Weekend Getaway: Big Sur and Carmel, California

Getting ready for a Californian road trip? You need to add Big Sur to your California itinerary. After spending a weekend getaway exploring the coast of California, I’ve put together an itinerary that includes a stop at Carmel and Monterey!

As many of you may know we work full-time, and our goal as travelers is to maximize our time out of the office. Since we’re based in Utah, that often means short weekend getaways with flights that are 2 hours or less. We are fortunate to be two states away from California; it’s a frequent getaway for us.

Skylar is originally from Los Angeles, and we both lived in the Bay Area early on in our relationship. Even though we left San Francisco seven years ago, it still has sentimental value, and we go back to explore because we appreciate it more now than we did when we lived there.

For this weekend’s getaway, we escaped to the San Jose, on the south side of the Bay Area, to explore Big Sur and Carmel, California.

Fast Facts About Traveling to Big Sur + Carmel from Salt Lake City:

  • Flight time between SLC and SJC: 1.5 hours
  • Both airports are smaller and easy to get in and out of (saves time!)
  • Rental cars are on-site at SJC. You can be in your rental within 30 minutes of landing.
  • SJC is located very close to downtown San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, and other nearby towns.
  • Carmel is 77 miles from SJC. It can vary from 1 hour and 15 minutes without traffic up to 2 hours with moderate traffic.
  • Big Sur is 26 miles south of Carmel, but since it’s the Pacific Coast Highway, which is a two-lane winding road, it takes an hour to reach from Carmel.
  • Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel are all three neat, unique towns within 15 minutes of each other. Carmel is our favorite to stay in, but we appreciate all three!

Our Itinerary:

We’ve frequented the area before, and we knew we didn’t have too much extra time on this trip, so we kept it to two nights/48 hours. If you visit often, I think you can make a lot of a short weekend getaway. However, if it is your first time to Carmel/Big Sur, I would highly suggest 3 to 4 nights.

Friday

  • Friday afternoon: Depart SLC at 3 pm; Arrive in San Jose around 4 pm.
  • Pick up the rental car. We rented a BMW 640i from Sixt – it was $220 for the weekend and we only rent cars like this when we get a great deal!
  • Put the top down and hit the road towards Carmel.
  • Arrive in Carmel 2 hours later.
  • Friday evening: dinner at one of the many quaint restaurants around Ocean Ave. We ate at Yafa, a Mediterranean restaurant. We often use OpenTable and Yelp to find our dining spots.

Saturday

  • Get up early! I can’t stress this enough. The sun is up by 7:45 am in January, and you’ll want to make the most of your day. Our typical morning routines consist of grabbing a coffee and light bite from Starbucks. Original, I know, but it’s our usual.
  • We stayed at the Carmel Mission Inn which was right across the street from Starbucks and Safeway, so we also grabbed some fruit and snacks from Safeway for the road.
  • We were on the road by 9 am, with the top down once again, and our gear all ready to film the day trip! The drive from Carmel to the town of Big Sur is about 25 miles, however, if McWay Falls is your end destination, which it should be, that is 39 miles. So plan for a leisure drive because there are MANY photo ops along the way, and trust me when I say you’ll want to stop at a lot of them.
  • Enjoy the drive, and enjoy the stops. If you leave a bit later and want to have lunch before making it all the way to McWay falls, there are a few stops along the way in Big Sur: Big Sur Roadhouse, Big Sur Taphouse, and both Ventana Big Sur and Post Ranch Inn also have restaurants. There’s also a general store if you need to pick up any snacks or sunscreen.
  • Once we got to McWay falls, we spent maybe 30 min-1 hour there. It was mainly to capture photos and just soak in the views. If you can plan to be here closer to sunset, you’ll have better pictures as we were there mid-day and it can be a bit bright for photography.
  • We wanted to have the afternoon in Carmel and Monterey so as soon as we wrapped up at McWay Falls, we hit the road and headed straight back. We spent the afternoon/early evening exploring Ocean Ave in Carmel, Pacific Grove, and The Monterey Wharf.
  • Evening: Once the sun set we made our way back to San Jose for dinner.

Sunday

  • We woke up bright and early and drove 10 minutes from our hotel in San Jose to our favorite Bay Area town, Los Gatos.
  • We spent a leisure morning there. Grabbed a coffee from Philz and a chicken burrito – PS, I am obsessed with their burritos!
  • The homes around Los Gatos and Saratoga are our favorite (Skylar used to live nearby), so we just spent time roaming around and soaking it all in.
  • We intentionally booked an early afternoon flight because we wanted to get back to our dogs. Usually we’d take the last plane out which is around 6 pm, but instead, we flew out at 1 pm. I’d recommend taking the last flight you can so you have more time on your trip. SJC is an easy airport to drop your car off at and head inside so we ended up not needing more than 15 minutes to get back to the airport, another 15 to drop off the car, and we zipped through security in 5, so we were at our gate earlier than we needed to be.

Below are photos from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, Ocean Avenue in Carmel, the Pacific Coast Highway, McWay Falls in Big Sur, and Pacific Grove.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, California - A perfect stop on our way to our Californian coast road trip to Big Sur and Carmel! Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, California

While planning your Monterey itinerary in California, make sure to plan a stop to Carousel Fine Candies!

Getting ready for our California Road trip! Looking for ideas on where to go? Big Sur and Carmel don’t disappoint!

Looking for California road trip ideas? A stop at Big Sur and Carmel need to be in your California road trip itinerary! On this post, I share the best things to do in Big Sur, including tons of pictures that will get you packing for your dream Californian coast trip!

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