When riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles down the California coast, the one question that a bike tourist must answer is "Where to spend the night along the Big Sur Coast?" In the 6 times that I've ridden this route, I packed a tent, sleeping bag, and all the bits needed to camp for a night or two.

These days, I no longer have the desire to sleep on the ground in a tent. Instead, I use hospitality sites (warmshowers, couchsurfing) or rent a room for the night. As such, I have been wondering if it was possible to ride this route without camping and, if so, how much would it cost?

In April, 2023, my wife booked a week-long workshop at Esalen, a beautiful retreat center on the Big Sur coast. Since she was driving, I could ride down to Esalen, arriving the day her workshop was over and get a ride back home. Given the distances I ride per day, it would take me 4 days and a couple hours to do this trip.

A Place for the Night

A good friend of mine lives in La Selva Beach, a town south of Santa Cruz, where I could spend the night. Other than that, I had to find three places to stay: somewhere between San Francisco and La Selva Beach, Monterey, and Big Sur.

The first question is where would I start my ride? While I could start at my home in San Francisco, that would force me to ride up the steep, narrow, scary bit of Highway 1 just south of Pacifica that I've avoided like the plague for all these years. That bit of danger is 25 miles south of San Francisco. My wife was willing to drop me off there to start my trip. (Note: in order to do a "complete" ride, I rode from my home to the foot of this climb on a training ride)

Given my starting place, where would I stop for the first night? Initially, I found a warmshowers host in Davenport. At 58 miles, it would be a long first day, but I could also get dropped off further south. Unfortunately, after accepting, my hosts had an urgent appointment that day and they had to cancel.

Now, I had to find a room for the first night. One option was Half Moon Bay which has lots of hotels. But it is only 17 miles from Pacifica and too far from La Selva Beach. The next place was the hostel at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. While it is now open for visitors, it was still closed from the pandemic when I did this ride.

This left Costanoa, a combination of lodge, tent bungalows and campground just off Highway 1, 4 miles past the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. A room in the lodge was out of my price range, but a tent bungalow was more reasonable at $128/night. The bungalow was on a raised wooden platform and had canvas sides supported by a sturdy wood frame.

It had enough space for a queen-sized bed, small table and a chair, electricity, lights, and plenty of room for me to bring my bike inside. While Costanoa offers Wi-Fi, it is only at the lodge, which was a 5 minute walk from my bungalow.

Costanoa allows cancellation with a week's notice. But, I was told that at this time of year (April) they had plenty of open bungalows and an early reservation wasn't necessary. I made a reservation the day before I left, just to save time when I arrived.

There are no commercial services near Costanoa, but the lodge does have a restaurant. I ate both dinner and breakfast there and had enough food both times. While not cheap, its prices weren't outrageous, either. But, here's a tip: I ordered an appetizer of roasted brussel sprouts figuring I'd get 10 or so. Instead, about 50 arrived on my plate! I was stunned. I ate an many as I could and then a few more. When the waitress took the plate away, it still had a couple dozen on it. The pasta dish I got wasn't particularly large, though.

Hotel in a Tourist Town

After spending a night with friend's in La Selva, my third night would be in the Monterey area, a major tourist location. This means there are lots of places to stay in a wide price range. There are a large number of motels on Munras Avenue, just south of Highway 1. This is a good location as it is within walking distance of the Del Monte shopping center where there are restaurants, shops, and a Whole Food grocery store.

I checked the ratings of these places on booking.com and found a large spectrum of reviews. Instead of aiming for the cheapest, I opted for The Stargazer Inn, which had a Jacuzzi that I thought I might use. It wasn't all that cheap at $110 ($116.85 with tax), but it was well situated and had a relatively high rating. In addition, its cancellation policy allowed me to cancel a few days before arriving, which gave me the flexibility I needed given that rain was possible that week.

The room was comfortable, had a refrigerator, and I was able to walk to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and then up to the shopping center for biking supplies for the next day (less than a mile, total). I didn't use the Jacuzzi because it was full of kids when I arrived.

In the morning, the motel offered coffee and some pre-packaged pastries for breakfast. Instead, I rode to downtown Monterey and had a filling breakfast at a restaurant there.

Big Sur

The best place to find a room in Big Sur is near the Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. This also has the benefit of being a day's ride from Monterey.

The first time I rode from SF to LA, I rode on Highway 1 from Monterey to Carmel. This part of Highway 1 is a main traffic corridor and the 2-lane road has little to no shoulder. I found it scary and have not ridden on that road since. This time, I wanted to ride on the pretty 17-mile drive that runs from south of Monterey (Pacific Grove) around the Monterey Peninsula, skipping the worst of Highway traffic. Mostly, this road, which is free for cyclists, runs along the coast and weaves through majestic golf courses and large homes/estates. I'd recommend it.

There are several campgrounds and lodgings clustered just before Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. Several offer cabins and/or motel rooms. This page from bigsurcalifornia.org lists the various lodging options all along the coast. The ones I checked out were Ripplewood Resort, the Fernwood Resort, the Riverside Campground, Big Sur Campground and Cabins, and the pricey Big Sur Lodge in the State Park.

Each one of these establishments had different offerings, prices, and cancellation requirements. Most had a minimum number of days to rent a cabin if you were there on a week-end. I was there during the week in April, so a one-nighter was not a problem.

I booked half a cabin at Ripplewood Resort for $135. This was half of a two room cabin, though completely private. I certainly could hear the couple in the other half of the cabin, but it wasn't a problem. Note that there is a $25 cancellation charge if, at least, 3 days notice is given. Different places there have different rules, though 3 - 7 days for cancellation was common.

There is a small store at Ripplewood and a breakfast/lunch place. For dinner, I either had to bring food (I could have cooked in front of the cabin if I'd brought a stove) or walk to a nearby restaurant. I decided to walk up Highway 1 about a mile back to the restaurant at the Big Sur River Inn. I had the only vegetarian item (not pizza) on the menu and it was mediocre, at best.

There is a closer restaurant to Ripplewook called the Big Sur Roadhouse, but I didn't eat there.

Like Costanoa, there was no wi-fi or cellphone access in my cabin. I could walk down to the store/office and use the free wi-fi there, but I was tired from my ride and after sending a message to my wife, I did without.

The next morning, I ate a good, hearty breakfast at the Ripplewood Cafe and was on my way to Esalen, a hard but very pretty 15 miles down the road. My favorite vista was of McWay Falls.

The Rest of Big Sur

Since my wife was staying at Esalen, I didn't need another place to stay after Big Sur. In addition, due to heavy rains in 2023, the road was closed just past Esalen, so I couldn't get down there anyway. But, I did check out places to stay, both for this article and for future trips, should the opportunity arise.

The first time I rode this route, I went from the hiker-biker site at Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park all the way down to the town of San Simeon 70 miles away. It was a hard day and I wouldn't try that again. But, there are a few motels and restaurants (and not much else) in San Simeon, so it is one option.

There are a couple of places to spend the night along the coast, such as the pricey Lucia Lodge or the contemplative New Carmoldoli Hermitage. These are both about 25 miles south of Big Sur. While this is a beautiful stretch of road, but, in my opinion, it is a bit too short of a day.

For me, the sweet spot would be at the very south end of Big Sur, about 50 miles south of Pfeiffer-Big Sur, at Ragged Point and the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This is an expensive night at $250 (in 2023), but it has a restaurant and is in a breathtaking location.

If money is an issue and you can do another 20 miles (often with a strong tailwind), there are several places in San Simeon for less that $100 a night.

What's all this gonna cost me?

So, what was the total lodging bill for this 4-day trip?

Costanoa - $134.80
Stargazer Inn - $116.85
Ripplewood Resort - $151.45

Total Lodging Costs: $403.10

Note there are several warmshowers hosts in Santa Cruz along with couchsurfing hosts. The same goes from Monterey. But, should a motel be more your style, there are many places in Santa Cruz in the $100 range or less.


Is it possible to ride the Big Sur coast without camping? The obvious answer is yes. It is expensive? While this depends on your definition of "expensive," I'd say at an average price of about $135 a night, it isn't too bad as credit card touring goes.

The tab will go up considerably if the 5th night on the Big Sur coast is spent at the Ragged Point Inn ($250/night). Adding this in, the total becomes closer to $650 and brings the average up to $175. Adding $100 for Santa Cruz puts you all in for lodging at $750 for 5 nights or $150/night average. This isn't cheap, but it also isn't too outrageous given the world-class scenery and bicycling such a trip offers.

If you'd like more information about this ride, I created a touring plan for it. I've also written a complete guide to biking from SF to LA that contains a great deal more detail about this ride, including places to camp for those so inclined.
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Copyright © 2007 by Ray Swartz