As a kid, I dreaded going to Big Sur. A 2.5 hour car ride each way? No thanks…Although, there’s nothing quite like napping in a moving car. I just hated getting woken up at every scenic stop. And in Big Sur…every 400m you’ll find another picture perfect shot.
I went to Big Sur again more recently (after 10+ years). You definitely see things differently after so many years. And I would go back again in a heartbeat. Having lived in California for basically my whole life, I feel like I take so many things for granted. But now that I’ve seen a lot more of the world, I see just how special California is, and how lucky I am to call this place home. But anyway, the point is, Big Sur is 100% worth seeing. And if you’re trying to figure out what to do, here’s a list of what I was able to fit in in a day 🙂
1. First Awakenings: This was our first stop. This stop only really makes sense if you’re going to Big Sur from NorCal. It is a wonderful brunch spot, though. This place is located in a little shopping center, so you have plenty to browse while you wait. The menu is quite extensive, and we knew that we were going to have a hard time deciding what to get. After a lot of back and forth, I went with The Works omelette. SO GOOD. Meat overload, though. That’s probably my only complaint. You get sausage, bacon, and ham. A little too heavy for my liking, but hey, you get a lot of ingredients, and if you’re hungry, this is the way to go! Loved the potatoes and english muffin that came with the dish. And they use a good amount of eggs as well. Light, fluffy, and delicious! You’re bound to find something you like here. Unless you’re just not a fan of American brunch.
2. Bixby Bridge: The iconic bridge of Big Sur. This is definitely a must stop. You get gorgeous views of the California coastline. Between the brunch place and here, there are several other scenic stops as well. If you have time, feel free to pull over whenever. They have turnouts every few hundred meters for a reason 🙂 This drive is so so pretty, so definitely take advantage of it! It is dangerous driving around here at night, though. So get here early and give yourself enough time to get out of the area before dark.
3. McWay Falls: This place is absolutely gorgeous. Super easy to access too. We pulled off on highway 1 and were able to access the trail via stairs. Just navigate to the falls on Google maps and it should take you to the right place. I’d recommend downloading offline maps to be safe. Big Sur is a giant dead zone. Anyway, the trail itself leading to the lookout point is a short, flat 0.25 miles or so. I was able to hike the trail in flip flops, so that should tell you how easy it is 🙂 When you get to the end, there are a couple of benches if you want to sit and enjoy the view. There are also some informational displays if you want more historical context about the place. The waterfall is beautiful! Super tiny, but the way everything falls around it makes it look like the perfect scene from paradise!
4. Pfeiffer Beach: The road leading to this beach is hella sketchy. It’s one-lane, lots of potholes, with slight turnouts here and there. Drive slowly! It’s about a 2-mile stretch of road if I remember correctly. At the end of it, you’ll see the entrance to the beach. There’s a $10/vehicle access fee (cash only), so have that ready beforehand. Parking wasn’t an issue when we went but I don’t know how bad it gets during the day. The beach itself is beautiful. FREEZING, though (esp. around sunset). So definitely bring warm layers, blankets, etc. The beach is pretty big too, so despite the number of people that were there it didn’t seem crowded. There were so many photographers there positioned by the famed arch trying to capture sunset through the archway. The sunset was so pretty!! We tried to take a time lapse of the whole thing (a 40 min commitment LOL), which sort of worked, but not as well as it could have since it was cloudy the day we went. Still gorgeous, though.
5. Il Vecchio: Love this place! Cozy, with a bit of a rustic charm. As for food, we went with the pesto gnocchi, spaghetti with meatballs, and braised pork shoulder. A bit much for two people, but we wanted to try a little bit of everything! Out of the two pastas, the gnocchi was definitely my favorite. The texture was perfect and they used just the right amount of sauce. Doesn’t look like much pasta, but gnocchi is hella filling. The spaghetti with meatballs I wasn’t really a fan of. Way too much sauce, and the tomatoes that they used for it were on the sour side. The meatballs were good, but the rest was meh. Pasta also seemed a bit overcooked. The braised pork shoulder was bomb. So so tender, and very interesting flavor! It was almost slightly sour, but in a good way–it really helped cut through the richness and made the dish less heavy, in my opinion. Prices are reasonable for the amount of food that you get, and service is reasonably quick. You have to explicitly ask for bread, btw (at least we did). But I don’t believe there’s any extra charge. This place is north of Big Sur (same city as the brunch place – Pacific Grove), so it only really makes sense if you’re doing this day trip from up north.
And that’s a wrap! To sum up: First Awakenings (brunch) -> Bixby Bridge -> McWay Falls -> Pfeiffer Beach -> Il Vecchio (dinner). Pretty packed day! We left around 9am ish and got back around 8pm. Hope you guys found this helpful!