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Go back to Big Sur

Get behind the wheel and start exploring California’s stunning, rugged coastline

  • Big Sur
    The famous saying goes that “the only street lights in Big Sur are the stars”, so you’ll be spoilt by a glitteImage Credit: Supplied picture
  • Big Sur
    McWay Falls.Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Big Sur
    Bixby Creek Bridge.Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Big Sur
    Hearst Castle.Image Credit: Supplied picture

California, it’s not all muscles on Venice Beach, shopping on Rodeo Drive and rubbing shoulders with Victoria Beckham at The Grove, there’s also an untouched, naturally stunning part of the Golden State where the only street lights are the stars, so let us take you on a trip through Big Sur…

How to get there
Take advice from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road for your trip to Big Sur, which is best navigated with your roof down and from behind the wheel. Cruising down the California State Route One from San Francisco, head about 160km to the south you’ll hit the Big Sur Coast, which has to be one of the most rugged, dramatic and picturesque journeys in the world. Autumn and spring are the perfect times to venture over as the famous heavy fog that curtains the region in summer and winter has lifted, and you’ll be able to take in the entire spectacular view.

Everyone has their own detours and stops along the way, and there are plenty of picturesque towns to take a break in – be it for a half-hour picnic or an overnight stay – and soak up the absolutely stunning scenery. The best way to guarantee that you make the most of the rugged California coastline is by taking the 17-mile drive, which will see you wind through exclusive coastal areas, starting at Pacific Grove and running south to Carmel. Although you could complete the short distance between the two towns by driving inland in just 15 minutes, that takes out all the fun!

We recommend that you leave at least three hours to enjoy the 17-mile coastal drive, stopping regularly to take in the photo-perfect views. As you start you at Highway 1’s Gate One in Pacific Grove, you’ll be charged a fee per car (about Dh44), and then will be free to take the road at your own pace, stopping at the various viewing points – the viewing deck at Sunset Point is particularly beautiful.

How to stick to the path? Follow the red lines along the road to keep track of the route, which will take you along the oceanfront the whole way, past luxury hotels and golf courses, so you’ll get a taste for the lives of the Californian rich and famous. The 17-mile drive is the only way you’ll see the iconic Lone Cypress tree (a cliff-teetering tree you will see replicated in pictures in just about every gift shop in Big Sur) or get to visit Pebble Beach and the Pebble Beach Golf Course.

The main route

When you finish the 17-mile drive and hit Carmel, continue south along the coast, and after about half an hour you’ll arrive in Big Sur, which is home to many coastal State Parks. There’s the Andrew Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur and Ventana Wilderness State Parks, to name just three, and make sure to stop off at the stunning 80-foot McWay waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which flows directly into the sea all year-round.

Next up is the 144km drive from the top of Big Sur country down to San Simeon, which is jam-packed with things to do and see. The coastal drive is not to be done in a hurry (there’s the inland Route 101 for that), it’s slow-going along a narrow two lane highway, where you, just like every other driver on the road, will be tempted to stop at every new bay and turn to take a snap of the stunning scenes.

Driving through Big Sur, you’ll find just about everyone, from movie stars escaping LA madness to hippies that haven’t left since the Sixties, all turning to the bliss of the waterfalls, stunning beaches and incredible cliffs for solace. En route, make sure you take a drive across the breathtaking Bixby Creek Bridge.

Although the 85m arched bridge may not be for the faint-hearted, the 1932 built concrete structure, which is one of the most photographed things on the American West Coast, is a must-visit for perfect Pacific views. As you move on from here and continue to drive through the stunning parkland of Big Sur, be sure to stop off at the Nepenthe eatery, which was once owned by iconic Hollywood couple, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.

Wild Zebras and stars for street lights

If you’re looking for a holiday destination to give you a break from the glitzy world of Dubai, this is the place for you. After leaving San Francisco and hitting Monterey, you’ll find no malls or street lights, making it the perfect place to get back to basics. The famous saying goes that “the only street lights in Big Sur are the stars”, so you’ll be spoilt by a glittering sky, which we miss out on here.

When you get to San Simeon at the end of the long and gorgeous drive, make sure you finish off with a trip to the absolutely outrageous Hearst Castle (, the former home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. After the magnate’s death, the house was donated to the State of California, and the expansive land was tuned into a state park, there used to be a zoo, which has since been dismantled, but as you drive down you might just see a zebra grazing at the side of Highway 1.

You can make your stay in Big Sur last as little as a four hour drive or drag it out over a fortnight’s holiday, but no matter what you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with the rugged, stunning country.

Trip notes

Deep blue
A trip along the coast isn’t complete without a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can get a feel for life down deep. At the coastal aquarium you can meet an albatross, get involved with a penguin feeding and go nose to nose with a great white shark. It’s a perfect day out for families and big kids alike.

Cup half full
If you follow our SanFran to LA route, you’ll pass through Half Moon Bay, which is about 40 minutes outside San Francisco. This stunning sleepy beach town is a must-visit, not only for the cute turn-of-the-century feel, but also for the 60-foot waves at Maverick’s surf point, which happens to be the spot in which Gerard Butler’s new flick, Chasing Mavericks, is set.

Café culture
Make sure you stop off at the Old Monterey Café when you hit Highway 1 in Big Sur. It’s said that you’ll find the best omelettes and pancakes on the West Coast in the low-key, but no-less-delicious little café.

Stay here

Budget: Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
There is something so quaint and gorgeous about this inn, where you rent eco friendly cottages or stay in rooms, each of which have their own individual character and style, we love the Van Gosh room and Creek House, all of the rooms and cabins are topped off with homemade and rustic touches that reflect the hotel’s rich history. Not only is it a gorgeous flower and tree framed hotel, it serves up absolutely delicious food in their homely restaurant and their breakfast has been recognised as the best in Montery County.
Rooms from Dh320.

Mid range: Seven Gables Inn
This hotel feels so American it could have been lifted from the Kennedy’s family estate, on Labour Day with an apple pie ready baking in the oven, and we love it. With panoramic views of the ocean on the tip of the Monterey Bay, this Hamptons home-esque hotel is a perfect place to rest your head along your Pacific Coast drive. The pastel B&B offers up all the home comforts you’ll need with a luxurious touch. The restaurant boasts coastal views and, our personal favourite touch, every night they serve home made cookies and milk to their guests.
Rooms start at Dh842.

Luxury: Ventana Inn and Spa
Set in the mountains over looking the sea, this stunning California mountain-home style hotel looks out over the Pacific ocean, this luxurious hotel offers up spacious and bright rooms and after along days driving or exploring the spectacular scenery surrounding the hotel, you can check into the spa for some R&R. The spa offers up a fabulous menu of treatments, we have our eye on the ultra relaxing El Sur Grande Hot Stone, before heading to the hotel restaurant, which serves up sustainable and seasonal ingredients in their barn-style eatery.
Rooms start at Dh1200 based on a sharing couple.


Fly there

Fly into San Francisco direct with Emirates from Dh7,200 return. The northern tip of Big Sur is about a two hour drive south of the city.

Filmed there
Doctor Dolittle, Incubus, The Terror, Junior, Poetic Justice, Big Sur, Chasing Mavericks.