The California Central Coast is one of my favorite areas to visit and I go a few times a year. Here's what I recommend in order of the way you'll see it if you take Pacific Coast Highway (South to North):
Hearst Castle - This is in San Simeon about 20 miles south of Big Sur. It's worth the stop to see the beautiful grounds and Grecco-Roman pool. It was home to America's first billionaire, William Randolph Hearst, who built his castle on the crest of a mountain that overlooks rolling hills and beach below.
Elephant Seal Vista - A seal is large, but an elephant is much bigger. An elephant seal is ENORMOUS. There's a natural breeding area on the beaches in this area and you can see some of the ocean's fattest animals.
Sand Dollar State Beach - Most of the coastline is rocky, but this is Big Sur's biggest sandy beach. There's an enormous cove and the surf is big during the winter months.
Limekiln State Park - This is a smaller state park, but it's a hidden gem. You wouldn't notice the park if you weren't looking for it. The entrance is next to a stone bridge at the start of Big Sur. There's a beautiful waterfall trail that's only 2.5 miles and will take you through giant groves of Pacific Redwoods and Limekiln Creek.
Esalen Hot Springs
- It's a private hot springs that opens to the public from 12AM-3AM. GO HERE. One of the best experiences of my life. It's clothing optional and the best $20 you will ever spend. http://www.esalen.org/
Nepenthe - Great restaurant if you like good food and wine/drinks. The view can't be beat. 180 degree views of the ocean.
McWay Falls - Only major waterfall in California to land on a beach. I go here every time I visit. It's one of my favorite places in the whole state.
Post Ranch Inn - The premier hotel of not just Big Sur, but arguably the entire country. Voted Conde Nest Traveler Hotel of the Year twice. Quite expensive, but well worth the stay if you can swing it. There's a 5 star restaurant here as well with an incredible view.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - If you are gonna camp, this is where I recommend you do it. I stayed here my last two trips. It's a large campground, but there's also cabins if you don't want a tent. The Main Lodge has a great restaurant and a bar that you can walk to near the entrance to the park. Centrally located to hikes and waterfalls in the area. You walk through groves of White Oak and California Coastal Redwoods all along Big Sur River.
Andrew Molera State Park - there's horseback riding on the beach and a campground/picnic area. Amazing hiking and a 12 mile loop that will take you over ridges with panoramic views of the Pacific. This is also where the Big Sur River empties into the sea.
Our Big Sur Beanies at home in their element. Click the photo to buy one.
Trio - It's a wine bar, oil & vinegar bar, and art gallery. I bought a six pack of exotic oil & vinegar for cooking and a bottle of wine here my last trip.
The Cheese Shop - Do you like gourmet cheese? HOLY. SHIT. Welcome to heaven. There's not much to say. If you like cheese, go here.
Figge Wine Bar - A small wine bar, but its a hidden gem. It's in an art gallery with a ton of art and photography of classic rock artist like The Beatles, Joan Jett, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. This was my favorite place in Carmel.
Vesuvio - An amazing little Italian restaurant in downtown Carmel. Order the Gnocci, it's the best pasta I tried there. Great selection of wine.
Monterey Bay Aquarium - Because its one of the best aquariums in the world with an amazing view. I know you probably think I'm a kid for saying this, but I FUCKING LOVE THE AQUARIUM. Side note, I once drove from LA to Monterey and back in a day, just to see the Great White Shark they had on display two years ago.
Fisherman's Wharf - Restaurants, shops, and bars. They are all at Fisherman's Wharf. It's a historical area with a rich history of the life and culture of early California.
Old Fisherman's Grotto - A really great restaurant in downtown Monterey. Did I mention it's known for seafood? You should probably order lobster or Halibut. Yum.
Andrew Molera State Park (First come, first served campsites)
Limekiln State Park
Plaskett Creek Campground