Carmel, Monterey

& Big Sur

A Perfect 3-Day Itinerary

If you’ve been thinking about a weekend get-a-way to one of California's best destinations, then look no further than this 3-day itinerary celebrating the best that Carmel, Monterey, and Big Sur have to offer.

Located about two hours south of San Francisco and about five hours north of Los Angeles, this rugged coastline is famous for many things. Squeezing all the hot spots into just three days might be a challenging task, but this perfect three-day itinerary will keep you on track.

Day One
Arrive as early as possible on your first day so that you can maximize your time.

Oh la la, Crepes! – Begin your day with a savory or sweet crepe at the highly rated Crepes of Brittany in Monterey. They start getting crowded around 9 am, so plan to arrive before then. Whether you prefer sweet or savory, their menu will satisfy every palette.
Drive out to Point Lobos Natural Reserve for some hiking and breathtaking views. Park along the road right before the entrance to save on a $10 parking fee. Then walk through the main entrance, purchase a $2 map and head out on your hike. Bring water and watch out for poison oak. We loved visiting the Whaler’s Cabin in Whaler’s Cove and thought the scenery was the most spectacular around Bluefish Cove.

The entire 6-mile loop takes approximately three hours, but guests can enjoy as much or as little as they like as all trails intersect at various points and all paths are clearly marked.

Now you can sit and relax in the car a bit as you head south to Big Sur. By this time, you’ll likely be hungry, so stop in at the Big Sur Roadhouse for their famous avo toast, or other wraps or sandwiches. Then continue heading south along Hwy 1 to take in some of the famous sites.  We drove all the way south to the furthest location we wanted to see and then worked our way back north. At the time of posting this article, the section of Hwy 1 south of McWay Falls was still closed due to mudslides from 2017.

McWay Falls…
You’ll find a parking lot on the east side of the road with an underground tunnel for walking over to the trail.  The path to get to the lookout for the falls is very short and flat.

The Bixby Creek Bridge…
Constructed in 1931, and standing over 250 feet high, many people consider this bridge to be the gateway to Big Sur.  Be sure and check out the view from both sides of the street, but be careful when crossing. There is a small parking area located on the east side of the highway.
If you have time for more hiking and want to explore more of the Big Sur area on foot, check out this link for ideas.

Head back north and drive into the quaint little town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Find a place to park and spend some time enjoying the many art galleries and boutiques. For a delicious Mediterranean style dinner, head over to Dametra Café

Day Two
Begin your day with a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich at Café Lumiere in Monterey. Then head over to the American Tin Cannery Outlets and meet up with Big Sur Adventures for an e-bike tour of the coast.

We chose the 17-mile ride and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our 3-hour outing. Our guide Johnathon was knowledgeable about the area telling us interesting facts along the route. The e-bikes are incredibly easy to ride and comfortable.

Over the three hours we spent together, we made multiple stops and learned about seals, sea otters, local history, plant life, and more. Johnathon was easy-going and the time we spent with Big Sur Adventures was the highlight of our weekend. I love the mixture of beautiful scenery, learning about new things, and getting outside and being active. So this tour fit the bill on all accounts!

You’ll be hungry after your ride, so head over to Hula’s for a late lunch. Their island-inspired menu has plenty to choose from including burgers, tacos, fish and chicken platters.
After a full morning of activity and then a satisfying afternoon meal, we were ready for a restful and low-key afternoon. We enjoyed a little downtime at our hotel.  If you and your group aren't ready to slow down yet, take this time to explore the shops on Fisherman's Wharf or Cannery Row.

For a special end to your day, drive over to the Spanish Inn to listen to the live bagpipe player, and sip a glass of wine as you watch the sunset. Call ahead to ask about the exact time that the bagpipe player will be playing, as times change throughout the year. Depending on how hungry you are, appetizers are also available at the outside bar and inside the lounge.

Day Three
Begin your day with breakfast at From Scratch Restaurant in Carmel by-the-Sea. Then head over to the Carmel Mission. The actual name of the mission is Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo.  It is an active parish and school, so be aware that special events such as mass or funerals may be taking place. Start with the short film about Junipero Serra to learn about the history of this mission and also the start of all the California missions. Visit inside the Basilica (where Serra’s remains are laid to rest). The museum exhibits have a few rooms depicting life during the mission days.  Check the mission’s website for daily hours and admission prices.

Drive over to Asilomar State Beach for some tide-pooling. Fun for young and old, exploring the rocky coastline in search of creatures is a must-do. This will probably whet your appetite for more, so don’t miss the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium as well.

Have dinner at Lallapalooza on Alvarado Street. The Barbacoa Beef tacos are insanely delicious! Then walk across the street and indulge in a local favorite, Revival Ice Cream.

Where we stayed:
We chose the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey. We loved the location and walked almost everywhere (except the places in Carmel and Big Sur). We also really liked the friendly service and beautiful atrium.

Ten interesting facts we learned on OurEDventure:
1. Harbor seals can dive 300 feet and stay underwater for up to 28 minutes!
2. Sea otters help kelp forests flourish by keeping the sea urchin population in check.
3. The Lone Cypress on the 17-mile drive is one of the most photographed trees in the world.
4. Nightly bagpipe performances have taken place every day since 1987 at Spanish Bay in Carmel.
5. The Bixby Bridge only cost $200,000 to construct.
6. The location of the Carmel Mission isn't the original spot. It was moved to get away from the military garrison.
7. The official name of the Carmel Mission is Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo.
8. Carmel-by-the-Sea has one art gallery for every 34 residents.
9. Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.

10. The United States flag was first raised in Monterey in 1846 claiming California for the United States.

The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress


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We would like to thank Big Sur Adventures for providing discounted tickets for us to experience their e-bike tour. As always, all opinions expressed are our own. We won't recommend it if we didn't love it!

Add Comment
Amanda says... (Reply)
"I've actually been meaning to take the kids on this road trip. It is our home state, so hopefully we can do it soon." (7/15/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"It's such a kid-friendly area, and I just heard that the entire Hwy 1 is now opened." (7/19/18)
Amanda says... (Reply)
"We were here in Spring of 2017 and, sadly, Big Sur was closed, but we still LOVED this area and can't wait to return one day. " (7/16/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"It just opened yesterday! We were one week short... I guess we'll have to plan another trip." (7/19/18)
Diana says... (Reply)
"This area has been on my must-see/do list for years. Thanks for the inspiration to put it on the top of my travel list." (7/16/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Enjoy and let me know how it goes!" (7/19/18)
Kelsey says... (Reply)
"as a resident of the Monterey Peninsula we do love our tourists, however, I'd like to remind those who visit - there are those that work and live in the area, and to please be courteous of our existence. Traffic is really bad, please use public transport or other forms to reduce as much as possible. " (10/12/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Thank you Kelsey for your words of advise. What a wonderful place you get to call home. I too hope that tourists can make the kind of choices that will benefit everyone." (10/13/18)