The Big Sur coast extends for approximately 90 miles along Highway 1, from San Simeon in the south to Carmel in the north, with the tiny town of Big Sur the only significant settlement in between. Noteworthy hotels, restaurants, and attractions extend from Big Sur in the south to Monterey in the north.
The Monterey Peninsula juts into the ocean like a fist. The town of Carmel lies just south of the peninsula; Pebble Beach's famous golf links flank its western edge; the town of Pacific Grove sits at the northern tip; and the city of Monterey straddles the mainland and the peninsula, fronting on crescent-shaped Monterey Bay.
Don't confuse Carmel (also called Carmel-by-the-Sea) with Carmel Valley, which runs inland from Carmel, between forested ridgelines of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
WHEN TO GO
Summer is when hordes of tourists clog Highway 1, the only road along the coast. It's also, ironically, the season that locals refer to as "fog season." The best months to visit are September and October, when the fog clears and the coast basks in an extended Indian summer. Rainy season runs from November through March, but the coast never freezes and the mercury rarely drops below 40ºF. Spring's first flowers pop up in February.
HOW TO GET THERE
Monterey Peninsula Airport (831-648-7000; www.montereyairport.com) is four miles from downtown, and is served by American Eagle, Delta, United Express, and US Airways. Most major car-rental agencies have desks at the airport.
By car, budget six hours from Los Angeles, four from Santa Barbara, and three hours from San Francisco. U.S. Hwy 101, not Highway 1, is the fastest north–south route, cutting inland. Coming from the south, take U.S. 101 north to Hwy 68 west to the coast. From the north, take U.S. 101 south to Hwy 156 west to the coast.
Highway 1 (a.k.a. the Pacific Coast Highway, a.k.a. the PCH) is the primary north–south route along the Pacific. It is arguably the most spectacular coastal drive in America. But for all its jaw-dropping beauty, Highway 1 is notorious for lumbering RVs traveling below the speed limit, and because the road is so twisty, there are few if any opportunities to pass. The best bet is to drive slowly (everyone else does, so you may not have much choice) to enjoy the view. For planning purposes, estimate travel at 35 miles per hour—and if you're in a hurry, take the inland U.S. 101 instead.
During heavy winter rains, rock or mudslides may close portions of Highway 1 for extended periods of time, sometimes months. Contact Caltrans to check road conditions before setting out (800-427-7623; www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo).
Big Sur Chamber of Commerce
Tel: 831 667 2100
Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau
765 Wave Street, Monterey
Tel: 877 666 8373