The famed landscape of Big Sur in California is nearly vertical with the Santa Lucia mountains behind you and the rocky cliffs to the sea in front of you. On our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur this summer, both natural and man-made marvels were spread out before us.  The PCH is merely a strip of masking tape stuck onto the side of the mountains, a thin man-made edge where tourists flock to peer over the sheer drop to the ocean below.

We did the drive over the course of a day (primarily because the luxury accommodation in the area is not family-friendly).  Moreover, my kids were over the rugged natural beauty of the coastline after an hour.  (“It’s just trees!” “Why is there no WiFi?” “Can we have our iPads?”).  Heathens.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

A photo gallery of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.

I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur ever since I saw some of Ansel Adams’ photographs of the area as a child.  Ansel Adams lived on the Monterey Peninsula in the mid-20th century for over 20 years which gave him plenty of time to photograph the area. Adams was instrumental in protecting Big Sur as a conservation area for future generations.

If we join together to accomplish the preservation of our Big Sur Coast I will feel I have had a life fully lived.

Ansel Adams

This quote comes from a man who is a legend for his black and white photographs of the American landscape!  You may not recognise the name but you will probably recognise some of his photos if you see them.

A Road Trip of Big Sur

Big Sur is a 90 mile stretch between Carmel and San Simeon along the central coast of California. Approximately 3-4 million tourists take this Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.

There are plenty of road-side pit stops you can make to take in the fantastic views.  We only stopped for lunch in Big Sur because the state parks were all closed when we visited.  There were two major forest fires in the area.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The Santa Lucia mountains shrouded in mist.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Lots of secluded beaches because it’s pretty hard to get down to them!

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Rock carved by the steady lapping of water.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Built in 1932, the concrete spans of the Bixby Bridge are widely photographed.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The rugged coastline kept most settlers away until the the 1960’s.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The rugged coastline were the sea and the mist meet on the horizon.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

This is the sort of shoreline that really needs a lighthouse.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

More sand, sea and rocks. Repetitive but still pretty.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

My kids though the chipmunks were the cutest. Too much Alvin & the Chipmunks I think.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

We could have watched these two play all day.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The mountains recede further from the coastline as you reach St Simeon.

Practicalities of Visiting Big Sur with Kids

Nepenthe has been a local institution since the 1940’s when the Fassett family bought the building from Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.  Falling in love with the view, the two Hollywood stars had built a cabin getaway on the site.  The love shack never got used because they divorced in short order.  Nepenthe is still owned and operated by the Fassett family.  The current building was built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright according to the vision of the Fassetts.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The Phoenix statue which is the symbol of Nepenthe.

Nepenthe is famous for its burger which we thought was pretty good.  It’s a big rambling restaurant with fantastic views and decent food.  Overall, I thought the place lived more on its bygone hype and the fact that there are limited places to eat in Big Sur. There’s usually a wait for the restaurant but you can easily kill time wandering around outside and in the fabulous gift shop downstairs.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

You can see how big the forest fire was in the summer of 2016. 90,000 acres under threat!

Thanks to its conservation status, there are only a few places to stay in Big Sur.  There are campgrounds in the state parks as well as some nicer hotels in the area. The area has limited WiFi.

If you want to stay in Big Sur in relative comfort, it’s a good idea to ditch the kids.  Both the Ventana Inn and Spa  and the Post Ranch Inn takes rustic chic to new levels.  Both luxury hotels are also adults-only. The Ventana Inn and Spa was built by writer Lawrence Specter from his proceeds from the iconic film, Easy Rider.  The Post Ranch Inn, an old ranch which was the homestead of W.B. Post in the 19th century, is still owned and run by the Post family. By the way, the Post Ranch Inn has a portfolio of Ansel Adams limited edition signed prints on display.

Accommodation is much cheaper and plentiful at either end of Highway One (as well as kid friendly).  We bookended our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur by staying at the Monterey Bay Plaza and Spa Hotel at one end of the drive and then Auto Aircamp in sunny Santa Barbara at the other end.  After all the mist and cool weather of the central coast of California, we were really glad for some sunshine.

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