Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the west by the Pacific Ocean, it’s traversed by narrow, 2-lane State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the often-misty coastline. The sparsely populated region has numerous state parks for hiking, camping and beach combing. This is one of the United State’s most famous stretches of road of 90 miles of coastline along Highway 1. Along this coast are redwood trees and a foggy waterfront near Hearst Castle with bluffs, sea and lush beauty.
The classic drive through Big Sur, along winding Highway 1, has many pit stops like the famous Bixby Bridge and Mcway falls cascading falls onto the sand on the beach. There are many coastline parks to stop and take a hike through redwoods or take coastal hikes down to remote rocky cliff beaches.
How to get there
Big Sur is 6.5 hours up the California coast from Los Angeles city heading up US-101N briefly and then Highway 1 for the majority of the stretch. Staying on Highway 1 will give you the coastal views that are breathtaking for the whole way up. It is best to road trip starting in the morning so that you are in the daylight and get to experience the coast. There are many pit stops along the way of things to do and break up the trip.
When to go
The most popular time to visit Big Sur is between April to October, when the weather is nicest. (Though one should be warned that the marine layer coats much of the coast in the mornings during parts of the high season.)
Businesses are not open as long during the off-peak season. However, Big Sur travel is amazing no matter what time of the year it is.
- You can road trip through Highway 1 and Big Sur in a day trip or you can spend a weekend or week here with the amount of nature parks, beaches, and redwood hiking trails. Plan ahead because the road is narrow and it is hard to turn around and it is best to have your trip planned out ahead.
- The road has been closed to Big Sur for quite a while and there was danger from mud slides. Note that mudslides happen quite frequently in Big Sur and nearby. Check this site for current highway conditions before your drive.
- Things book fast here and it is a popular spot. Be sure to make reservations.
- Big Sur is expensive! The restaurants are spendy so pack your own food and go camping instead of staying at expensive hotels to save money if you are on a budget. Camping is one of the best ways to get gorgeous panoramas of the coast better than most hotels.
- There is no cell phone reception in Big Sur. Google maps will most likely not work to get you place to place. Download the map to your phone beforehand when you still have wifi/service, and may be able to use it for GPS purposes. You’ll find wifi at most popular restaurants, bars, and hotels.
Things to do
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge is a historical bridge on the 1 in Monterey California and 15 minutes north of Big Sur City and Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground. This is one of the most photographed bridges in California and is sometimes referred to as the Golden Gate Bridge of Big Sur. Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as Bixby Canyon Bridge, on the Big Sur coast of California, is a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge along the picturesque rocky and colorful coastline. Be careful the traffic backs up here for the bridge. It is best to visit the bridge earlier in the day or morning to beat the crowds and get pictures. It is best to stop at the pullout after you cross the bridge coming from the south. There is a bigger pullout parking area that is safer than stopping before the bridge.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Mcway Falls is a short 1/2 mile overlook hike found in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The overlook area is located OUTSIDE the park and across the street, so there’s no need to pay or enter; plenty of roadside parking is available. Just be careful as you’re pulling in or leaving, especially if you need to parallel park in a tight space because the highway is very curvy and narrow here with not very much visibility.
McWay Falls is a beautiful 80-foot waterfall that drops from a steep cliff straight into a pristine cove. Technically, this makes it a “tidefall” – a waterfall that empties into the ocean.
This is one of the most photographed falls in California with rocky cliffs, turquoise water, and a waterfall. The beach is inaccessible besides the viewpoint. The falls were tiny when I visited because of the season and it not being a very rainy year. The falls is more full when you visit after rain or during winter instead of summer.
The only way to view McWay Falls is from the viewpoint off Highway 1. It’s a very short and easy walk from the highway to the overlook area; just a few steps along a dirt path, and you’re there.
Henry Miller Memorial Library
This is a library hidden in the redwoods that is a memorial to Henry Miller a Big Sur resident and famous author who published over 40 books and his most known, Tropic of Cancer. The library has an art gallery as well as lots of live music shows and events on its property. This is a tranquil place to visit for book lovers and a great spot to read outdoors. They have lots of open deck space and chairs.
Library Hours: Open Wednesday-Monday (closed Tuesday) 11AM – 6PM
Point Sur Lighthouse
Point Sur Lightstation is a lighthouse at Point Sur, California, 135 miles south of San Francisco, on the 361-foot-tall rock at the head of the point. It was established in 1889 and is part of Point Sur State Historic Park. The light house is 40 feet tall and 270 feet above sea level. The lighthouse is right as you arrive in Big Sur city and just past Andrew Molera State Park. The park offers lighthouse tours that include a short hike and access to climb up inside the lighthouse’s winding staircase to the lookout deck.
(September through March):
Saturdays and Sundays : 10:00 AM
Wednesdays: 1:00 PM
(April through August):
Saturdays & Wednesdays: 10:00 AM and 2:00
Sundays: 10:00 AM
Thursdays (July and August) 10:00 AM
The cost of lighthouse tours are $20 per adult and $10 for children up to 17 years old.
Andrew Molera State Park
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Hiking through Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur California included a cold walk across the Big Sur River. . . . . . . #stayandwander #statepark #california #earthofficial #travelpic #places_wow #landscapelover #awesome_earthpix #modernoutdoors #wildernessculture #earthporn #earthpics #mthrworld #neverstopexploring #explore #optoutside #getoutside #bigsur #bigsurriver #andrewmolerastatepark
This is a mostly undeveloped park with trails on beaches & through meadows & a walk-in trail camp. This is the best spot to go hiking in Big Sur and the best area to immerse yourself in Redwood forest and adventure in the beauty. This park also has the best beach access in Big Sur since most of the coast is cliffs and inaccessible. This is the best way to see and hangout on the beach here. There are countless trails with lots of nature diversity to explore all the area has to offer.
Near mile marker 51.2 on Highway 1, the park is located 21 miles south of Carmel.
$10 per car, per day. Your entrance fee allows you access to all California state parks until sundown. If you have a state parks pass then you show your card and enter for free!
For the best beach hiking 4 mile trail roundtrip hike on the beach from the mouth of the Big Sur River to Cooper Point. This hike is only accessible during low tide be careful of being trapped. The bluff trail is a little over 3 miles roundtrip for a hike along the coast with beach and tides below. If you want to hike through redwoods the Bobcat Trial & Coyote Flat trail is for you! This is a 5.5 mile roundtrip hike starting from the parking lot of the park. For meadow experience the 2 mile roundtrip Creamery Meadow Trail is beautiful. This is an easier hike that ends at the ocean. There is a footbridge to cross the river and is removed for the season so ask the rangers first. In order to get panoramic views of the coast take the Panorama trail for a 3 mile hike or the Ridge trail that is a longer 6.5 mile difficult hike with amazing views for more of a challenge.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
This is a 1,000-acre state park that has a vast variety of hiking trails, wildlife, campgrounds & a guest lodge. The turn-off for popular Pfeiffer Beach is located on Highway 1, approximately one mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s entrance. Heading south from the State Park entrance, it is the second right turn. Pfeiffer Beach is not a California State Park and charges a separate entrance fee. The park has trails along = the river and is under the redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows. The park has a large campground for tents, RVs and car campers. Many campsites are located along the Big Sur River. There is lots of wildlife in the park and endless trails for hikers to enjoy the scenic nature. Big Sur Lodge is located in the park .The lodge has 61 guest rooms, a conference center, cafe, and a grocery store.
Near mile marker 47.2 on Highway 1, the park is located 26 miles south of Carmel.
DAY USE FEE:
$10/day per car. Your entrance fee allows you access to all California State Parks until sundown. State Parks Pass holders must present pass at kiosk upon entry to park. Most State Park passes can be purchased at the Monterey District office at 2211 Garden Road, Monterey, CA 93940. California Explorer and Golden Poppy annual passes may be purchased at the Pfeiffer Big Sur entrance kiosk.
17 Mile Drive
17-Mile Drive is a picturesque road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California. The road winds around the Pacific coastline and comes across sites including the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees.
The fee to drive on 17-Mile Drive is $10.50 per vehicle. The gate fee is reimbursed with a purchase of $35 or more at all Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants, excluding Pebble Beach Market. Admission is complimentary for overnight guests of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero.
The 17-Mile Drive gates are open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Motorcycles are prohibited.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
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At southern boundary of the Reserve is Gibson Beach. Imagine yourself walking here with your barefeet against white sparkling sand, the cold and clear Pacific Ocean washing over your toes, the crisp December air blowing around you. This is but one of the amazing places California State Parks protects. Which park will your weekend take you to? #CAStateParks #whitesandbeaches #inventyouradventure
This beautiful park has been referred to as the crown jewel of the state park system before. This area has headlands, coves and rolling meadows. There are lots of trails great for jogging, walks and so many wildflowers and animals to spot. This area is known for scuba diving because of the underwater habitats that are one of the richest in the world here. Wildlife that live here include seals, sea lions, sea otters and migrating gray whales (from December to May). Thousands of seabirds also live in the reserve. Hiking trails all follow the shoreline and come to hidden coves.
Park Hours: Day Use Area: 8am – 7pm, Last entry at 6:30pm
Cost: Parking inside the reserve costs $10, but you can park outside of it along Highway 1 and walk in for free.
Big Sur Hotels
Treebones resort is a beautiful glamping oasis in Big Sur filled with mostly comfy yurts as well as tents and some woven wood bird baskets vaulted in the air to sleep inside with sweeping ocean views. There is a pool and hot tub with coastal views perfect or sunset or sunrise. There is tons of hiking nearby, yoga at the resort and a dining restaurant.
Price: Yurts are $320/night, Autonomous tents(wooded cacoon) $595/night, tent sits for $95/night, nest $175/night, BOOK HERE
Glen Oaks Big Sur
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The most relaxing Saturday evening possible? A fire pit with s’mores, towering redwoods, outdoor bathtubs, and a cozy bed! . . . #bigsur #glenoaks #glenoaksbigsur #bigsurwedding #california #westcoast #norcal #centralcoast #centralcoastweddings #centralcalifornia #monterey #montereypeninsula #getaway #vacation #wanderlust #roadtrip
This is a rustic chic hotel with cabins and great dining in Big Sur. There are fireplaces in most of the rooms and outdoor bathtubs that are in beautiful patios under redwood trees. Camping and trails are right off the property. There are oak tree cottages
Price: Cabins are $550-$850 depending on size, outdoor hot tubs and other amenities , BOOK HERE
Post Ranch Inn
Think modern trendy minimalist cozy wood cabins on stilts like treehouses in redwoods and sweeping oceanfront views on the coast. All the cabins have fireplaces inside. The hotel offers an infinity cliffside pool with amazing views of the coastline. This is camping for the luxury minded ones who don’t want to sacrifice the comfort. They are known for their epic cliff houses that have full glass walls facing the ocean coastline with outdoor stainless steel hot tubs and indoor fireplaces. This place is the epitome of cozy on the coast. They are also known for their tree house cabins as pictured above to be immersed in the redwoods.
Price: $900 standard room starting, with rooms up to $3000 a night! This is definitely a luxury property! Book here.
Ventana Big Sur
Ventana is a luxe wilderness resort in the wilderness on 243 acres of land. This is the ultimate glamping resort that offers all the comfortable luxuries and the outdoors at the same time. There are Japanese hot baths, tent glamping in the redwoods, and a large pool on the grounds as well as luxurious indoor suites as well.
Price: $1100/night starting depending on the lodging, BOOK HERE