Although California has approximately 900 miles of coastline, the 90 miles of Big Sur are the stuff of postcards! Continue reading to know the best things to do in Big Sur.
Hugging the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the US’s most picturesque routes, Big Sur offers stunning cliffside views, hidden waterfalls pouring down redwood-covered slopes, and among the world’s most famous bridges.
One technical marvel, Highway 1, clings to the edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains and presents one Instagram-worthy view after another.
The only state parks in Big Sur where you can go hiking all day and camp out at night are Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
The swimming holes and waterfalls of Big Sur are renowned as well. Visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s McWay Falls, where an 80-foot cascade plunges into the ocean, or spend your days amazed by the elephant seals at San Simeon or exploring the beach at Pfeiffer Beach, which has purple sand.
You can also visit a few regional lighthouses, including the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and the Point Sur Lighthouse.
Don’t forget to visit the Henry Miller Library, Nepenthe restaurant, and Esalen Institute, among the several roadside attractions in Big Sur.
We’ve compiled the top Big Sur activities for you so you can cross them off your bucket list.
We included a mix of everything, including must-see attractions and insider tips, so that you may make the absolute most of your visit to this fantastic region of California!
1. Things to Do in Big Sur
Are you looking for the top activities in Big Sur, on the picturesque Central Coast of California?
This must-do drive has numerous classic Big Sur attractions, including climbs, historical sites, waterfalls, and breathtaking views.
Big Sur’s 90-mile coastline stretches from San Simeon in the south to Carmel in the north and is renowned for its unrivaled natural beauty.
Because of its spectacular coast redwood, lovely coves and beaches, strenuous hiking trails, bubbling creeks and rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, Big Sur is a must-see on every trip to the California coast. Below are the 15 fun and unique things to do in Big Sur.
1.1. Pfeiffer Beach
The two-mile, winding road leading to Pfeiffer Beach is located just over a mile south of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This location, a little off the beaten path, is inaccessible to RVs and trailers.
However, if you take the winding road, a short hike from the parking area leads to an unmatched ocean view of the coast.
With the stark Santa Lucia Mountains serving as a backdrop for the massive sea stacks at Pfeiffer Beach, there is an initial sense of awe and wonder. Rough waves also lend hypnotic and steady energy.
Keyhole Rock is Pfeiffer Beach’s primary draw. This massive rock formation, which has a spectacular natural arch that pulses with seawater and sunshine, is frequently viewed and photographed.
Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach is a well-liked location to watch the sunset. However, Pfeiffer Beach is enjoyable at any time of day if you bring a beach chair and enjoy watching the waves.
Parking, which is rare and probably already complete, has a fee. To ensure a position, arriving early in the day is best.
1.2. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
The name Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park honors a significant Big Sur pioneer. The state park offers elevated scenery near the coast for exploration.
The magnificent McWay Falls, which can be seen plunging over 80 feet into the ocean from a high vantage point, is the most well-known feature of the park.
Other trails at Julia Pfeiffer Burns, such as the Ewoldsen Trail, meander between Pacific madrone and coastal redwoods in a lush canyon habitat.
The state park is primarily a day-use location because there are just two basic campsites. There are many more camping choices in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, located 10 miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
1.3. Garrapata State Park
Two miles of the beach can be found in Garrapata State Park, and a 50-foot climb will reward you with breathtaking sea vistas. Additionally, the park is home to various coastal hiking paths that meander through it.
The 1.25-mile Soberanes Canyon Trail is located there. Since some of them are closed, this is now an out-and-back route. Hikers can reach the coast using the trail.
To reach the seaside views, take the Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail.
Garrapata State Park provides beach access, hiking opportunities via coastal canyons, and breathtaking headland vistas at the northernmost point of the Big Sur coastline. The state park is reachable from several Highway 1 pullouts.
1.4. Andrew Molera State Park
The Big Sur coast’s Andrew Molera State Park is the biggest and best for adventure. Miles of hiking paths at the state park wind through a diverse landscape of coastal redwoods, tall bluffs, and sandy beaches.
And even on summer weekends, there is so much to discover that avoiding crowds is simple.
Just under a mile of the route, including a Big Sur River bridge, leads to the quiet beach at Andrew Molera, and those who make the journey quickly discover plenty of beach area to themselves.
The park is prone to flooding, so keep an eye out for any posted closures.
1.5. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
One of the most well-liked state parks on the coast is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, bordered by the imposing Santa Lucia Mountains and positioned on the Big Sur River’s banks.
Every acre of this state park is surrounded by breathtaking beauty, especially along the paths that follow the Big Sur River and pass-through enormous redwood forests.
One of Big Sur’s top campgrounds can be found at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. More than 150 campsites can accommodate tents and RVs along the river.
No electric hookups are available, but flushing facilities and coin-operated showers are next to every site. And in keeping with its ubiquity, practically every area is reserved months in advance.
1.6. Big Sur Station
A trip to Big Sur should get a great start at Big Sur Station. It is located in the middle of this rocky beach, just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
The station serves as a tourist center for the nearby Los Padres National Forest and is filled with information on great places to camp, hike, and watch the sunset.
Essential items like maps, postcards, and trinkets are available at Big Sur Station. A wider variety of comparable products, including perishable and non-perishable food items, are available at the nearby Big Sur Lodge.
1.6. Henry Miller Memorial Library
Over the past century, various artists, including writers, poets, singers, and the occasional scholarly vagrant, have been impacted by the austere beauty and shifting scenery of Big Sur.
The late author and Big Sur inhabitant Henry Miller’s writings and persona are the focus of the nonprofit Henry Miller Library. Henry Miller Memorial Library highlights Big Sur’s artistic side with various changing artworks, live events, and bookshelves from local and regional writers.
This unusual and self-described “strange” institution offers a place to interact with the culture and creativity of Big Sur. Still, it is not a library in the traditional sense of renting out books.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library presents frequent live music and neighborhood events in addition to books of fiction and memoirs, natural histories, and field guides.
In addition to being a bookstore, the Henry Miller Memorial Library serves as a venue for neighborhood performances. It is a fantastic location to view the artwork of nearby artisans.
Beautiful redwood trees and a pleasant creek are all around the Henry Miller Library, which you can explore. The grounds are filled with lovely sculptures and works of art.
1.7. Limekiln State Park
The three historic lime kilns in the park are just one of the fantastic things to do; it also features hiking trails, picnic spaces, and camping.
Other hiking paths in Limekiln State Park take hikers to redwood woods and waterfalls. And the Limekiln shoreline, which is accessible via the Lime Creek Bridge, features breathtaking and violent ocean waves crashing against a rocky coastline.
Limekiln has three distinct camp spots where you can also tent. Redwood campgrounds, creek campsites, and beachfront campsites are best suited for vehicles and small camper vans.
All overnight visitors have access to coin-operated showers and flushing bathrooms.
1.8. Andrew Molera State Park
In addition to offering fantastic hiking, Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur also has designated pathways for mountain biking, making it a unique state park.
Because it is one of Big Sur’s less popular parks, your activities will also be more alone.
Bluffs, hills, beaches, and meadows are all included in the park’s numerous pathways. Andrew Molera State Park.
The Bluffs Trail, which crosses the coastline, is excellent. The distance is 3.5 miles in total. Both hikers and bikers can use the short, 2-mile roundtrip Creamery Meadow Trail, which goes to the beach. You cross the Big Sur River on a seasonal footbridge.
1.9. Garrapata Beach
Garrapata Beach is sand-covered and canine-welcoming. It is located at the southernmost point of Garrapata State Park.
The entrance to Garrapata State Park is not well marked, so you must check for mile markers to determine where to halt. Milepost 19 provides access to the beach. Park along the road, then down the stairs to the beach.
The cliffs, boulders, and in-season wildflowers make for stunning views. Stay out of the ocean; the surf is too dangerous for swimming or wading.
Returning up the stairs, continue on the bluff trail at the top for breathtaking Pacific Ocean vistas.
1.10. Ragged Point
One of the first stops passing through Big Sur is frequently Ragged Point. Stopping at the Ragged Point Inn and Resort, set above a 300-foot cliff, is an excellent opportunity to explore the region. Visitors utilize the amenities and take in the scenery here.
A gourmet restaurant, a coffee shop, and lovely lodgings are available at Ragged Point Inn. Along with beautiful sea views, Ragged Point has a steep slope that leads to a black-sand beach.
Although there are a few pay phones on-site, there is often no cell service. For those running low, gasoline is also accessible, albeit typically at a cost.
1.11. Bixby Bridge
The Bixby Creek Bridge is among Big Sur’s most beautiful views. It’s the same whether it’s called the Bixby Bridge or the Bixby Canyon Bridge.
This bridge, constructed in 1932, is one of California’s most popular subjects for photos. It lacks solid walls or a roof since it spans two rough cliffsides with an open-spandrel arch bridge. Through it, you can see right through!
To capture the perfect photo, pull over at one of the many viewing areas along Highway 1. Use the northbound pullout, which offers a magnificent vantage point of both the bridge and the rocky shoreline.
However, take extra precautions when taking pictures, especially if it’s pouring.
1.12. Pfeiffer Beach
Big Sur’s most well-known beach, Pfeiffer Beach, conceals a mystery. The Keyhole Arch is a rock feature hidden at the beach’s northern end that only shines most stunningly for a few days each year.
It would help if you traveled down a winding dirt road until you arrived at a remote beach hidden between high rocks to find Keyhole Arch.
You can observe a large rock structure with a small hole in the middle that had waves pounding against it over many years here. Whenever Keyhole Arch is gorgeous, any time of year, the winter solstice is when it shines.
1.13. Point Sur Lighthouse
Since it has been directing ships since the 1800s, the Point Sur Lighthouse has left a permanent imprint on Big Sur’s history.
The best way to explore the lighthouse is via a guided walking tour that also takes you to the lens exhibit and the fog signal building.
It’s interesting to realize that you are walking on terrain that has been here for millions of years since the lighthouse is boldly perched atop old volcanic rock! Amazing views of the vast ocean in every direction may be seen from the summit.
When the trip is over, get back in the car and head to Andrew Molera Beach, which is close to Point Sur Lighthouse and Andrew Molera State Park.
One of the best sights in Big Sur is Andrew Molera Beach. You’ll frequently have the entire beach to yourself because it doesn’t receive a lot of tourists.
1.14. Esalen’s Hot Springs
Esalen Institute is a retreat center, educational institution, and thermal springs with international acclaim.
One of the best things to do in Big Sur is to visit the hot springs, especially if you want to relax away from the rush of city life.
Esalen’s hot springs, or “baths,” flow at a pace of 80 gallons per minute and reach temperatures of 119 degrees while perched above the Pacific Ocean.
Even if you are well and don’t have any problems, a soak here will do wonders for your body and mind. The water’s heat and minerals are known to have healing effects.
At Esalen, there are two big bathhouses. The bathrooms on the lower floor have two sides: a “quiet” side and a “silent” side.
Regardless of your route, soaking while admiring the Pacific’s grandeur is such a captivating experience!
Use one of the exclusive claw-foot baths for an even more private experience.
The baths were once open to non-guests for coveted midnight visits, but they are currently solely available to visitors of the Esalen Institute.
However, you should put this at the top of your Big Sur bucket list if you want to splurge!
1.15. Partington Cove
You can trek the Partington Cove Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park if you want to do a little extra hiking. The hike is one mile long.
In Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Partington Cove is a secluded cove located beneath Partington Point.
If you’re looking for a day at the beach, the cove isn’t the place for you because there isn’t much sand there.
The track divides into two trails away from the main road. The first descends to the cove’s rocky shore.
You may see another cove from a vantage point on the second trial. You do pass through a cool, 60-foot-long tunnel on the second trial.
2. 5 Reasons to Go to Big Sur
Big Sur is a legendary location where mountains crash out of the ocean to form an incredible coastline of cliffs and canyons.
There aren’t many people living there, which adds to the area’s remoteness, and the mountains have provided very little room for anyone to maneuver.
This seductive isolation, which makes you feel like a little speck in the world and completely alone, results from the area’s isolation.
2.1. You Must Hike to Enter
Travelers are picked up at Andrew Molera State Park by a shuttle service that started on July 1 and taken to a temporary half-mile hiking path with more than 300 feet of elevation gain that allows you to avoid the closed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.
The path leads to Nepenthe, a popular lunch spot in Big Sur with stunning ocean views. A spicy tomato sauce on the Ambrosia burger is recommended.
2.2. Using a Helicopter is an Option
Using the new bypass trail or taking a helicopter, you may reach the recently reopened Post Ranch Inn, a remote spa-like resort with daily yoga and a delectable breakfast spread.
If you stay three or more nights in August, the four-star hotel will give you a complimentary helicopter ride from neighboring Monterey.
If you don’t want to carry your possessions on your back while hiking in, you can still send your bags in via helicopter.
2.3. Electric Bikes Can Now be Used to Travel Along the Coast
A brand-new, locally owned e-bike business has emerged in response to the road restrictions.
To get to your e-bike, you’ll need to take the shuttle and hike in once you get there.
You’ll have access to 40 miles of largely deserted road and up-close views of the 80-foot McWay Falls inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is only open for daytime use.
2.4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Offers Camping and Hiking Trails
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park reopened on July 1 after being closed for over 11 months due to storms and wildfires.
You may now climb among enormous, centuries-old redwood trees and stroll alongside the Big Sur River, which flows through the park, thanks to the campground’s opening as well as the opening of a number of the park’s trails, including the Liewald Flat Trail, Nature Trail, and Redwood Deck.
If you wish to spend the night at a campsite, make your reservation as soon as possible.
2.5. You Can Take a Nap While Gazing at the Coast From a Cottage or Yurt
Unfortunately, the Big Sur Bakery isn’t selling chocolate croissants because it’s closed while the roadway is being fixed.
But many other popular locations around Big Sur’s coastline are open and waiting for you.
Big Sur Lodge, which you can easily reach from the north by traveling south from Carmel, offers cottages and is open every day of the week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
While Highway 1 is impassable from either direction, you may reach Treebones Resort through a winding detour to the east, where you can set up a tent or stay in a luxurious yurt.
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Central California’s Big Sur region is an approximately 90-mile stretch of untamed coastline where the Santa Lucia Mountains abruptly meet the Pacific Ocean.
This coastline stretches from San Simeon in the south to Carmel-by-the-Sea in the north. This rugged coastal region has public access sites and state parks, providing various activities.
Big Sur is less of a destination and more of an experience. As the state-spanning Highway 1 slows with hairpin twists, headlights cast stunning seaside sunsets into sharp relief.
Additionally, the area frequently experiences an early morning fog that dissipates by afternoon to reveal a complex landscape of redwood canyons and 300-foot seaside cliffs.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers camping, hiking, shopping, and sightseeing opportunities.
Big Sur has many entertaining activities, especially during the best travel months of April to October.
Also read: Things to do in San Diego
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