Travel: Four must-see spots in epic Big Sur

Road trip on epic Big Sur with PhotowalksTV

As those of us who live in our little South Bay bubble know, when we look to make the great drive between here and San Francisco, it usually begins with a basic question: “5 or the Coast?”

The interstate is considered to be a faster route, by at least 1 hour, but it’s not pretty: you’re driving on a big interstate freeway favored by truckers, with little great to look at during the 6 hour drive. (Unless you’re a fan of Buttonwillow and way too many cows stacked atop each other in Coalinga.)

The coast has so much more to offer visually, but there’s another decision that has to be made: 101 or 1?

Once we pass San Luis Obispo from the south, we can either stay on 101 towards San Jose, which gets rather bland after the amazing Santa Barbara, Los Alamos, Pismo Beach and beautiful golden hills of 101, or turn over to 1 and go through all those great small towns like Morro Bay and Cambria.

It’s a big decision, because if you’re short on time, staying on 1 will send you through the long, 90 mile, 3-hour plus stretch between Cambria and Carmel through very windy Big Sur.

But what a drive it is, with the best of California rocky coast and scenic views mile after mile, great hikes and more.

While all of it is pretty amazing, from Ragged Point in the south to Bixby Bridge in the north, I’ve identified four key spots for photography in the latest episode of #PhotowalksTV, which I’d love to share with you today.

As you know, #PhotowalksTV has been exploring Highway 1 for season IV of the travel photography series. We started a few weeks ago in Pismo, then continued to San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria. Next week we’ll be in Carmel-by-the-sea. 

Let’s dive in and look at those four top Big Sur photo spots:

Ragged Point

About 20 miles north of Hearst Castle, just outside Cambria, is the first Big Sur town you’ll come to, and you can’t miss it. The “Welcome to Big Sur” sign kind of gives it away.

Ragged Point has a motel, restaurant, gas station and convenience store. There’s a great hike on the grounds of the motel that’s fun to take, bringing you to an amazing coastal view and a 400 foot drop down to the water, if you feel like climbing down and coming back up.

If not, just enjoy the view.

Pfeiffer Beach, home to purple sand and Keyhole Rock

Pfeiffer Beach

The most coveted parking spot in Big Sur is arguably right here, as you’ll hear in this interview with a Pfeiffer Beach parking attendant in the episode. Pfeiffer is home to the Keyhole Rock and purple sand, but you’ll need to arrive early, before the spots are taken.


Google Maps describes Nepenthe as “Classic California cuisine with a view.” And what a view it is! I always make it a point to ask locals for the best nearby photo spots. David Seefeldt, who sells beautiful jade from the side of the road, sent me to Nepenthe and the iconic view.

Check out the Big Sur posters being sold in gift shops along the way, and you’ll usually be looking at the view from Nepenthe and Bixby Bridge (below.)

The food at Nepenthe is great too, and the view is so incredible, it’s hard to leave and get back in the car. Best time to visit: for lunch.

The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur by Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

Bixby Creek Bridge

The symbol of Big Sur is this historic bridge, built in 1932, soaring some 260 feet above the water. It is so popular Visit California calls it Big Sur’s Golden Gate Bridge, one seen often in TV shows and movies, most notably HBO’s “Little Big Lies,” and the 1970s Clint Eastwood film “Play Misty for Me.”

There are many different places to position yourself for the best photo views, explored in the episode. But here’s a hint: the road shown below is absolutely awesome for photos!

Next stop: Carmel

Next week, we continue the Highway 1 series, just about 30 minutes up the road, to the fairytale, European coastal town of Carmel-by-the-sea, where I meet up with my newfound friend, the photographer Manny Espinoza and Lynne Allenspach of the local tourism office. So please come back and check it out.


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