Driving Big Sur California May be the Highlight of your trip. Here are some tips to make your drive a safe one!
I highly recommend driving and visiting Big Sur. The Big Sur coastline is the most beautiful stretch of coastline in California if not the world. With this beauty comes one of the more challenging highways in America.
If you suffer from vertigo than possibly skip this drive or just do the Big Sur California Quick Trip
This stretch of highway has been said to be one of the scariest in the world but don’t let that deter you. It’s not that bad.
It’s definitely not for the squeamish.
I’ve practically driven this highway weekly for over 2 years while filming Big Sur: Surreel Moments DVD
I would have to say as long as you drive the speed limit and keep your eyes on the road you’ll be fine.
Stop often at the many Vista Points and enjoy the views then and not while driving.
If you have a co-pilot, have them keep an eye out for places to pull over so that you or the driver can enjoy the beauty of the Big Sur Coastline.
The driver needs to concentrate on the road so although taking in the scenic beauty of the Big Sur coastline is very tempting to do while driving, please refrain from this and just pull over as often as possible. Trust me, the sheer beauty of Big Sur has a hypnotic affect. Check out the driving tips below that I’ve learned from my time driving this magnificent coastline!
Big Sur California Driving Tips
Fill Your Gas Tank! If you think gas prices are high then you really don’t want to buy gas in Big Sur. The gas station in Gorda, Big Sur was once reported as having the highest gas prices in the nation!
Fill up in Monterey or Carmel before hitting Highway 1. If you absolutely have to get gas while in Big Sur, just get enough to get you to Carmel.
Drive the Speed Limit
I can’t stress this enough. It’s a natural thing for all of us to drive a little fast but you don’t want to do this on Highway 1 in Big Sur. The highway has lots of sharp and blind turns that can catch anyone offguard. Pay special attention to the varying speed limit signs posted right before turns.
Take It Slow: The greatness of Big Sur is meant to be taken in slowly and at a nice relaxed pace.
Don’t rush through this part of your trip.
Take it nice and slow and do not speed.
Drive With Your Lights On: Highway 1 along the Big Sur coastline is one of the more dangerous stretches of highway in California.
Driving with your lights on during the day makes it easier for other drivers to see you when rounding some of those blind turns which in turn makes your drive that much safer.
Oh, and don’t forget to turn them off when you park 😉
Sufferers of Car Sickness Be Prepared!
Highway 1 in Big Sur is very windy and often overlooks steep cliffs. If you or anybody in your car gets car sick easily then I’d recommend they take over the counter Dramamine or Bonine.
1 dosage the night before and then half the dosage before the drive usually does the trick. I do this when I go on Whale watching tours.
Avoid Traffic: Traffic in Big Sur usually isn’t that bad but it can get sticky at times.To have the least amount of traffic possible, go in the morning and/or on a weekday.
But truth be told, traffic usually isn’t that bad even on the weekends during peak season but you surely won’t have the road to yourself 😉
Top Off Your Fluids! Big Sur California is one place you don’t want your car to break down. There is no cell phone coverage and a tow will cost you an arm and a leg. Not to mention your entire day will be toast.
So do yourself a favor and be sure your fluid levels are topped off along with proper tire pressure. This ten minute investment is a worthwhile one!
Watch for Vista Point Signs: Keep your eyes on the road when driving and save taking in the gorgeous landscape of Big Sur until after you’ve pulled over to a Vista Point.
These blue Vista Point signs are hard to miss and usually indicate a great place to pull over to take in the coastline.
Avoid Big Sur During Storms: If it’s storming out then stear clear of Big Sur. Much of Highway 1 is mudslide territory and there will occasionally be closures, not to mention driving becomes more challenging with slick roads and limited visibility.
Checking road conditions before going is always a good idea: www.co.monterey.ca.us/PR_OES/default.asp
Let Faster Drivers Pass You: If somebody is riding your bumper, simply use one of the turnouts to let them pass. DO NOT drive faster to appease them.
Matter of fact, California State law states that if there are 5 or more cars behind you and nobody in front of you then you have to pull to the side of the road where it is safe to do so to let them pass.
Bring Snacks and Water for the Drive: Places to stop for a snack, drink, or lunch can be few and far between in some areas of Big Sur.
It’s a good idea to pack some water and snacks for the part of this part of the drive 😉
GPS Can Make Life Easy! If you have a GPS unit bring it. You can plan your stopping points before hand and then not have to worry about directions or missing a turn out.
Be sure to program in The Very Best of Big Sur!
What is the Best Time to Drive Big Sur?
The best weather usually comes in September and October as there is less chance for rain and fog during these times, but you never know. We also have longer days during these times due to Daylights Saving Time as well.
Dec-March is Big Sur’s rainy season. Avoid driving Big Sur during heavy rainfall if at all possible. Mudslides are common along with highway closures during winter.
Big Sur is usually quite green by March because of all of the rain along with the blooming season which makes for some beautiful scenery!
Fog is Common Along the Coast
The weather is very unpredictable along the coast. One moment it’s clear and sunny and 5 minutes later the fog rolls in out of nowhere. June thru August is fog season here in Monterey but often times it will burn off by mid-morning to early afternoon, but not always.
Fortunately the type of fog we USUALLY get rests higher in the sky which blocks the sun but doesn’t usually make driving difficult. Usually.
When the fog comes rolling, turning your lights on helps other drivers see you. DO NOT use your high beams as this will actually impair your visibility along with blinding other drivers.
Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses!
Your sunglasses along with your visor will help with glare from the sun and its reflection off of the water. This will come in handy in keeping your eyes on the road.
Utilize Your Co-Pilot(s)!
If you’re driving Big Sur with family and/or friends, designate somebody to keep a lookout for places to pull over so that the driver can enjoy the views as well.
DO NOT attempt to drive and enjoy the scenery at the same time, this simply is not a good combination.
Drive Big Sur There and Back During the Day
Driving during the day is just safer because you’ll be able to see the windy road much easier than at night. Especially if it’s you’re first time.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t catch a glorious Big Sur Sunset, but time your drive back shortly after as it will still be light out for about 40 minutes after the sun sets.
Look For Parked Cars!
This sounds odd but it actually works. If you see a number of cars parked then chances are there is something to see there.
Many people return to Big Sur year after year and they tend to know the best spots.
There is No Cell Phone Reception in Big Sur California
Once you pass the Carmel Crossroads, don’t count on getting cell phone coverage in Big Sur. Verizon has the best coverage in the Monterey area and in Big Sur I get zero bars.
However, I can get 1-2 bars if I pull over on the shoulder of Hwy 1 just in front of the Point Sur Lighthouse. There’s probably a communications tower at the lighthouse or something.
Clean Your Windshield
This seems like such a minor detail but taking 1-2 minutes to clean your windshield and rear window will not only allow you to see the road better, but it will also give your passengers a clearer view of the Big Sur coastline.
Bring Cash! And not just $20’s either. Many of the state parks use drop boxes for envelopes for your entry fee so getting change simply isn’t going to happen. And believe me, they do check and will ticket if you don’t pay the entry fee.
Be sure to bring $5’s and $1’s. Typical entry fee is usually $7-$10 per vehicle. Paying at one State Park gets you admission into all Big Sur State Parks for the day so don’t double pay!
Help me help others enjoy Monterey to the fullest!
Send me some of your Big Sur Driving Tips or Experiences. Pics and Vids fully welcome
Or just leave a quick comment below!!!
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Annie C says
Nice driving tips, thank you! I’m a California resident and I didn’t know many of the tips you have here so I really appreciate you publishing them.
Charlie S. says
Here’s one more tip: rent a convertible! Big Sur was first described to me as “where the ocean kisses the earth.” This is much more visible (and fun) with the top down!
July 23rd, 2012 at 5:48 pm
What a great tip! I’ve personally never done this and may have to rent a convertible just to experience it. Thanks for sharing!
Cycle it instead! That way, you can sightsee while you ride and stop wherever you’d like! If this is where the ocean kisses the earth, cycling allows you get in on the action, too. The local microclimate effect is awesome, and I can’t think of a method of transporting yourself through Big Sur more intimately immersed in its awesomely beautiful presence than on a bicycle under its billowing blankets of fog!
I am afraid of heights would you recommend this trip? My son wants to take me there. He lives in SF.