Big Sur - Monterey County

Date reviewed - 9/05
Fun . . . . . . . . 3
Difficulty . . . . .Medium
Traffic . . . . . . Medium to High
Driveways . . . .Light
Condition . . . . Good
Length . . . . . .115 miles

Pacific Coast Highway is quite possibly the most famous road in the United States. This can be witnessed by standing by the side of the road on a sunny summer weekend and counting the RV's as they slowly lumber by. Obviously, the decision on when to drive this road can have a major affect on how much enjoyment you will get out of it.

Don't let the threat of too many other vehicles deter you though; 115 miles of endless curves through some of the most breathtaking scenery you will ever see is certainly worth the trip. Sure the 101 will get you from San Luis Obispo to Salinas faster, but that's not the point. You can actually buy T-shifts at some of the roadside stops (there aren't many through here) that say "I survived Big Sur Coast". Sounds like my kind of road.

If you could average 115 miles per hour you could make it from Morro Bay to Carmel in an hour, but a much more realistic person needs to budget several hours to make the trip. Even more if you plan on stopping at any point for rest, food, or simply just to admire the view. It is also not uncommon to come upon sections of the road that are down to one lane and controlled by traffic signals. When you drive this road and see the extreme conditions the original construction workers had to face, it's amazing this road was even built let alone the fact that the State has managed to keep it open and in pretty good shape.

Heading west from San Luis Obispo will bring you to Morrow Bay, at which point you follow the coast north and pass through the towns of Cayucos and Cambria (the start and finish of Santa Rosa Creek Rd., a fun little detour), and then it's on to the middle of nowhere. The first few miles are relatively flat and straight, at least compared to what you will soon find yourself in, but still have plenty of fun sections. Time permitting you can stop in San Simeon and check out Hearst Castle (can I get my car on THAT driveway, please) or stop at the beach and see the large group of sea lines that frequent this area.

Eventually, however, it's time to stop playing tourist and get serious. And boy does this road get serious in a hurry; one second you are flowing along on a fairly straight road, the next it's corner after corner after corner. It goes on like this for quite some time, but eventually you will come to the town of Big Sur. There isn't much there but there really aren't any alternatives out here. Back on the road and you will find yourself passing the Point Sur Lighthouse State Historic Park. This huge rock jutting out of the ocean with a small (comparatively) lighthouse clinging to the top makes an impressive sight. As far as I know this lighthouse and the nearby beaches are closed to the public, but hopefully one day the State will open it up for all to enjoy.

By this time the road has come out of the worst of the twisties and is back on a relatively flat plain. There are still plenty of curves and sweepers, but now you can find the occasional place to pass while you check out how creative some people can be when it comes to the placement of their houses. This is also the area that plays host to some of the very picturesque and often photographed bridges on PCH, but from the road itself it is difficult to see them.

Finally you will come to Carmel (Carmel by the Sea is the official name of the town) and then Monterey. If you are continuing north Hwy. 68 will take you to Salinas and the 101, or stay on Hwy. 1 towards Santa Cruz. A more interesting option is to take G16 - Carmel Valley Rd. southeast out of Carmel back to the 101, but unless you are headed back south this doesn't really take you anywhere you want to be.

- Back to Region

Red: Pacific Coast Highway
Blue: Santa Rosa Creek Rd.
Cyan: G16 - Carmel Valley Rd.
Purple: Nacimiento / Interlake / Jolon
Yellow: Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd. (this runs through a military base but is supposedly open to the public)
Orange: Indian Valley / Peach Tree
Green: Hwy. 58 - Carissa Hwy.

Sadly the satellite coverage is still low-res, but you can get a good sense of the conditions you will be facing.
A little more daunting when you consider the elevation changes (shown below).
I shudder to think how many tax dollars it takes to keep this thing open, but if you ask me its well worth it.