The Ultimate Big Sur to Santa Barbara Road Trip Adventure

big sur to santa barbara

Overview – Monterey/Carmel Starts – Self Guided Bike Tour

Starting your California coast self guided cycling tour on the Monterey Peninsula, home to Monterey Bay Aquarium, puts you in a perfect position to experience the best of the California Coast. Between Monterey and Carmel the epic 17 Mile Drive winds through Pebble Beach and its famous golf courses (if you start in Carmel, you usually miss 17 Mile Drive). Continuing south from Carmel, the legendary BIG SUR COAST with its stunning coastal views and redwood canyons will thrill even the most well traveled cyclist. Diverse San Luis Obispo County is next, with Hearst Castle, elephants seals and beaches galore.

If you continue south past SLO County, the rich agricultural and winery areas of Santa Barbara County beckon, as well as the palm tree lined waterfront of Santa Barbara itself. Iconic surf spots line the route south from Santa Barbara to the Malibu coast and the traditional end of the long version of the tour at Santa Monica Pier.

Other destinations

Monterey to Santa Barbara (288 miles, 3-9+ days).

Monterey to San Luis Obispo (SLO) (155 miles, 2-7+ days).

Carmel to SLO (136 miles, 2-6+ days).

Monterey to Santa Monica/LA (375 miles, 4-11+ days).

Accommodations, Traffic, Terrain, Meeting Times, Transportation.




You are responsible for booking and paying for your own accommodations. We’ll supply recommendations. Costs are highly variable. Finding appropriate hotel accommodations on the Big Sur coast during busier times of year can be a challenge.

Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain

California coast bike tours that start in Monterey or Carmel and continue south to San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara or Santa Monica (LA) will be on Highway One for significant stretches. Traffic, road conditions and terrain are all highly variable. Cyclists should be comfortable riding with traffic and over hilly terrain.

In winter and early spring there may be highway closures on the Big Sur coast that might impact the tour. 

Experience the best of the California coastline with an epic road trip from Big Sur to Santa Barbara. Discover stunning vistas, charming coastal towns, and outdoor adventures along this iconic route.

The Allure of Big Sur

With craggy cliffs hugging the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur is a slice of coastal paradise. Start your adventure by immersing yourself in the natural beauty of landmarks like the Bixby Bridge, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and majestic McWay Falls.

Exploring Big Sur’s Hidden Gems

Venture off the beaten path to uncover secrets only the locals know. Pfeiffer Beach’s purple sands, Keyhole Arch, and the serenity of the Henry Miller Library offer experiences that define the magic of Big Sur.

Hiking Heaven

Hiking trails in Big Sur offer unparalleled coastal views and a chance to be one with nature. From the challenging ascents of the 16-mile round trip Ventana Double Cone Trail to the meandering paths of Andrew Molera State Park, every step is a revelation.

Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Journey onwards to the rich history of Monterey and the artistic flair of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the 17-Mile Drive provide experiences that are equal parts educational and breathtaking.

An Oceanic Pitstop

Discover the marine life that calls the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. From playful sea otters to mesmerizing jellyfish, the aquarium is an immersive experience for the whole family.

The Enclave of Carmel

Lose yourself in the cobblestone streets lined with art galleries and fairytale cottages. Carmel Mission, Doris Day’s Cypress Inn, and Clint Eastwood’s restaurant, The Hog’s Breath Inn, evoke the old-world charm of this artistic enclave.

Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Country

The road to Santa Barbara offers a delightful detour through California’s thriving wine country. Experience the Santa Lucia Highlands, famed for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with tastings at renowned vineyards like Hahn Estate and Morgan Winery.

The Wine Road to Santa Barbara

Meander through acres of vineyards and rolling hills, savoring exceptional wines and the stunning backdrop of the Santa Lucia River Valley.

A Gourmet Experience

Couple your wine tour with culinary excellence at winery restaurants like Lucia at Bernardus Lodge and Vineyard & Sea at Holman Ranch. The farm-to-table ethos is palpable in every delectable bite.

Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo

Enjoy a mix of outdoor activities and laid-back coastal culture in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Kayak alongside Morro Rock, a volcanic plug that defines the skyline, and relax in the healing waters of the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort.

Morro Bay’s Mystique

Learn about Morro Bay’s unique ecosystem and diverse bird life at the Museum of Natural History, or simply stand in awe of nature’s grandeur at Morro Rock State Natural Preserve.

San Luis Obispo’s Quirky Charm

San Luis Obispo, or SLO, charms with its mission-style architecture and the famously eccentric Bubblegum Alley. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike Bishop Peak for panoramic views of the city and surrounding peaks.

Santa Barbara’s Spanish Flare

At last, your road trip culminates in the beautiful ‘American Riviera’. Santa Barbara’s unique blend of Spanish colonial architecture, pristine beaches, and upscale shopping and dining make it a perfect end to your coastal odyssey.

The Iconic Santa Barbara Mission

Explore the history and artistry of the Santa Barbara Mission, known as the ‘Queen of the Missions’. The lavishly-appointed gardens and historical exhibits offer a serene escape from the bustle of city life.

Beachside Bliss and More

Indulge in the relaxed vibe of the waterfront, whether it’s lounging on the beach or strolling the palm-lined paths of the Santa Barbara Harbor. Shop the trendy boutiques of State Street and dine on delicious cuisine infused with the flavors of California’s fertile coastline.

Craft Your Perfect Adventure

No two trips from Big Sur to Santa Barbara are the same, and that’s the beauty of this journey. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a wine connoisseur, or a beachcomber, the California coast has something to capture your heart. From towering redwoods to the rich blues of the Pacific, from high-end wine tasting to local craft breweries, the experiences along the route are as diverse as the landscape.

Safety and Sustainability on the Road

As you explore, remember to respect the land and its inhabitants. Pack out what you pack in, stay on marked trails, and be mindful of fire safety. Consider the environmental impact of your travels, and opt for sustainable choices in accommodation, dining, and activities.

Planning Your Trek

When planning your Big Sur to Santa Barbara road trip, keep in mind key factors like the time of year, the length of your stay, and must-see attractions you won’t want to miss. Take the time to research the road conditions, especially if you’re traveling in the rainy season, and be prepared for some of the most awe-inspiring, yet challenging, driving in the world.

Gear Up for Adventure

With an abundance of outdoor activities along the way, make sure you have the right gear. From good hiking boots to a reliable camera to capture the stunning scenery, the right equipment will enhance your experience and help you create lasting memories.

Document Your Journey

This is a trip of a lifetime, so document your adventures with a travel journal, a vlog, or a series of snapshots. Share your experiences with fellow travelers and inspire others to take on the open road.

The Memories You’ll Make

The beauty of the Big Sur to Santa Barbara road trip isn’t just in the destinations but in the journey itself. Take the time to pause at each viewpoint, chat with the locals, and absorb the myriad of experiences that this wondrous stretch of California has to offer. The memories you make will be as timeless as the landscapes that grace this legendary coastal route.

Five Fascinating Facts About the Big Sur to Santa Barbara Journey

  1. Big Sur’s Name Origin: Big Sur’s name is believed to be a derivative of the original Spanish name, “el sur grande,” meaning “the big south,” or “el país grande del sur,” “the big country of the south,” referring to its location south of Monterey.
  2. The Bixby Bridge Icon: One of the most photographed bridges in California, the Bixby Bridge, built in 1932, is not just a marvel of engineering but offers one of the most dramatic vistas along the Pacific Coast Highway.
  3. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Commitment to Conservation: The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t just a window to undersea life; it’s a leader in ocean conservation efforts, pioneering sustainable seafood advisory lists and engaging in marine wildlife preservation.
  4. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s Unusual Laws: Carmel-by-the-Sea is known for its quaint city ordinances, such as prohibiting the use of high heels without a permit, a rule originally created to prevent lawsuits from injuries caused by the uneven, tree-rooted sidewalks.
  5. Santa Barbara’s Architectural Transformation: Following a devastating earthquake in 1925, Santa Barbara underwent a transformation. It adopted a consistent Spanish Colonial style for rebuilding the city, which gives it the distinctive and harmonious look it’s celebrated for today.