If for some untenable reason you only have time to stop once along the Big Sur coast, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (daily dawn-dusk) should be the place. Spreading along both sides of Hwy-1, about 14 miles south of Big Sur village, the park includes one truly beautiful sight: a slender waterfall that drops crisply down into a nearly circular turquoise-blue cove. This is the only major waterfall in California that plunges directly into the Pacific. California Condors can be seen here too.

From the parking area, east of the highway, a short trail leads under the road to a fine view of the waterfall, while another leads to the remnants of a pioneer mill, complete with a preserved Pelton wheel. Other routes climb through redwood groves up to the chaparral-covered slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

About six miles south of Nepenthe, or a mile north of the parking area at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a steep fire road drops down to Partington Cove, where ships used to moor in the protected anchorage. The last stretch of the route passes through a 60-foot-long tunnel hewn out of solid rock.

Map of Pacific Coast through California's Central Coast.
Map of Pacific Coast through California’s Central Coast.