First off- Yes, yes it does live up to the hype. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised- I am not always the biggest fan of the car, and a 5 hour road trip from San Francisco, which has some of the worst traffic, down to Big Sur on a Thursday sounded not ideal to put it mildly. But I am so so glad we did it. The basic gist of things- I was in SF for work, Joe came and met me, and Thursday morning we picked up our rental car from the SFO airport and started our journey down to Big Sur. It was eventful. Lots of traffic (duh), a random brushfire on the side of the road leaving SF that had me freaking out (basically looked like we were descending into hell), a few interesting pit stops for potty breaks (Cali can be real country in spots), then once we hit Big Sur the cell service went off, as well as the radio stations, and it was our moment of zen. We probably added a good hour onto the drive in the last 40 miles just because we stopped at least a dozen times to take photos. It is GORGEOUS! However, the majority of the ride was not gorgeous, it's only when you get past Carmel by the Sea do you finally get that epic PCH road trip feeling riding next to the ocean and curving around cliffs. I'd say the first few hours kind of suck. But it's so worth it.
The place we stayed the first 2 nights was at the very South end of Big Sur- actually the PCH is closed one mile south of the resort due to the landslides, so right now the area is really only accessible if you are coming from the north. It was super secluded and quiet- Treebones resort. Very very hippy. We rented our own yurt- which is basically a form of glamping. It had a really comfy bed, sofa, sink, small patio and heater which really kept things cozy. The bathroom situation was like camping- there were a couple facilities and we used the ones connected to the lodge. The lodge had a great gift shop/general store, as well as had 2 restaurants, a pool and a jacuzzi. We did use the jacuzzi our second night after hiking all day- loved it. But it was tiny, so when a second couple jumped in things got tight and awkward and we left. By the lodge down the hill was a stage where the first morning we took a $10 yoga class. Both days we got breakfast (which was complimentary) and dinner (not complimentary) at the lodge. The resort was, like I said, really secluded- so we really didn't have much of a choice, we would have had to drive 30+ minutes to go somewhere else and after hiking all day that was not in the cards.
The first night we arrived around 6pm after our very long but awesome PCH drive, checked in, unpacked in our yurt, toured the grounds, and then had dinner. Pretty good food, would recommend checking it out for dinner. The next morning however, we did yoga at 8am and then went to the lodge for breakfast. Extremely disappointing. Hard boiled eggs, yogurt, toast, oranges, make your own waffle, and some terrible cold frittata that tasted like gelatin. A huge letdown. After the terrible breakfast we went on our first hike- about a 10min drive down the road- Vicente Flats at the Kirk Creek Campground. This was a great first hike- about 2 miles of steady incline, followed by 2 more miles of vista views of the ocean, some forests and open grass fields. Mostly exposed with, like I said, great views of the PCH and ocean. After that hike we grabbed lunch at Lucia Lodge which was about another 10min drive north. Like I mentioned before in this area of Big Sur, not much to choose from- so a pretty basic lunch. After lunch we checked out Julia Pfeiffer State park to see McWay Falls- very pretty. Most of the trails here are closed though, so we just saw the falls and then bounced (10$ fee for the car). Then we drove to Limekiln State park (another $10 for the car) and did a couple quick hikes to a waterfall, then through some redwoods, and then out to the beach. Very easy hiking here, except for crossing a few streams balancing on tree limbs. We really packed a lot into this day, we were beat street. We headed back to Treebones for a quick jacuzzi soak, shower, dinner and sleep.
Day 2: Woke up to another terrible breakfast, and then went for a very easy hike along the Pacific Coast Bluffs Trail. This was also very flat, but went along the cliffs with some great ocean cove views. It was pretty early, and the morning mist/fog hadn't burned off yet, so that was cool to see. We ended up exploring that for awhile, after we decided to start to make our way up to Monterey (which was our half way point making our way back to SF). We stopped at the Big Sur Bakery for brunch- a MUST. This place was so good- we got a cookie, scone, coffees and a frittata. SO GOOD and so cute! After finally getting some good food we checked out Pfieffer Big Sur State Park ($10 fee for the car) and hiked the Mount Manuel trail. This was crazy- we were really not prepared for such a difficult and frankly sort of dangerous hike, but once you start it's hard to stop until you reach that payoff view. We ended up hiking about 4 miles on an incline, 99% exposed, along the rim of these mountains with a very VERY narrow path that in parts looked like it was about to give way, and others just straight up overgrown with weeds/grass/bushes. It was crazy- maybe the hardest hike I've ever done. I felt super proud once we were back at the car but DAMN. With our one last unexpected and ridiculously hard hike in, we said goodbye to Big Sur and headed 1.5 hours north to Monterey. Why Monterey? It seemed like halfway between Treebones and SFO, and I thought it had things to do. Maybe we stayed in the wrong area (Seaside) but it did not seem like there was much to do. We had dinner at a seafood place on the water in the Monterey Marina- and it was fine, but I don't understand the draw of Monterey. We heard the aquarium is the thing? Not sure, I was not impressed, but our airbnb was fine, we were able to do some laundry, and in the morning we made it to the airport in under 2 hours.
So some takeaways on Big Sur:
- It's expensive- like everything there is expensive. Most state parks- $10 per car. Meals- expensive and the ones we had weren't the best. The lodging- very expensive because there isn't much to choose from. The gas - extremely expensive, cost us $60 to fill up our minivan (yes the rental car company- Fox rental- gave us a minivan to cruise the PCH in- hilarious). BUT- there is a reason it's expensive- because it's amazing and beautiful and worth the money.
- The weather- mostly cold. Very windy where we were in the south. The days would get a little hotter but not t-shirt or shorts weather by any means. And at night obvs it was cold. So plan for that.
- Once you get to Big Sur- no traffic- so that's nice. Most of the time on the PCH we were the only car on the road. Lots of photo opps everywhere and it's all beautiful. Take it all- all for the gram.
- Loved the hiking in all sorts of terrain- uphill, downhill, through fields of grass, redwood forests, beaches, waterfalls, rocky ledges, cliffs, etc
- Yurting is awesome- I highly recommend this form of camping. I slept so well, I did not mind sharing bathroom facilities, and the lodge feel was pretty cool. Very relaxing. Glamping is my new thing.
- Give yourself extra time to get everywhere. On google maps it says the drive from SF is 4 hours. It took us almost 6. Also there is no cell service or gps, and the wifi at Treebones was super slow, so just enjoy being off the grid
Yurt at Treebones resort for 2 nights- $700
Airbnb in Seaside- $240
Rental Car Thurs-Sun - $150
Hiking fees- $30
Total for 2 people Thurs- Sun: $1730