How to Plan a Road Trip for Big Sur, Hearst Castle and Monterey | California 2024

This is one of the more epic weekend road trips we have EVER taken!
In this itinerary you will spend a night in Monterey, enjoy the coastal route toward Big Sur, camp one night in Hearst San Simeon State Park, do a tour of the Hearst Castle, and savor an evening of wining and dining in Santa Barbara AT YOUR LEISURE! Yes, as much ground as you will cover on this trip, you will find it to be QUITE leisurely, I assure you!

Friday: Day 1 – LA –> Monterey 

6:20pm: Begin driving towards Monterey from DTLA 
7:00pm: Quick dinner at Salazar 
  • Let’s face it, leaving LA any afternoon calls for BAD traffic, but leaving LA on a Friday at rush hour is even worse–and just downright stupid. Fortunately, we found the cure for that on a whim. Turned out that the best way to let the bumper to bumper simmer was stopping in Frogtown (a neighborhood between Silver Lake Silver Lake and Glendale) for a quick bite of tacos and some tequila 😉
  • The vibe at Salazar was awesome:
      • Large outdoor patio
      • Beautiful desert vegetation, such as agaves, reminding of an eatery in Mexican tequila country
      • Family and dog friendly-layout
      • Good energy

8:00pm: Continue the journey towards Monterey taking I-5, CA-33, and the famous US-101
  • No kidding – the traffic cleared up SIGNIFICANTLY after dinner and we zoomed off into the night.
1:00am: Arrive at Marriott Monterey
  • This may not be the most ideal time to arrive in Monterey, but not everyone has the luxury of leaving LA before 5!
  • The rooms at Marriott Monterey were large and comfortable. The location is PRIMO. Right next to the water, restaurants, fisherman’s wharf, bike shops, etc.
Inside the Marriott Monterey rooms
Inside the Marriott Monterey rooms

Saturday: Day 2 – Monterey, Big Sur, and Camping in Hearst San Simeon Park

9:30am: Biking in Monterey
  • Spend this time biking along the coast, enjoying the fisherman’s wharf, and taking in the teal blue waters of Monterey. You won’t find water this blue in many places in the US!
  • If you don’t have your own bike to bring, there are a few bike shops within walking distance of the Marriott property that will let you rent a bike.
Fisherman’s wharf in Monterey, California
Fisherman’s wharf in Monterey, California
Fisherman’s wharf in Monterey, California
Fisherman’s wharf in Monterey, California
11:30am: Bike over to brunch at Wave Street Cafe
  • This place is quite the gem! Romantic for couples and cozy for families. Situated right by some of the bluest water.
  • We showed up with no reservation and they seated us on their outdoor patio within 20 minutes.
The idyllic Wave Street Cafe for Brunch
The idyllic Wave Street Cafe for Brunch

1:00pm: Bike to the Salvador Dali Museum
  • If you’re a fan of Dali then this is the perfect place for you
  • This museum has over 300 of Dali’s original art pieces. Turns out that Dali was local to Monterey!
  • Perfect thing about the museum is that it’s located within 3 minutes of the Marriott Monterey property.
2:15pm: Around this time, start heading towards Highway 1 so you can enjoy the beauty of Big Sur
  • Make sure to take SEVERAL stops along the way and enjoy one of California’s most legendary scenic routes to its fullest potential. This two-lane highway is absolutely gorgeous and you can’t help but feel complete gratitude as you see the ocean unfold along the its curves and bends.
  • It can be chilly and quite windy as you pull over to enjoy the lookouts. Make sure to pack a jacket and hair-tie for the ladies!
  • If you’re planning on camping, there are a few rest type areas that sell firewood, this is an opportunity to purchase some.
  • You will need to book this campsite in advance. We booked three weeks in advance and there were only two campsites available. Most folks tend to book campsites in California MONTHS in advance.
  • The Hearst San Simeon campsite was perfect:
    • Bathrooms and showers are in walking distance
    • There’s a fire pit and table/bench at each site.
    • The BEST PART is hearing the waves of the ocean crash all night long.
      • Seriously, the best sleep I’ve had all year
    • Depending on where you are situated in the campsite, you may even be able to see the Ocean
      • Pro Tip – if you can ask for campsite ten at check in, you’ll be guaranteed an ocean view 😉
Upon entering the campsite, the rangers at Hearst Simeon will provide you a map of the grounds, directions to your designated campsite, and where you can go to watch the sunset on the grounds
6:30p.m. – 7:00pm: Enjoy sunset from campsite view – overlooking the ocean
7:00pm – 7:30pm: Set up campsite before dark
  • Once it starts getting dark, the temperature drops REAL quick. We made this trip in early September and it was QUITE chilly. I would recommend packing several layers, and blankets for the night time.
7:30pm – 8:30pm: Pick up groceries/snacks
  • No need to plan ahead and pack groceries on this trip! There is a grocery store within ten minutes driving distance from the campsite called Cookie Crock Market, loaded with a deli as well.
  • Here is a list of pro-camping groceries we picked up: salami, herbed goat cheese, prosciutto, twist off red wine, salsa, chips, rotisserie chicken, bananas, peanut butter, apples, mixed beans and pasta from the deli, chocolate bar, graham crackers, and marshmallows, plastic silver wear, napkins, cups, and plates. AKA – pigging TF out, probably my second favorite part about camping (after sleeping like a baby with the ocean in the back).
  • If you prefer to eat out, there are a few restaurants outside of the camping area as well you can stop by at.
9:00pm: Let the camping begin!
  • The night sky here is mesmerizing, take it ALL in! There isn’t much like seeing the density of the stars above as you hear the waves of the ocean crash. This campsite is truly special.
Sunday: Day 3 – Hearst Castle and Santa Barbara
11:30am: Hit the road towards Hearst Castle!
  • Check out is at noon. Most people wake up in the morning and bounce. We were some of the last people to leave
12:00pm: arrive at Hearst Castle
  • Ok, so before this trip, we had never heard of Hearst Castle. Then as we’re driving along the route, we kept seeing signs for this castle the closer we got to our campsite. After visiting, we can assure you that this is a castle you don’t want to miss. We have never seen architecture like this in the continental US. This whole trip made us feel like we were camping in Spain. Point being, if you think it’s boring looking at an old castle, this isn’t just any old castle. It’s a Museum rife with California history that contains many architectural artifacts from ancient civilizations around the world. The recommendation is to take advantage of the amount of time you’ve driven thus far to enjoy the castle. Check out these photos to help inspire your visit 😉 And there’s more here.
12:20pm -2:30pm: Tour of Grand Room at Hearst castle
  • Hearst Castle Tours requires you to take a tour to see the castle itself
  • The tours last 60 minutes and you have options to see different parts of the castle – the Grand Room seems to be the most popular one
  • Tickets can be purchased online or at the Castle itself.
  • Ticket prices are $25 per person and include roundtrip transportation from the parking lot, located along the to and from the castle
Inside the Grand Room Tour @ Hearst Castle – the dining room
Inside the Grand Room Tour @ Hearst Castle – the movie theater
2:30pm: Hit the Road towards DTLA
3:30pm: Quick taco stop at Los Osos Mexican Market in Los Osos
  • These are LEGIT Mexican tacos – no frills alert!
5:45pm: arrive in Santa Barbara
  • Santa Barbara is a charming town and I would recommend taking this time to explore the town by bike
6:45pm: Dinner at Loquita
8:00pm: Leave for DTLA
10:00pm: HOME:
Leave your comments below if you have any questions/suggestions!

Leave a Reply

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