Starting from Monterey Peninsula Airport, take Highway 68 to Highway One south.
To make Carmel-by-the-Sea your first stop, turn right onto Ocean Avenue. Park in the public lot at Carmel Plaza (Mission off Ocean) or Sunset Center (Mission and 8th Street).
If you just want to enjoy the beach and bay, continue down Ocean Avenue to the parking lot right at the sands.
- Carmel is known for its almost innumerable art galleries and the picture-postcard architecture sometimes called "Fairytale Tudor". There are dozens of restaurants and cafes for refreshment, and shops to pick up a warm sweatshirt for protection against occasional coastal fog.
Leave Carmel by taking a left off Ocean on to Scenic Road, just before the beach. View poet Robinson Jeffers Tor House and Hawk Tower (on left, just past Bay View), and Carmel River State Beach (parking area on right).
Scenic Road becomes Carmelo Street. At Santa Lucia Avenue, turn right, at Rio Road, turn right again. On the right is San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, known as Carmel Mission.
Leave the Mission and continue right on Rio Road to Highway One. Here, you can cross Highway One for a quick shopping stop in either The Barnyard or The Crossroads shopping villages. There are shops offering every sort of merchandise including picnic supplies. Otherwise, turn right for Big Sur, 20 miles away on Highway One.
- The handsomely reconstructed church is a must-see sight. Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1775, it contains a magnificent bronze sarcophagus dedicated to his memory, sculpted by Jo Mora. The museum contains dozens of rare Spanish-era artifacts.
At 2 miles, on right, is Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. It ranks as one of the jewels of the California State Parks system, "the most beautiful meeting of land and sea" in the world, according to artist Francis Macomas. Hike any of several trails to reach meadows of wildflowers, vistas of Pacific Ocean, or stands of Monterey pine and fragrant cypress.
At 4 miles, on right, is a parking/overlook point with views back towards China Cove and Point Lobos. There are many other vista points as you continue south; always park facing in the direction of traffic, and return to the road with care.
- At 3.5 miles, on the left, is Sculpture House and Gardens, a fine art gallery look for the piled stone sculptures nearby.
Continuing south on Highway One, leaving the Carmel Highlands, the countryside becomes more open. This is the area of Garrapata State Park, which features two miles of beach front, a 50-foot climb to a vista point, and 2,879 acres of land for hiking.
- At 4.25 miles, on left, are the Highlands Inn and Tickle Pink Inn. The Highlands Inns restaurant, Pacifics Edge, is the venue for the annual Masters of Food & Wine conference in February.
About 8 miles south of Rio Road, on right, is Rocky Point Restaurant; good views of the coast and Rocky Creek Bridge from its terrace. At Palo Colorado Road, you can turn left to Bottchers Gap, a US Forest Service campground.
Two miles further south is Bixby Bridge, with parking areas on both sides of the road. The bridge was built during the Depression by a WPA crew, and is one of the highest single-arch bridges in the state. Old Coast Road (mostly unpaved, four-wheel drive recommended, often impassable in wet weather) turns inland on left, connecting with Highway One again at Andrew Molera State Park.
About five miles south of Bixby Bridge is Point Sur State Historic Park.
Barely three miles south is the top entrance to Andrew Molera State Park, a great venue for hiking, fishing, horseback riding (including rides along the beach), and wildlife spotting.
- The century-old Point Sur Lightstation is only accessible during guided tours (831-625-4419) and by climbing several hundred steps throughout the site which caps a rocky outcrop.
The "village" of Big Sur is strung out along Highway One for around five miles. It boasts a grocery store and post office, tucked in a little row of shops, some great restaurants, and an assortment of accommodations ranging from campgrounds to simple motel rooms and to some of Americas most elegant and exclusive hotels.
- In its midst is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, on the inland side of Highway One; wonderful trails throughout the 820 acres, camping, and hikes along the Big Sur River. Big Sur Ranger Station is a good source of local information.
Not to be confused with Pfeiffer-Burns, the next state park, about five miles south of the last Big Sur gallery, is the 2500-acre the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Park in the lot (left off the highway) for a wide assortment of hiking trails; the easiest (paved, wheelchair accessible) ducks under the highway to McWay Falls.
- On the southern reaches of Big Sur, look on the left side of the road for the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Founded by a long-time friend of the controversial author, it offers frequent events, poetry readings, and workshops in photography or writing. On either side are several interesting art galleries.
The world-known Esalen Institute is another three miles south. Other than those attending its courses, it is closed to the public except for access (by reservation) to its cliff-hanging hotspring soaking tubs, between 1:00am and 5:30am.
The scenery opens out a bit around Lucia, almost ten miles further south, a tiny village with a few motel rooms, a restaurant and gas station. Look for the sign to New Camaldoli Hermitage, a retreat house run by Benedictine monks that welcome s the public (overnight stays by reservation).
Only a mile south of New Camadolis gate is Limekiln State Park. Visitors can hike to view the historic kilns and cascading waterfalls, then set up tent in one of the 33 campsites.
Seven miles south of Limekiln State Park, on the right (ocean) side, is Sand Dollar Picnic Area. Surrounded by cypress trees, it is just steps from one of the largest public beaches in Big Sur dogs are welcome for a run in the surf.
- Nacimiento-Ferguson Road turns left and inland towards the Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness Area. It connects to several campgrounds and trailheads, and eventually comes out at Mission San Antonio in Fort Hunter-Liggett Army Base.
- A little further south is Jade Cove great for beachcombers and rock-hounds (but beware of steep paths and rough surf while hunting for ocean jade).
- Two miles further around a point of land is Willow Creek, another beach and picnic area with tidepools to explore during a leg-stretch stop.
- Last town in Monterey County, Gorda Springs by the Sea has a few cafes, gas stations and accommodations. Next stop: Hearst Castle/San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County.