Take a long weekend to experience the classics of Central California: the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur. After a beautiful bike ride along the coast of Monterey and Pacific Grove, you'll explore the artist's colony of Carmel-by-the-Sea, get your fill of photo opportunities along the Big Sur coast, and wrap up with a relaxing outdoor spa day before heading home.


  • Bike the picturesque coastline of Pacific Grove
  • Experience California history in Downtown Monterey
  • Hike to hidden coves in Big Sur
  • Soak in the first outdoor relaxation spa in the US
  • Eat fresh seafood with beach views

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 San Jose to Monterey, Coastal Bike Ride Monterey
Day 2 Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur Monterey
Day 3 Spa Day in Carmel, Return to San Jose via Moss Landing  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: San Jose to Monterey, Coastal Bike Ride

Point Pinos Lighthouse
Point Pinos Lighthouse

Just over an hour from the South Bay, the cypress trees and cool ocean breezes of the Monterey Peninsula feel a world away.

From San Jose, get an early start and head straight to Municipal Wharf II (not to be confused for the nearby, more touristy Fisherman's Wharf) in Monterey for a bite to eat at Loulou's Griddle in the Middle (72 miles, approximately 1 hour 10 minutes). After filling up with a hearty late breakfast, take a quick stroll along the wharf to see if you can spot any sea life, then head to nearby Adventures By The Sea to pick up rental bikes or e-bikes.

It's time for a relaxing ride along this scenic stretch of coast (click here for a map of the biking route). The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail passes through the historic Cannery Row area and then tracks along the coast with great views of numerous hidden coves along the way (keep an eye out for sea otters floating in the kelp). After approximately 2.5 miles, the trail ends at the scenic Lover's Point Beach in Pacific Grove. After a quick break here, we recommend making a pit stop at Pavel's Backerei in Pacific Grove's cute downtown to pick up supplies for a picnic later.

From Pavel's, return to Lover's Point and follow Ocean View Boulevard. As you approach Point Pinos and its picturesque lighthouse atop the hill, the sheltered coves of Monterey Bay give way to rocky coastline and crashing surf. Although you can turn around and head back at any point, we recommend that you continue to follow Sunset Drive along the coast to Asilomar State Beach. After admiring the views of the white sands and surf (and tucking into your picnic from Pavel's), head back the way you came to Adventures by the Sea to drop off your bikes (11 miles round trip, approximately 1 hour excluding stops).

After your bike ride, check into your hotel and take some time to explore Downtown Monterey. This area is much less touristy than Cannery Row, but is packed with California history and great local shops and restaurants.

Under both Spanish and Mexican rule in the 18th and 19th centuries, Monterey was the capital of what was then known as Alta California. A self-guided walking tour along the Path of History allows you to explore a number of key sites that comprise Monterey State Historic Park, including the Custom House, which was California's main port of entry in the early 19th century, and Colton Hall, where California's first constitution was drafted in 1849 after independence from Mexico.

For dinner, we recommend grabbing an outside table at Heirloom Pizza Co.

Day 2: Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur

Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast
Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast

In the morning, after breakfast at your hotel, make your way to the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea (4 miles, approximately 10 minutes), which became an artist's colony after the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake destroyed that city. Take a stroll along Ocean Ave. and admire the charming shops and galleries. Make sure to grab a cup of coffee at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company to warm up, and then head down the hill to Carmel Beach, one of the most picturesque along this stretch of coast.

We recommend picking up sandwiches to go at Bruno's Market and Deli before making your way south down Highway 1 in the direction of Big Sur. From Carmel, the highway will gradually begin to rise high above the Pacific along the edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The journey is the destination here: enjoy the incredible views throughout one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world.

Your next stop is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to briefly leave the car behind and explore some of the best the Big Sur coast has to offer (37 miles, approximately 1 hour). We recommend the short Partington Cove Trail, (approximately 1 mile) which leads to a beautiful cove accessed through a 60-foot tunnel that was used to transport lumber to awaiting ships in the 19th century. There are also optional trail spurs that take you to another nearby cove as well as along the forest-lined creek in the adjacent canyon. Please note that the trail does have some elevation change. If you're up for more hiking after returning to Highway 1, located directly across the road from the Partington Cove Trail, the Tanbark Trail will take you further uphill to explore more of Big Sur's lush forests.

Just down the road is McWay Falls, one of the most iconic Big Sur images. This narrow waterfall descends 80 feet from the rocky bluff above to a sandy beach nestled in a picturesque cove. The falls can be seen from the highway itself, but we recommend taking the short trail which can be accessed just inside the entrance to the state park for the most up-close views.

From here, it is just over an hour's drive back to the Monterey peninsula (42 miles). For dinner, we recommend that you make your way to Passionfish in downtown Pacific Grove for some of the best seafood in the area.

Day 3: Spa Day in Carmel, Return to San Jose via Moss Landing

Sea otter in Moss Landing
Sea otter in Moss Landing

After your final breakfast at your hotel, check out and head back to Carmel for a relaxing morning at Refuge, a peaceful outdoor relaxation spa in a beautiful setting ($52 per person entry, or $62 including robe rental and bottled water). Their facilities include a sauna, steam rooms, several pools ranging from cold to hot, and other areas to relax, all with great views of the surrounding landscape. Massages are also available if reserved ahead of time. We recommend that you arrive when they open (9 am on weekends, 10 am on weekdays) to make the most of the day and to have the facilities mostly to yourself. 

After a leisurely few hours at the spa, it's time to head back to San Jose. We recommend that you take the Highway 1 to Highway 17 route in order to stop for lunch at Phil's Fish Market and Eatery in Moss Landing, (25 miles, approximately 30 minutes). Grab a table outside with views over the beach and dig into fresh, local fish & chips, cioppino, and clam chowder. If you're not in a rush, take a stroll south along Salinas River State Beach or see if you can spot sea otters in neighboring Elkhorn Slough before heading back to San Jose (55 miles, approximately 1 hour).

Looking for more long-weekend getaways? Check out our top long weekend trips in Northern California.