9 Amazing Photography Spots along the Big Sur Coastline
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Google "California road trip" and images of Highway 1 and Big Sur will be some of the first you'll see.
The Big Sur coastline is a rugged stretch of coast in Central California that features some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Seaside cliffs, scenic vistas, beaches, and waterfalls are just some of the natural splendors you'll get to enjoy while road-tripping through this iconic section of Highway 1.
Generally speaking the "Big Sur coastal drive" refers to the 90 miles of coast between San Luis Obispo and Monterey. This post will cover locations between McWay Falls and Monterey. In my opinion, this is the prettiest section of the drive with the most photo opportunities; both iconic and off the beaten path.
The locations are ordered chronologically beginning north in Monterey and heading south towards Big Sur, but the drive is equally stunning no matter which direction you choose to do it from. Here are 9 amazing photo locations along the Big Sur drive.
1. Lover's Point at Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove in Monterey is lovely any time of year. However, in late spring, brilliant magenta flowers bloom all along the shoreline in Pacific Grove, specifically around Lover's Point and Perkins Park. The wildflowers have been dubbed the "purple carpet" and the best time to see the carpet in full bloom is mid to late May.
Read here for more information about the purple blooms at Pacific Grove in Monterey, California.
Where: Lover's Point Pacific Grove
2. China Cove at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
China Cove is a small but beautiful emerald green cove in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Monterey, California. To get to China Cove take the Bird Island Trail which loops around China Cove, Gibson Beach, and Pelican Point in Point Lobos. In April and May, you can often spots seals and their pups hanging out on the beach.
Tip: Point Lobos Reserve charges a $10 parking fee.
Where: China Cove Point Lobos
3. Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park is a rugged section of shoreline at the northern end of Big Sur. This area features numerous trails, rocky beaches, and large pounding surf that is beautiful to look at but way too dangerous to swim in. Spring is a particularly scenic time when much of this area is covered in wildflowers.
Tip: Calla Lily Valley, a popular stop along the Big Sur drive is located in Garrapata State Park.
Where: Garrapata State Park
4. Notleys Landing Viewpoint
Head south from Garrapata State Park towards Bixby Creek Bridge and you'll arrive at Notleys Landing viewpoint. Like many of the locations in Big Sur, there is no official sign for this location. Notleys Landing is a turnout off of Highway 1 from which you can see rugged oceanside cliffs with sea arches and Bixby Bridge in the distance.
The actual land is private (you can't miss the barbed wire and multiple trespassing signs) so, unfortunately, the sea arches can only be viewed from the highway. Sure, you can take your chances hopping the part of the fence that isn't barbed wire but beware; cops patrol this area.
Tip: The best way to photograph the sea arches is with a long lens or a drone. I used my Nikon 70-300mm and Mavic Air.
Where: Notleys Landing Viewpoint
5. Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge is hands down one of the most iconic locations along the Big Sur drive. In fact, when most people think of Big Sur, it's this bridge that comes to mind. It's definitely a favorite attraction amongst photographers and tourists and should be at the top of anyone's list of stops while driving through Big Sur.
There are several amazing viewpoints of this bridge so be sure to take advantage of all them. One of my favorite vantage points is from behind the bridge on the other side of the road (see middle image). If you're lucky you'll catch some low rolling fog which adds a dramatic element to this already stunning location.
Where: Bixby Creek Bridge
6. Hurricane Point
Head south a little ways past Bixby Bridge and you will arrive at Hurricane Point. Hurricane Point is a vista right off of Highway 1 with dramatic views of rolling hillside, seaside cliffs, and Bixby Bridge in the distance. There are no signs that say "Hurricane Point" but it's easy to spot; just look for the turn-out at the top of the hill on the ocean side. Cars are usually pulling in and out so it's hard to miss.
Where: Hurricane Point