Big Sur + California Highway 1 = Motorcycle Nirvana

Big Sur PCH 1

PCH 1, CA Big Sur Region

It’s a pretty simple equation: No matter where you live, if you are a motorcycle rider in pursuit of the best roads, you have either already ridden Highway 1 through the Big Sur region in Central Coastal California, or it is part of your future.

Officially designated as an All American Road, and featuring views of jagged canyons, rocky cliffs, granite shorelines, windswept cypress trees, majestic redwood forests and unspoiled Pacific coastline, it is no wonder that this is arguably one of the most spectacular motorcycle rides in North America.

Regardless of whether you ride across the continent to get here, or hop on an airplane from anywhere else to rent a bike for the occasion, this is a ride of a lifetime. For the most fortunate, it’s a roadway that will be traversed again and again and again, enjoying many rides of a lifetime.

This roadway and attendant vistas are so uniquely spectacular, so enchantingly scenic, and so readily inspiring, you will…well, words cannot do it justice. You either understand because you’ve been there, or will understand when you arrive.

The northern end of Big Sur is about 120 miles south of San Francisco, and the southern end is approximately 245 miles north of Los Angeles. Keep in mind that along with much of the central and northern California coast, Big Sur often has dense fog in summer. This marine layer usually burns away during the day and returns at night, but sometimes heavy fog blankets the coast all day. So, in addition to the dramatic interplay between sea, surf, and mountains, the sky adds its own mix of theatrical interchange.

California Highway 1 through Big Sur is ideally suited for motorcyclists: This two-lane, asphalt serpentine is a continuous roller-coastering snake, about 70miles in length, coiling up and down, in and out, and all around, while slithering along the very edge the Santa Lucia Mountains so as not to slip into the sea. Over the decades, I’ve ridden both directions; and if on your visit you are only going to be heading one way, I suggest a southern excursion.


Well, the whole route is a stream of scenic views, and there are plenty of pullouts to take a breather over the crashing surf. Either direction is fantastic. However, the pullouts are primarily on the western shoulder of Highway 1. So, if you are heading south, it’s quite easy to pull off to the right whenever you are inspired. Conversely, when you are heading north, you have to cross the south-bound lane to take advantage of the same pullouts. Since many of the turnouts are situated on blind turns, you may be blithely compelled by the siren call of the ocean paradise to scoot across the south-bound lane at the last second, when such a vantage may surprisingly present itself — but may also be unable to see approaching traffic around the rest of the same blind turn. Furthermore, as the southbound lane is closest to the water, there is a slight scenic advantage of not looking across pavement to enjoy the Pacific grandeur.

Bottomline: southbound motorcycle riders have a slight scenic, strategic, and safety advantage over north-bound riders.

The Big Sur region is remarkably unpopulated and relatively cutoff from the rest of civilization, not only by the Santa Lucia Mountains, but also by the huge chunk of federally protected area known as Los Padres National Forest. This means you need to be aware that there are very few places to eat or get gas in the region (and the gas that is available is distinctively expensive). It really is amazing how rural this magnificent landscape remains, situated on the Pacific between two of the largest cities on the west coast.

If you are planning to spend the night on the Big Sur coastline, there are a few lodges in the midst of the region, Ragged Point Inn being one that is particularly well-located.

There are also plenty of motels and inns at both ends of the Big Sur region. On the northern end, Carmel-By-The-Sea and Monterey are splendid coastal destinations by themselves with all manner of eating and sleeping arrangements, from modest to ritzy.

At the southern end is Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which is a renown tourist destination and there are lots of eating and lodging establishments south of there.

If you are a rider inclined towards off-pavement adventure riding and motorcycle camping, click here for more details.

However you add it up, you owe it to yourself to put this trip on your map.

6 thoughts on “Big Sur + California Highway 1 = Motorcycle Nirvana

  • Greetings all
    I live and ride in the Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne, Australia. We have the Reefton Spur, and the Black Spur. Both roads wind through the tree covered mountains,
    Its a bike riders orgasim.

  • i grew up in cayucos and morro bay.the big sur hiway was our playground.i think the first time my friend pete and i hitched the coast we were 13 yrs old. hoping to ride it again this summer on one of my bikes, hopefully with one or more of my kids in tow. am now 57 so never to soon.

  • Goin to be in San fransico sept 24-27. Was wondering if there was any thing goin on. renting A bike to ride the big sir loop and see some local stuff. Nice site. Safe riding. Rich

  • This is a must-do ride for anyone on two wheels in California. With little riding experience, I was able to neatly, confidently and safely ride from Cambria all the way to Carmel via Highway 1.

    Cambria is a neat little town with great food and just up the road are cheap hotels in San Simeon (relatively cheap) and Hearst Castle makes for an interesting place to visit.

    You’ll encounter many types of weather in one ride, from light rain, fog to sun and overcast clouds to chilly cold to surprisingly warm weather. Steep cliffs and hair pin turns (as low as 20 mph) but its the cars you have to watch out for. Most cars will pull over in the marked turnouts but a few simply will not let you pass. Eventually they’ll give up though…but its a minor irritation when you ride. The experience of riding Highway 1 is an unforgettable trip and is made even better when you turn around and head back!

    Comments in the article:
    Gas, yeah its a little pricey but your on a bike getting decent gas mileage. Oh there are gas stations on both sides of Highway 1 but if you are crossing over be extremely careful crossing back.

    Scenary, if you like it, pull over and enjoy it, as the altitude changes and you’ll have very different vistas along the way

    Food, restaurants are the budget breakers, research for good restaurants. Pack gatorade, water, beef jerky with you as convenience stores are super-pricey!

    I had a comprehensive packing list for this trip, if your interested in it, I can email it to you. Excel formatted.

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