot be missed. If you’re a foodie like me and also a sucker for quirky small towns, then you’ll love Bell’s. 

Bell’s is a French restaurant that is located in the tiny town of Los Alamos, about an hour outside of Santa Barbara. You’ll find delectable dishes like wild burgundy snails, a braised beef cheek sandwich, and kanpachi crudo on the menu. 

My entire experience at Bell’s felt modest yet exceptional. Everything from the food to the ambiance, to the service was fantastic. There’s no question that I’ll be stopping here again on my next trip from LA to Big Sur. 

Bonus tip: if you’re a fan of antique shops, stop by Keane’s Eclectic to peruse the shop. You may leave with a few trinkets or books as I did!

Take a break at Morro Bay

Boats in the water by a giant rock island

Morro Bay is a little over halfway between Los Angeles and Big Sur. This town makes for a great place to stop and stretch your limbs, and I like doing so at Morro Strand State Beach. This beach is dog-friendly too, so bring your furry friends out!

From this beach, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of Morro Rock, which is an ancient volcanic mound at the end of Morro Rock Beach. 

If you’d like to make a longer pit stop in Morro Bay, I recommend exploring Morro Bay State Park and grabbing a soft serve at Fosters Freeze, a Californian ice cream franchise.

Elephant Seal Vista Point

One of the final stops that I made on my road trip from LA to Big Sur was at the Elephant Seal Vista Point. Keeping up with the theme of fascinating animal sightings, this vista point offers a view onto a shoreline where massive elephant seals lay out in the sun during birthing and breeding seasons. 

If you end up visiting during the months from December to March, you may even catch some birthing or breeding activity! The last time I was here, I saw two male elephant seals engaging in a fight to establish mating dominance, which was quite riveting!  

Road tripping from LA to Big Sur is a quintessentially Californian experience that I think everyone who travels to California should consider embarking on. There really is something magical about that stretch of coastline that you’ll only understand once you’re there, and I hope I’ve convinced you to visit!

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