There are spots where you always have to stop, no matter how many times you’ve seen them. A perfect example is the Bixby Creek Bridge. It shows up in movies, television shows. As you approach the bridge from the north, there’s a nice pullout area (you’ll know it because there will be plenty of other cars) that makes it easy to get off the road and out of your car to take a picture. There’s also a great view looking back from the south of the bridge. There’s not as much space parking wise, but if there’s room it’s worth the extra stop.
Another spot that you can never seem to drive by – McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Less than a half-mile round trip, it’s such a quick and easy walk with a huge payoff. From the parking lot, the trail passes under the highway and then takes you to the overlook. Part of the trail is currently closed due to erosion, but the closure doesn’t impact the view. There’s no beach access, so it’s all about taking it in from above.
If you’re a fan of chasing waterfalls, be sure to visit Limekiln State Park. This would be my vote for Big Sur’s best kept secret. Surrounded by redwoods, you have to do some stream crossings along the way, with some strategic stepping on rocks and over tree branches. Your feet will get wet, but most folks forget all about it once they lay eyes on the falls. It’s about a mile-and-a-half, out and back trail.
An extra perk, after your hike to the waterfall, it’s less than a 5-minute walk to a scenic beach that sits below Highway 1. There also a number of campsites at Limekiln State Park.
If you can make it work schedule-wise when you’re in Big Sur, I’d also recommend saving time for the Point Sur Lightstation. It takes some planning because the California State Historic Park is only open to the public via guided tours; during the summer they take place on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. The walking tours are run by docents and last about three hours, but along with the knockout scenery there’s all sorts of great history ranging from famous shipwrecks, to the nearby crash of a dirigible airship in 1935. No reservations. It’s first come, first serve. Cars line up along the west side of Highway 1 at the gate, and there can be a good line up. Cost is $15 per person. Depending on the time of year you may also see whales.
We haven’t put our feet in the sand yet, so let’s get to a beach. There’s no sign for Pfeiffer Beach off of Highway 1, so look at the directions before you’re on the road. In this stretch, folks still use paper maps, remember those. Cell service is spotty. Sycamore Canyon Road leads directly to the beach. It’s a bumpy but entertaining couple of miles. Keyhole Rock is a favorite with photographers. The stretches of purple-ish sand are caused by manganese garnet in surrounding mountains. This is a nice spot to stretch your legs before starting the trek home.