California Coastal Road Trip

I’m currently on my two-week furlough, so I wanted to do something that will get me out of the house, but be able to still practice social distancing. I always wanted to explore my own backyard and wanted to do a road trip along the coast. So, I thought, why not now? Given that I was born and raised in California my entire life, it’s quite shocking that I waited this long! view from window car During my trip, and even afterward, I received so many messages from you guys about your interests on this road trip. You guys asked… so here it is!

This guide will include:

  • Useful information before the trip
  • Car rental & driving
  • Meals & groceries
  • Accommodation & lodging
  • Cost and breakdown
  • Driving hours
  • The complete route/Itinerary
  • What I packed on this road trip
bixby bridge

Useful Information before the trip:

  • Download an offline map of California on Google Maps. I can’t stress this enough! There is no signal on the coast.
  • Star/Save all of your points of interest on Google Maps so you know where to go when using the offline map.
  • Pumping fuel along the coast can be pricey. If possible, pump up in bigger towns such as Monterey.
  • Although the coast has a breeze and can get chilly, the sun still shines pretty harshly just like any other area in California. Bring sunscreen or a hat to protect you from getting sunburnt. Otherwise, you won’t feel it, but you’ll see it once you’re home. That’s what happened to me.
view of mcway falls

Car Rental & Driving:

For trips over 2 hours, my boyfriend and I always book a car rental. We feel that it’s always best to pay for a rental knowing we wouldn’t accumulate the mileage on my own vehicle. Also, on top of that, we don’t have to worry about wearing our own tires, maintenance, cleaning the car once we’re back, or being selective on the fuel brand. For my Prius, I always want to pump Shell, so being on the road, a Shell gas station may not be available or could be more expensive than the other brands. So paying for a rental is worth it in our opinion. It’s quite cheap to get a rental in my area for the day(s). We always refer to this website carrentals.com to check for the best prices.

We normally choose the most compact eco-friendly car to save as much money where we can. But for this journey, it was better to rent a midsize-SUV due to the fact that we’d be driving through windy mountain paths and along the coastline. I wanted something I felt safe in when the wind blows, especially. Also since we are traveling post-COVID, I wasn’t sure if we’d face any predicaments, so I wanted to car with more room just to feel comfortable.

We picked up the car rental Friday morning around 8 AM and ran some personal errands with my boyfriend before the start of the trip. By 10Am, we finally were on the road!

Our first and farthest stop was Burney, California. It’s about 10.5 hours from home so we didn’t arrive until 8 PM later that evening. This included multiple break stop for refueling and a quick lunch at the gas station in Buttonwillow.

car road trip big sur

Meals & Groceries:

On long adventures, we always bring our cooler with us filled with ice, of course. For this trip, our cooler was filled with enough water and trail bars to last us for the entire weekend. However, arriving at Burney, we went to Safeway to buy some microwavable breakfast sandwiches, cup noodles, and juice to last for the weekend. Then we drove across the street for McDonald’s and called it dinner. Honestly, we are still learning how to eat “better” while on the road so don’t judge our food decisions!
vista point

Accommodation & Lodging:

There are many accommodations that have opened up in Burney, and along the coast of Monterey/Big Sur. I’ve noticed they are mostly motels and small boutiques, but yes they’re open! You can check hotels.com or even call the lodge/motels directly. A lot of campsites are still closed, but some of the amenities such as restrooms are still open.

California roads are quite friendly. As long as there isn’t a sign that says “No Overnight Parking”, you can find a safe spot to park for the night. In some of the gas stations that I stopped at had showers and restrooms to use. Most gas stations have ovens and at least a microwave. If you prefer this style of roadtripping over lodging, you can download this app Camps and Rentals.

I purchased an inflatable bed for our SUV off of Amazon which you can check out by clicking here. It takes 10-15 minutes to pump it up. I laid the backseats of the SUV down, and the bed fits perfectly. I brought a comforter and a pillow to make it even more comfortable. This fits universally for most SUV’s and there are other styles that fit in the back seat instead (for both cars and SUVs).

COST AND BREAKDOWN:

Breakdown:

  • Car Rental: $73
  • Fuel: $168
  • Food: $66
  • Accommodation: $86

Total Cost: $392

Driving Hours:

Breakdown:

  • Orange County to Burney – 10 Hrs
  • Burney to Point Reyes – 5.5 Hrs
  • Point Reyes to Marinwood (to sleep) – 1 Hr
  • Marinwood to Monterey (PCH 1) – 3.5 Hrs
  • Monterey/Big Sur to Orange County – 6 Hrs

Total Driving Hours in 3 days: 26 Hours

feet dangling west coast

The Complete Route – Itinerary

Burney, California

A. McArthur-Burney Falls Interpretation

We woke up in Burney and was on the road driving into Burney Falls by 6AM. There was nobody here at sunrise and it was freezing! Definitely pack a good sweater when visiting. Due to the higher altitude, it is a lot colder than most of California.

We had to self-registered at the entrance because nobody was at the window. We attached the registration and the parking fee into the envelope and dropped it into the mailbox. Parking is really easy, there’s plenty of space but I can understand how quickly it fills up as the day pass. It’s about a 10-minute walk down to the waterfall. There are a few steps but mostly paved nice paths leading down. McArthur-Burney Falls is a loop trail so if you have more time to spend, you can do the entire trail here and circle back to your origin. We didn’t do the whole trail but next time, we will!feet dangling west coast

I was actually really upset with my boyfriend the night we spent in Burney because he has forgotten the 24-70mm. I really wanted to use a wider lens to be able to capture most of the waterfall. However, my boyfriend did his best with the 35mm and it didn’t come out so bad at all!
feet dangling west coast

B. “Stand By Me” Bridge

After turning out from Burney Falls, we continued to an old bridge that was seen in an old 1986 movie called “Stand By Me”. It’s a bridge closed off to the public and has a blockage and barb wires keep people from crossing over due to safety reasons. However, I know some of the locals still come to hang out, take pictures, and even jump into the river from the bridge. But they do this at their own risk, so please be aware, I am not encouraging you to visit this bridge. If you do, it’s at your own risk! When I went on it, I immediately felt how frail the woods are. I didn’t go too far because I had thoughts slipping and falling between the wooden planks which terrified me.

feet dangling west coast
feet dangling west coast
feet dangling west coastC. Burney Mountain Vista Point We were driving out of Burney to begin the next part of the trip when we saw this vista point. This wasn’t part of our itinerary, but the view of Burney Mountain looked amazing. It’s a nice viewpoint with proper parking spots. We were only here a short time since we didn’t want to deviate from our long journey. feet dangling west coast

Point Reyes National Seashore

D. Cypress Tree Tunnel After 5.5 hours of driving, we arrived at Point Reyes National Seashore. Cypress Tree Tunnel was supposed to be one of many stops here but due to the “Shelter in Place” order, the majority of the roads were closed. So we spent the remainder of the day here, after attempting to drive around. vista point sealvista point seal
vista point seal
vista point seal

It gets quite busy, but it is enough space for everybody. For many, it might be a struggle to find a good angle with nobody in the frame or how to fully capture the trees. We used a 70-200m to create a compression effect of the background. This makes the trees look fuller and larger in photos. We did have to wait a bit for people to get out of frame, even if it was just for a few seconds, and also tried different angles from both sides of the tunnel.

vista point seal
vista point seal
vista point seal

I really wished the roads weren’t closed so we could see other locations on our itinerary. What really blew my mind were the many cows along the coast of Point Reyes! It was definitely a perfect way to end the day.

For the night, we decided to book a last-minute room at Marinwood Inn & Suites to get a good night’s sleep before another long day of driving.

calla lilly

Pacific Coastal Drive

By 7AM the next morning, we began our trip down to the coast. We skipped over San Francisco by taking the 580 Freeway to Richmond, passing San Jose and Gilroy, before making it to Monterey on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 (also known as the Cabrillo Highway). Remember when I said how it is important to download an offline map of California prior to the road trip? Well, once I got closer to the coast, I had no signal. I had no signal throughout the entire coast until I got to an actual big town. I think it was Santa Barbara, but I’m not sure.  Anyways, I didn’t download an offline map, and had no signal. So I was literally winging it along the coast.

A lot of these turnouts don’t have signs or if they did, it would say “Vista Point in ¼ Mile” right before the turnout. Plus, not having cellular signals, we actually didn’t know what turn out was what. As I’m writing this blog, I had to trace all my stops on Google Maps using the satellite version to make sure I provide accurate locations for you guys!

E. Garrapata Trail, Carmel By The Sea

There are many turnouts along the coast, with viewpoints or marked/unmarked trail you can take a walk down to. Each spot is a bit different but in similarity, you won’t regret it. Our first stop was at Garrapata where we did a short trail down to the beach. Along the way, there were some beautiful calla lilies late in the bloom. I was fortunate to see the last of it since their full bloom is typically around mid-March. I felt fortunate to see the last of it and walk through this stunning path leading to the ocean.

calla lilly

garrapato trail

F. Rocky Creek Bridge

We decided to turn into this vista point at the very last minute and the view did not disappoint. There is very little space to park and this turn out is right before a slight turn, so please be safe and careful!calla lilly

G. Point Sur Lighthouse

My boyfriend wanted to have a smoke break so we pulled over where there were free-roaming cattle. It was now after tracing back, that I stopped somewhere in front of the Point Sur Lighthouse, but from afar.

calla lilly

H. Bixby Bridge

Oh my goodness. This place was a bit of a nightmare. It was so crowded, and a lot of traffic and congestion because of cars wanting to pull in, waiting for cars to pull out, and lots of people crossing. But once, you overcome all of these obstacles and find parking safely, you’ll understand the commotion.

It’s a lovely viewpoint of Bixby Bridge and the coast. If you walk closer to the edge, you will see an amazing white sand beach. I was wondering how some people got to the beach. If you know, do send me a message because I want to get down to that beach next time. So we might have spent over an hour here because it was easy to lose track of time staring at the coast. Looking back, I realized I got really tanned because I was standing here in the sun for a very long time.

bixby bridge portrait
biby bridge
portrait bixby bridge coast view
bixby bridge coast view

I. McWay Falls

A 40-minute drive from Bixby Bridge, we stopped at Big Sur River Inn for a quick dinner. We ended up sharing a delicious carnitas burrito together in the car at their parking lot. This was basically our dinner.

The McWay Waterfall Trail was closed due to the “Shelter In Place” order, but there was a small turn out right before that we parked. Although it was unfortunate that we weren’t able to go down to the trail, it was still a visible view of the waterfall. I have never seen anything like this. How the waterfall just flows into the ocean and the water is turquoise and blue all at the same time. It’s just gorgeous. Hands down, McWay Falls is my favorite location along the coast. We initially wanted to stay here for sunset, but we were running out of energy and figured it might be a better idea to start the drive home early, rather than late.

McWay Falls was supposed to be our last stop but we just couldn’t get enough of this amazing coast! The next few stops are unexpected and I’m so glad we did.mcway falls landscape

far view of mcway falls

portrait at mcway fals

right side view of mcway falls

J. Big Creek Cove Vista Point

We saw a proper parking lot and decided to turn here to see what the view was all about. It was a nice 5 minute stop.
big creek cove vista point

K. Plaskett

There are some pretty nice places to check out here including the Sand Dollar Beach, but we didn’t go ourselves. The only reason we stopped was that I saw a nice patch of pink flowers. Then we followed a small trail down to the coast just to check out the ocean one last time.
pink flowers big sur

portrait big sur west coast
big sur

sand dollar big sur

L. Elephant Seal Vista Point

It was my turn to drive so I had to focus on the road, whilst stealing a glance of the coast every so often. My boyfriend randomly shouted for me to pull over at the next stop because there were seals. I was like, “What?!” but still pulled over. And he was right. We parked and walked to the viewing area and there were tons of seals! They were so derpy and cute, and it was a perfect ending to our trip.

It’s super smelly here, like an intense rotten stench that won’t go away. We spent less than 10 minutes here before running back to the car. Someone told me that wearing a mask really helps with the smell, so if you do visit this spot, don’t forget your mask! I should have remembered since social distancing requires we wear masks in public, but I was so excited I ran out of the car forgetting it. Luckily there was hardly anyone there.

elephant seal vista point

vista point seal

elephant seal

WHAT I PACKED FOR THIS ROAD TRIP:

Equipment Gear:

  • Canon Mark IV
  • EF 35mm f/1.4L
  • EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
  • Canon G7X Mark III
  • Radar Detector
  • A pair of walkie-talkies

Clothes/Accessories:

  • Dresses
  • 1 warm jacket
  • Pants: 1 yoga pant, 1 sweat pant, PJ’s
  • A pair of shoes, sandals, and boots
  • A hat
  • Toiletries/Makeup/Sunscreen (SPF)

Mischellaneous:

  • Pillow
  • Comforter
  • Cooler filled with water, trail bars, and ice
portrait at mcway falls

Hope you found this helpful! Pin and save this post for future reference! Let me know what you think in the comments and happy road tripping!

bixby bridge


bixby bridge

Follow:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *