Some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery is tucked along California’s Central Coast. But each destination has its own draw.
Drive down Highway 1 and gape at rugged cliffs piercing the coast and majestic redwoods towering overhead in Big Sur.
In Monterey, discover thriving marine life in the Monterey Bay Aquarium (one of the world’s top facilities), in the bay itself (keep an eye out for sea otters, whales and more) and in succulent dishes in seafood restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf.
Head for the white sand in the tiny beach town of Carmel, which also is a haven for artists. More than 100 art studios, galleries, and antique stores call the quaint area home.
To prepare for a visit, check out our guide to Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur.
The best time to visit Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur
Perpetual sun makes Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur wonderful places to visit almost any season. But unlike Southern California, the central coast doesn’t have picture-perfect weather all year long.
Spring will deliver the best weather with sunny skies, but fall sees the warmer temperatures. The rain usually comes in late fall and early winter.
Summers are cooler and windy, and fog rolls in during the mornings. The weather can change drastically, so whichever season you decide to visit, be sure to pack layers.
One other tip: In Big Sur, high season runs from April to October. Some businesses close in the slower months, so check with them beforehand.
Should visitors rent a car in Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur?
To travel along California’s central coast, you’ll definitely want to rent a car.
The 23-mile trek from Monterey to Big Sur is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. You’ll cruise past Pebble Beach (home of the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and a number of other lovely spots.
What to pack for a trip to Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur
For Monterey and Carmel, pack beach attire if you plan on taking a plunge in the Pacific Ocean. So add shorts, T-shirts, swim gear, sunglasses and sunblock on your list. While the vibe in these places is casual, you should throw in something a bit dressier for upscale restaurants, like the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel.
If hiking is on your Big Sur itinerary, put sturdy hiking boots, a water bottle, a backpack and layers in your luggage.
And if you do plan to do the scenic drive, be sure to bring along some motion sickness medication. Even if you’re not prone to getting carsick, the curvy roads along the coast in and around Big Sur can be trying for passengers.