David Loe: Only a 5-hour drive from Camarillo, Big Sur is in must-see category

A section of the Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway. The route from San Simeon to Big Sur Village is considered one of the most scenic highways in the USA.
A section of the Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway. The route from San Simeon to Big Sur Village is considered one of the most scenic highways in the USA.

Big Sur. So, Is it a Big Deal? 

I’d put it in the must-see category. And the best news is getting there is more than half the fun.

From Camarillo it's only about 5 hours of driving time for the entire journey to the Big Sur Village area. That’s where most of the lodging and many of the hiking options are centered.

The drive is the big highlight.

What a fantastic experience. The route is often mentioned as one of the top-rated scenic rides in the USA. I can see why. Although the coastal views starting at Morro Bay are delightful, it’s that last 65 miles from San Simeon northward that consistently take your breath away.

The biggest surprise to me was the Pacific Coast Highway on that stretch doesn’t border the shore. That’s what we’re used to when driving on our Ventura County section of Highway 1. Instead you drive high above the Pacific on a road that often seems to be clinging to the side of a mountain.

Getting occasionally stuck behind a big RV on the narrow and twisty portion of that  journey is almost a blessing. Vehicles slow down and the driver finally gets a chance to truly focus on the view that passengers have been raving about.

Some people prefer to drive one way on the Coast Highway and return on the faster 101 Freeway, but I think they are short-changing themselves. I found the views dramatically different coming home. Plus, during our return we were treated to constantly changing fog pockets lining the coast and occasionally making it to the height of our road. Playing peekaboo with the fog made for a dramatic experience. In addition, the scenic pullouts are most conveniently accessible from the southward direction.

It’s expensive to spend the night in Big Sur.

Rustic cabins for $400 a night. A standard hotel room costs at least that. But that’s nothing compared to the 5-star resorts like Ventana and Post Ranch Inn. Those places charge thousands of dollars a night.

We opted for a modern cabin at $700 a night. It was alongside the Big Sur river (which actually had water flowing in mid-August) and was nestled in a redwood grove.

The facility is called Glen Oaks Big Sur and offers both hotel rooms and cabins. A highlight with their cabins is having your own outdoor fire pit that was made up each day for your evening use. Firewood was unlimited and everything needed to make s’mores was provided. It was a fun way to end the day.

A cheaper option may be to stay in Monterey or Carmel and make the 45 minute drive to Big Sur Village. I met several families that did just that and didn’t find it inconvenient. And for those willing to camp? Keep reading.

Hiking is the main attraction at Big Sur.

There are tons of hiking options in the Big Sur area, but parking lots have limited space so don’t be lollygagging over breakfast. Getting to a trailhead later than 10 a.m. may leave you wanting.

I was especially impressed with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for hiking. The Pfeiffer Falls trail is a relatively easy trek on a well-maintained path. Despite our current drought,  there really is a waterfall to admire as your reward for some elevation gain. More importantly, there is an ice cream parlor waiting at the bottom of the trail.

The park boasts 189 RV and tent camping sites, but it’s a popular place. Even in the winter campground reservations fill up six months in advance (reservecalifornia.com).

Looking for a nice little getaway within 5 hours of Ventura County?

Big Sur is priced for special occasions, but you probably have one coming up anyway. Relish the drive. You won’t find many like it.

David Loe
David Loe

David Loe was the co-owner of a travel business in Ventura County for 25 years. His column appears monthly. He welcomes your feedback at davidloe@sbcglobal.net.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Only a 5-hour drive from Camarillo, Big Sur is a must-see