Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and looking for Calla Lily Valley in Big Sur?! Keep on reading because this post’s got everything you need to know (and more) to visit these stunning white blooms at Garrapata State Beach.
Thousands upon thousands of tall white calla lilies. That cool California breeze. A leisurely walk down to the valley. This is Calla Lily Valley in Big Sur, California! It’s basically an annual oasis come to life!
And get this – the calla lilies are technically wildflowers! Since no one planted them and all. Mother Nature sure is sensational sometimes!
I’d been wanting to visit Calla Lily Valley in Big Sur ever since I first heard about it, probably about 5 years ago or so. And while I only live about an hour and a half north (near San Francisco), these calla lilies only bloom for roughly a month or so. I just couldn’t plan my timing right — until now! I’m excited to share that I finally made it down at the perfect moment.
So yay, I can officially add Calla Lily Valley to the list of California blooms I’ve seen recently. Here’s some other posts you may enjoy:
- Purple Lavender Fields in Dixon (May to July)
- Wild Mustard Blooms in Half Moon Bay (February to March)
- Carlsbad Flower Fields in San Diego (March to May)
- Pacific Grove Magic Carpet (April to June)
- U-Pick Sunflowers in Half Moon Bay (September)
Quick Calla Lily Valley Info
- Where: Garrapata Beach in Big Sur
- When: Mid-February to Mid-March (peak bloom)
- Hike: ½ mile round trip (minor elevation change)
- Cost: FREE!
Location and How to Get to Calla Lily Valley
Calla Lily Valley is located literally right off Highway 1 (Cabrillo Highway) in Big Sur, making it a perfect stop on any Pacific Coast Highway road trip. That is if you’re visiting in the right season of course!
It’s kinda between Carmel-by-the-Sea (the cutest little seaside village) and Big Sur (another favorite), although everyone lumps its location into Big Sur. But technicalities, right?! Who cares, it’s absolutely gorgeous!
How to Get Here: People think the valley is hidden, but it’s actually listed right on Google Maps! Simply type in “Calla Lily Valley” and your GPS will bring you right there. BUT make sure you input this when you have full service – this area of the coastline (especially as you get closer to Bixby Bridge in Big Sur) doesn’t have much cell reception if any at all.
And trust me, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, finding the entrance to Calla Lily Valley will be difficult at best. Guess that’s why it’s sometimes called hidden!
If you’ve saved this post ahead of time and have no service in Big Sur, you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for a little dirt pull-out after you’ve passed the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail. It’s kinda hard to find, so I recommend either downloading Google Maps offline (ahead of time), or simply inputting your destination back where you have service.
While Calla Lily Valley is technically located in Garrapata, don’t head to Garrapata State Park – you won’t find the lilies there! I bet a lot of people make that mistake; don’t be one of them. 🙂 Okay, fine, I guess the calla lilies really are kinda hidden!
There’s another spot in Garrapata we love, the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail, so be sure to go there afterwards and hike to Soberanes Point!
Psst – the walk from Garrapata State Park to Calla Lily Valley is about an hour along the side of the PCH – don’t do it, it’s not safe. Park closer to Calla Lily Valley. More info below.
Here’s how far it is from popular locations in California (in case you wanna add it on to your California coast road trip or trip to CA in general):
- Carmel-by-the-Sea: 15 minutes (~10 miles)
- Monterey: 20 minutes (~15 miles)
- Big Sur: 20 minutes (~15 miles)
- Santa Cruz: 1 hour (~60 miles)
- San Francisco: 2 ½ hours (~130 miles)
- Sacramento: 3 hours (~200 miles)
- Los Angeles: 5 ½ hours (~330 miles)
- Orange County: 6 hours (~375 miles)
- San Diego: 7 hours (~450 miles)
I’d bank on at least a bit of traffic no matter where you’re coming from. This is California afterall, wink wink.
Many people visit Calla Lily Valley when they’re in the Monterey/Big Sur area — that’s what we did! If you’re coming from further afield in California, you’ll probably wanna stay the night. Plus, there’s tons to do in the area and surprisingly, late winter is actually a fantastic time to visit the coast.
Where to Park
To get as close to the trailhead as possible, you’ll wanna park near Gate 18 (or Gate 19 if you can’t find anything closer). There’s a small dirt pull out on the side of the road, with enough space for roughly 5-6 cars or so. Be extra careful as the pull out has a pretty deep dip, so don’t let your car get stuck!
If you’re not getting here first thing in the morning, the lot will probably be filled up already. Thankfully, you can typically park pretty easily right on the side of the road (on Highway 1 itself).
No space? Park near Garrapata State Beach and take a right on the trail. Going left will take you straight to the beach, which you should totally do afterwards!
Best Time to Visit (aka When do the Calla Lilies Bloom?)
Blooming Season: If you wanna catch the calla lilies in all their glory, you’ll of course need to visit when they’re in bloom! Sounds kinda obvious, but I don’t want you to end up going off-season and be upset when there aren’t any pretty calla lilies in the valley!
With that being said, the calla lilies are in bloom from late January to mid-April. But visit too early and there won’t be many flowers in the valley yet, and visit too late, they’ll all be gone or heavily wilted and browning.
While the season obviously changes a bit from year to year (these flowers bloom in nature after all!), your best bet will be to go from mid-February to mid-March, as this is typically when peak bloom occurs. We visited in mid-March and while some of the calla lilies were wilted, there were plenty left standing tall. A week or two prior and I bet we would’ve seen them in perfect condition. A few weeks later and they’ll all be wilted and sad looking.
Time of Day: Honestly, the earlier the better. There’ll be far less crowds and parking will be way easier. Plus lighting will be optimal for photos!
We got to Calla Lily Valley around 10am or so (we drove down from San Francisco that morning), and there were only a handful of people down by the California calla lilies. When we left an hour later (after walking on the beach as well), the area was filled with people. We were glad we got there on the earlier side.
While we visited on the weekend, if you want higher chances of having Calla Lily Valley all to yourself, go during the week. I expect plenty of local out-of-towners drive down for the weekend, like we did!
But of course there’s a caveat to this – the coastline experiences fog in the early AM. It typically burns off by at least mid-day, so if you wanna see Calla Lily Valley in the sunshine (in my opinion, it’s far superior this way), you may have to wait a bit. But thankfully March is known to have mostly sunny skies, so hopefully you get lucky!
Hiking to Calla Lily Valley at Garrapata Beach
Time to finally find those lilies!
Ok, so this “hike” is more like a scenic coastal walk. Which I can promise you, I’m not complaining about one tiny bit. It’s super short (about ½ mile round trip) with only a short decline from the top of the bluffs to the valley.
Unfortunately, the signage is less than ideal — there’s no specific signs guiding you to Calla Lily Valley! Thankfully you’ve got me to help!
Once you park near Garrapata State Beach in that little pull out we talked about earlier, look for Garrapata Trail right on Highway 1. That’s the trail you wanna take! It’ll have an “18” on it.
Unlike other coastal walks, this trail is well-maintained and there’s a clear path taking you down to Calla Lily Valley. Follow the zigzag trail and you’ll find Calla Lily Valley down a flight of stairs.
Terrain: The hike is easy-peasy, but once you get to the valley, the fun begins! And by fun I mean it’s muddy… and rocky…with some poison ivy thrown in… wonderful.
The ground can be muddy and dirty once you reach the valley – so we chose to stick to the blooms closest to the entrance (I was wearing sandals, whoops!, and we had our dog with us). Expect it to be rocky as well, with poison ivy and poison oak. Sooooo cover up and try super hard not to touch any! Stay on the trail you guys!
There’s actually a rushing creek that flows right through the valley, although it was pretty dried up when we visited (droughts in California are a real thing my friends). I’ve seen photos of the creek after some rain and lemme tell ya, it flows. Be extra careful, especially when crossing the janky wooden plank bridge…
Other Tips and Things to Know
- Be careful of poison ivy and poison oak. They’re all over the trail. Yes, I already mentioned this above, but you can never be too careful. And on that note….
- PLEASE STAY ON THE TRAIL. Yes, we’re all there to get photos, but never step on the flowers — they risk the chance of getting hurt and trampled. And then they won’t be there for others to enjoy. 🙁 I repeat, do not veer off trail. There’s plenty of spots for pretty photos. Plus, you’re more bound to end up with poison ivy off the trail, so just do your part and stay on the trail. Thank you! :p
- NEVER pick the flowers, remove the flowers, or even touch the flowers. Think of them as delicate little creatures that need to be left alone.
What to Wear to Calla Lily Valley
Depending on the time of day and if the sun’s shining, you’ll probably wanna wear a sweater and long pants. Layers are your best friend here on the coast.
Here for the photos? Wear a white dress and a straw hat to really complete the look! I wasn’t prepared for a photoshoot haha.
I wore sandals and while I was able to do the short hike just fine, I had to watch where I stepped when we got closer to Calla Lily Valley. Lots of rocks meaning I could have easily stubbed my toe. Plus, my feet were covered in dirt afterwards (thank god for hotel showers)!
As noted before, there’s lots of poison ivy (which I didn’t know about beforehand), so thankfully I didn’t end up with a nasty rash! Because that would’ve completely ruined my weekend in Big Sur! Long pants and actual shoes would’ve been way more practical.
Be smarter than me and plan to wear either sneakers you don’t mind getting a tad dirty, or sturdy hiking boots. Remember you’ll probably wanna take them off if you end up on the beach!
- Golden Hour: Go at sunrise/golden hour, or right before sunset to really get that glow! This is when you’ll get the most perfect lighting (and when professional photographers take their photos)! There’s a reason they call it “magic hour”.
- Weekdays are your best friend, since there’s typically less crowds than on the weekend
- Head to the back of the valley for the best angles and photos
Things to do Near Calla Lily Valley
Once you’ve thoroughly checked out Calla Lily Valley, don’t leave the area just yet! There’s SO much to do around here.
- Walk Along Garrapata Beach: Once you’re done admiring all the pretty lilies, head over to Garrapata Beach! You can either walk all the way to the ocean from the valley (you’ll see the water), or take the short path on the bluffs on the left-hand side of the valley and walk down the set of stairs.
- Admire the Famous Bixby Bridge: Make a short pit stop for some photos at Bixby Bridge – iconic for a reason and only a few minutes south of Calla Lily Valley!
- Go for a hike in Point Lobos: While the whole state reserve is absolutely stunning and super scenic, I love Gibson Beach, Bird Island Lookout, and China Cove the best. I swear, I’ve never seen waters more turquoise.
- Gasp at McWay Falls: Out of all the waterfalls I’ve seen in California (and beyond), this has got to be one of my all-time favorites. Why? It literally falls straight into the Pacific Ocean! And the views, OMG the views!
- Visit Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel-By-The-Sea: Three of my favorite seaside towns in California, with tons to do in each one! Monterey’s got the aquarium, Cannery Row, and delicious seafood restaurants, Pacific Grove’s got gorgeous Victorian houses and Pavel’s Backerei, while Carmel has the cutest brunch spots (we love La Bicyclette) and charming fairytale cottages.
Hope this helps you plan your trip to Calla Lily Valley in Big Sur! Do you have a trip planned to the Central Coast soon? What other flower fields in California have you visited?
Looking for more California content? Explore my other California guides here!
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