Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, & Big Sur, California: A Photo Journey

Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, & Big Sur: A Photo Journey

The central coast of California is one of the most beautiful areas of the USA. Highway 1, which runs along the coast, is one of the prettiest drives in the world.  We drove a portion of Highway 1, beginning in Monterey and ending in Big Sur and fell in love with this area!

In historic Monterey, the old canning industry sets the backdrop to this coastal town with one of the country’s best aquariums.  Heading south, charming Carmel-by-the-Sea has endless shops and galleries and homes that look like they leapt off the pages of a storybook.  And Big Sur is sure to take your breath away with its dramatic cliffs plunging into the beautiful blue sea.  You’ll also likely see a plethora of marine animals that call this area home such as seals, otters, sea lions, and at certain times of the year, whales.

Below is a map of our driving itinerary, starting in Monterey and ending in Big Sur.  There are so many amazing pull outs all along Highway 1.  While the drive totaled just 21 miles one way, we spent all day driving there and back, stopping to take in the scenery frequently!

Map of our driving itinerary from Monterey down to Big Sur

We spent two days during our central California trip in Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Big Sur.  Come along for a photo journey of the central coast of California, a place that oozes charm and rugged beauty!


When we visited

We visited central California in mid-October 2022 during fall break from school.  We found this to be a fabulous time to visit.  The weather could not have been better and the crowds were lower than what we heard descends on the area in the summer months.

Where we stayed

Monterey Marriott | Monterey, CA

The hotel was in a good location, walkable to the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and restaurants.  The rooms were newly renovated and there was a nice bar/restaurant on site.  The morning breakfast was fabulous!  The hotel also had a complimentary washer/dryer, which is always so appreciated.  The one downside of this hotel was the noise.  I’ve never experienced being able to hear our neighbor’s TV and conversations through the wall.  The rooms were not sound proof at all!  

Monterey was our home base while we were in this area.  We spent the first afternoon and evening walking along the winding coastal path, visiting Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and enjoying a lovely evening meal overlooking the ocean at Schooner’s, at the Monterey Plaza Hotel.

Monterey, California


From Monterey, we took scenic Highway 1 south towards Carmel-by-the-Sea.  We checked out Carmel Beach, a beautiful expanse of white sand and rough blue seas with surfers riding the waves.  While in Carmel-by-the-Sea we explored the adorable town.  We had a lovely lunch at Basil, with amazing bellinis and northern Italian cuisine.  Shops, cafes, and plentiful art galleries all reside here.  The cottage-style homes here look like they came straight from a fairytale!

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Big Sur

After our time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, we continued south on Highway 1.   The scenery is spectacular!

Point Lobos State Reserve is worth a stop.  There is an entrance fee to get in and we paid $11 in October 2022.  We drove the short road from the pay booth to the parking area .  There are two paths here – one to the right and one to the left.  We took the path to the left and had fabulous views of the cliffs, ocean, and seals bobbing in the water below.  

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Continuing on for about 10 miles south on Highway 1, the cliffs became increasingly more dramatic.  We stopped at a pull out where we could view Rocky Creek Bridge.  This looks similar to the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, but that is still about 1/4 mile ahead.  This viewpoint offered amazing views and was worth the stop as well.     

From here, it was a very short drive to Castle Rock Viewpoint, a pull out on the right to take in the west views of Bixby Creek Bridge.  The dramatic cliffs and ocean below were incredible!

After taking in the views here, we crossed the road and parked for a few minutes while I captured photos of the east side of Bixby Creek Bridge in the afternoon sun.  We then turned around to head north on Highway 1, taking in the gorgeous views on the way back to Monterey.

Two days was the perfect amount of time to spend in this area.  We saw some gorgeous scenery, shopped, dined, and relaxed.  It was a great way to end our trip before we headed back to San Francisco for one more night before flying home bright and early the next day.

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Our trip to Monterey was part of a larger central California trip.  For our one week itinerary check out The Ultimate One Week Central California Itinerary.

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