What to do in Big Sur
Big Sur unfolds its wonders along the Pacific Coast Highway, like a necklace of pearls, each more brilliant than the next. Impressive wild coast where creeks, cliffs, beaches, forests, and parks nestle, But beyond this magical encounter between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur keeps the breath of a state of mind, of a generation in love with dreams and freedom!
Welcome to one of the most unforgettable coasts in the world. This roughly 90-mile / 145-kilometer stretch of coastline trimmed by fog and redwoods between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle, or city center, attracts tourists (and writers like Henry Miller and Generation Beat by Jack Kerouac) for an almost palpable magical fascination. It is simply a place you want to be: cliffs, sea, and sky.
The classic route through Big Sur, along Highway 1, offers plenty of parking spaces, much like Bixby Bridge commercial parking lots. Stop along the coast and look up to see the endangered California condors, the giant birds in North America, or look down to admire migrating whales or sea otters floating among dense beds of famous seaweed. In California.
Campgrounds abound, including Big Sur Campground, Fernwood Resort, Riverside Campground, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The region’s beauty also magnetizes those seeking exclusive hotels like the Cliff Post Ranch Inn or the luxurious Ventana Big Sur.
The great South of the Great West is grandiose near San Francisco.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque corners of the United States. As the Spanish conquerors called it, El Sur Grande brazenly displays its rugged coastlines, crimson canyons, and the bold beauty of its vegetation. Hikes in the heart of the Sequoia forest, stroll on deserted beaches, and outdoor yoga sessions. The wonders of Mother Nature are present on the central coast of California.
Big Sur – Where is it?
Big Sur is a 140 km stretch located on the American West Coast, approximately 230 km south of San Francisco. Some say that Big Sur is more of a state of mind than a region, where the pure beauty of the rocks merges with the richness of its landscapes and where many artists, apprentices and confirmed, mystics of all ages and hippies.
The small region is crossed by Highway 1, which remains the most efficient way to get there. So remember to wake up the whole family for the last 30 kilometers and open your peepers! Be careful; petrol stations are relatively rare in the area, so be prepared.
Bus stops are not part of the landscape either, so plan accordingly if you are not driving. Note, however, that a bus, operated by the Monterey-Salinas Transit, runs in summer between downtown Monterey to Big Ségur.
A hike to start the day on the right foot
Big Sur has various natural parks; most of them are open half an hour before sunrise, up to half an hour after sunset, and their campsites are accessible 24 hours a day. Also, note that parking is paid ($ 10), and the receipt is valid all day if you want to re-enter the park (except at Limekiln). Don’t even think about parking along Hwy 1 because the fine will be steep!
Limekiln, therefore, has one of the most pleasant hikes, the Limekiln Trails. The promenade, about 4 kilometers long, winds its way through trees and streams to land on the rocky beaches of the coast.
Limekiln State Park
Big Sur , CA 93920
Discover ocean views, luxurious inns, and an eclectic vibe at this unique destination on California’s Central Coast
With cliffs plunging hundreds of feet into rocky inlets churning with foaming surf, it’s no surprise that many people consider Big Sur the most stunning stretch of coastline in the world.
Along with its rugged natural beauty, Big Sur is a region with a long artistic history, and creative restaurants, and unique resorts that allow you to immerse yourself in this murky world, with redwood forests and unparalleled views of the coastline.
Refinement meets rustic at the Post Ranch Inn.
Dominating the cliffs 365 meters above the Pacific, Post Ranch Inn lets you escape from the outside world. Retreat into modern yet feeling rooms framed in architecturally peculiar buildings that blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings. Marvel at the view from your balcony’s stainless steel bathtub, and then keep warm next to the burning logs in the fireplace.
Drive on the most impressive coastal road in the world
Skirting cliffs and winding through rows of towering redwoods, California’s Highway 1 is Big Sur’s main attraction. Take your time, either to drive carefully or to stop and contemplate the landscape; on the way, you will be able to watch the curls of mist that sneak into the canyons full of redwoods.
There are also good places to eat along the way: Stop at Big Sur River Inn for classic breakfast items like carrot cake French toast or Big Sur Bakery, where the food selection includes pizza. Gourmet cooked in a wood oven.
Let yourself be enveloped in the good vibes of Nepenthe.
For Big Sur lovers, a visit cannot be considered complete without a stop to shop, eat and enjoy the incredible scenery in Nepenthe. Nepenthe founders Lolly and Bill Fassett hired Rowen Maiden, who studied with Fassett, to build the iconic redwood and adobe structure you can see today.
Take a seat by the terrace bar and take in one of Big Sur’s outstanding views as you savor your iconic Nepenthe Ambrosia Burger. Then go shopping at The Phoenix Shop, where you will find distinctive clothing and fabulous jewelry made by renowned designers.
Walk the path to a secluded cove.
Keep in mind that everything that goes down has to come up when you set out on the trail to Partington Cove. It is a short trail, about two miles roundtrip, but there is a 300-foot climb back to the trail near Highway 1. The route winds down the hillside before entering a long tunnel dug by Big Sur pioneer John Partington. Cross it, and you will emerge in the rocky cove, once used to transport logs (and later to smuggle liquor).
Eat at the edge of the continent.
Even if you’re not staying at the Post Ranch Inn, their Sierra Mar restaurant offers a taste of this stunning setting. Be sure to make reservations and savor the innovative prix fixe menu for lunch and dinner with options to choose from (a favorite is Wagyu prime rib with ground corn) while gazing out at the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. On certain days, you will be above the clouds when the fog looms.
Don’t miss either
The beauty and isolation of Big Sur have attracted a talented array of writers, artists, and musicians. All along Highway1, you’ll find galleries displaying the work of regional and international painters and artisans. In honor of the legendary writer who settled in Big Sur, the Henry Miller Memorial Library hosts an eclectic series of concerts on its open-air stage in a clearing surrounded by redwoods. While on Saturday afternoons, you can listen to jazz, folkloric music, and zydeco performances at the Big Sur River Inn.
High above the coast in a redwood forest, Ventana Big Sur connects you to the best of this incomparable region. Enjoy a Japanese-style bath and dinner at The Sur House, specializing in coastal cuisine with local ingredients, and offers a carefully selected selection of 10,000 Central Coast wines.
For a complete detox, head to the Esalen Institute, where you can soak up the hot springs, relax with a massage, and choose from 600 courses, ranging from Brazilian dance to yoga and meditation, all set against a backdrop of 11 hectares of Californian coastline.
WHAT TO SEE IN THE BIG SUR IN CALIFORNIA
The famous Big Sur locates along the scenic Californian Highway 1. This highway runs along the rocky Pacific coast for almost 800 km. But it is from Morro Bay, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, to Monterrey, 120 miles south of San Francisco, that the route is known as Big Sur.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Old Coast Trail was a wagon road that linked the various settlements. In 1937 the construction works of state highway number 1 were concluded with prison labor that only tried to improve the communications by land. But they did not realize that the engineering work they were carrying would become an attraction by circumventing an orography that was quite a spectacle.
WHAT TO SEE FROM NORTH TO SOUTH ON HIGHWAY 1 IN CALIFORNIA
Throughout Big Sur, there are state parks open all year round and countless viewpoints and sidings where you can make many stops, all of them with different views. In this sense, my advice is to travel the Big Sur from north to south, in this way you will have all the viewpoints on the right-hand side, without having to cross a continuous line on many occasions to cross the opposite lane and with the fear of having a very curve next.
The road that runs through the Monterrey peninsula before starting Big Sur is the “17 Mile Drive. ” This road takes you through a private area where the famous Pebble Beach golf course locates. That is why to access this scenic route; you will have to pay $ 10. But once inside, the “17 Mile Drive” will take you through a beautiful forest of wind-blown cypress trees that flank this road to a rocky coastline dotted with some of the most envied mansions in all of California.
The “17 Mile Drive” tour is a jewel together for any photography fan, with iconic places such as The Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay, Stillwater Cove, Del Monte Forest, and Bird Rock, where you can see the sea lions of close.
CARMEL BY THE SEA
Carmel By de Sea is the last town before entering Big Sur. In this small town of California, the great American fortunes have managed to find their space. Carmel has a spectacular beach surrounded by mansions and charming tiny houses, which look like something from “Hansel and Gretel.”
The name of Carmel comes from the Mission that the Franciscan Fray Junípero Serra founded here in 1770 with the name of Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. It is the second oldest Mission in the country and houses the tomb of the famous Franciscan.
THE BEST VIEWPOINTS IN THE BIG SUR
The main attraction of touring Big Sur is its spectacular geography. Starting from the town of Carmel, the road twists falls, rises, and zigzags again, looking out over the Pacific, again and again, showing how impressive the meeting of land and sea can be.
Driving around the towering cliffs of Big Sur with that intense blue, only broken by the foam of the waves, is a unique experience. There are numerous sidings where you can momentarily leave your car and look out over the Pacific along the Big Sur highway, all with spectacular views and perfectly signposted, so you don’t miss any. You have them all marked on the map above.
The imposing granite rock of Morro Bay heralds the end of the part of Big Sur that is closest to the Coast. The main attraction of this city is Morro Rock, a 177-meter high volcanic plug that gives way to the marina bay and is home to friendly sea lions.
SAN LUIS BISHOP
San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to spend the night in case of traveling through Big Sur, having started the tour in San Francisco. Its architecture, which recalls the passage of the Spaniards there, maybe the only curious thing apart from its Mission and Bubblegum Alley, a narrow alley between 733 and 737 Higuera St, wholly covered with petrified chewing gum of all colors that exist.
Very close to the gum alley is Louisa’s Place Restaurant, where they serve the best breakfast on the entire West Coast. If you spend the night in San Luis Obispo, book your hotel without breakfast because you cannot miss this place. Newly arrived travelers from the West Coast wrote to me to recommend this place for its breakfasts. Thanks, Manuel!
So if you are looking in Big Sur for an intermediate point to sleep different from where you have ever slept, you have to make your reservation at the Madonna Inn. The eccentricity with which they have decorated the rooms of the Madonna Inn would be well worth a visit to each one of them since human language is not enough to describe them.
Extravagance is brought to full power. It is as if they had commissioned Dalí, Agatha Ruíz de la Prada, Barbie, Pocholo, Pedro and Pablo Flintstones, and Juan Antonio Roca for the “Malaya” case together.
The town of Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who traveled west to establish a Danish colony in California. The city has a good number of bakeries, restaurants, and shops that make it seem that you are in a Scandinavian town when in reality, you are in the middle of California. The architecture of many of the facades and buildings reflects the traditional Danish style. There is even a copy of the famous statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.
Santa Barbara is the last central town before arriving in Los Angeles. Its origin is another of the missions founded by the Spanish in California, which is why the architecture of Santa Bárbara reveals an unmistakable Spanish influence. The second week of August has celebrated the ” Spanish Fiesta, “which commemorates the Spanish and Mexican heritage, with parades and Hispanic gastronomy in all city corners.
Its pier, Stearn Wharf, is one of Santa Barbara’s top attractions, along with the extensive beaches that surround it. From there starts State Street, the central axis of the city where most of the shops and life of the city are concentrated. Just off State Street is the Presidio Real de Santa Barbara, a former colonial prison that is the second oldest building in all of California.
ON THE PACIFIC COAST YOU HAVE TO SEE BIG SUR
ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS DRIVING ROUTES
Have you ventured down the Pacific Highway? We leave you in this article everything you have to see in Big Sur. The beauty of the Big Sur Coast is well worth a stop on your California trip. So you can spend at least two days to be able to walk along beautiful beaches. Admire the coastal landscapes. Stop to look at the enormous redwoods.
Or, if you go in winter, look for an encounter with the monarch butterflies. Big Sur locates within the route of the Pacific Highway, which is known to be one of the most beautiful roads in the United States. The climate is humid and cold. In summer, the usual thing is that the day dawns cloudy and opens up as the morning progresses.
BE CAREFUL WITH THE WEATHER
Check the weather and organize your route based on the weather conditions. If the fog persists, it does not make much sense to travel the road by car. Suppose you are not going to see anything. In that case, you will have to look for other alternatives, such as a walking route near the sea in Point Lobos, visit the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo, or the aquarium in Monterey.ACCOMMODATION
As for accommodation, the charm of Avenida Ocean and its adjacent streets and the beautiful beach where it ends make Carmel a significant alternative to spending the night. PACIFIC HIGHWAY
But before we talk about what to see in Big Sur, we start with the Pacific Highway. Always a trip by the sea is appealing for the little ones, especially if it is the Pacific coast. One of the stages that you should not miss on your family trip through California is this. It may take you a day to calmly do the proposed route. More if you decide to do the Point Sur route in-depth or get to know the entire Point Lobos reserve.
The driving route begins at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The entrance is right next to the sign that announces the park (1). You can enter with your car to the parking lot (2). In the beginning, you will find a good specimen of redwood.
The redwoods are like trees but not identical to the redwoods. Unlike redwoods, which grow at altitudes ranging from 1,400 to 2,200 meters, redwoods grow on the Pacific coast. In the Big Sur area, the tallest specimens that reach around 110 meters are not found. Here, the highest “only” get 75 meters. If you want to compare redwood to redwood, you can visit Yosemite National Park.
Pfeiffer Beach is not accessible from the park. The access is further south, approximately 1 mile away. You have to take the second exit on the right. But the Redwood Deck (3), River Path (4), Nature Trail (5), Warden’s Path, and Liewald Flat routes are available.
We leave you the reference of the first three for being the most recommended to do with children. In any case, floods and fires frequent in California mean that routes are constantly being opened and closed. So check first before planning your route.
If you keep going up and you have time available, a guided route at Point Sur (6) requires a prior reservation and lasts about three hours.
Along the road, you will find many sidings to stop the car and take in the sights, especially the Bixby Creek Bridge (7). A bit further north, you will find the Rocky Point restaurant (8), where you can take a walk and eat with incredible views. Of course, book in advance to ensure them. Try the Lobster bisque cream.
Next to the restaurant, you will find a couple of very accessible routes that you can do before or after eating. You can see the Bixby Creek Bridge in the distance.
Right next to it, you can make a stop at Garrapata Beach (9), although given the temperature of the water, the currents, and the strong waves, you will see that nobody gets into the water, so you should follow the example. After this short road trip, we will talk to you about what to see in Big Sur. We start at Point Lobos.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE IN BIG SUR?
A MARINE RESERVE
The route ends at Point Lobos, a marine reserve where, with luck, you will see sea lions, a multitude of birds, and sea otters in the wild. There are three car parks set up inside, and in some of them, there are areas set up for picnics.
Depending on the activities you want to do (diving, sailing, or just hiking), the ticket price differs. In the website’s general information, you have the data on the amounts to be paid to enter.
MULTITUDE OF ROUTES
In the brochure download section, you have information about the Cypress Grove trail, but there are many routes to do, so it may well take you a whole day to explore it, and it is worth doing.
In the park’s information, they warn you of a poisonous arboreal species, the poison oak. Remember it because it may be within reach of the little ones on some of the excursions.
We leave you on the map the reference of the entrance to the Cypress Grove Trail and the closest parking lot. At the beginning of this route, ,you will find specimens of poison oak on one side and the other. And in the parking booth information about the reservation.
IN BIG SUR, YOU HAVE TO SEE CARMEL
THE MOST CHARMING CITY ON THE ROUTE
You can end the day by taking a walk through charming Carmel. We leave you the reference on the map of Ocean Avenue, the city’s main avenue that ends at the beach and that is crossed by picturesque streets full of shops or restaurants with a lot of charm in a very quiet environment. Except on Ocean Avenue itself, parking is free on the rest of the streets.
Any of the charming restaurants that you can find in Carmel will be very tasty for dinner. We recommend the restaurant of the Il Fornaio chain, which accepts reservations online and has a children’s menu.
MISSION OF SAN CARLOS DE BORROMEO
If you have time, a few minutes by car from the center of Carmel, you will find the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo. Built in 1771, it belongs to the series of 21 missions that the Franciscans, headed by Fray Junipero Serra, built-in western Alta California (present-day California) between 1769 and 1823. Fray Junipero Serra is buried here. There are other missions in Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
In the same way, if you plan to stay more days, very close to the center, next to the golf course, is the entrance to 17-Mile Drive, a toll road, a scenic route that runs through the peninsula of Monterey.
MONTEREY, THE LAST THING TO SEE IN BIG SUR
The day you arrive, or the day you leave Big Sur, you can take the opportunity to see Monterey, founded in 1770 by Fray Junipero Sierra. A stop that is worth it just to be able to get close to the Aquarium.Cannery Row and Old Fisherman’s Wharf complete the offer. If you do not do the whale watching, can do the route in half a day.
OLD FISHERMAN’S WHARF
Once you have parked, you can take a walk through Old Fisherman’s Wharf, something more authentic than San Francisco. The dock was built in 1846 and was consolidated as a commercial dock at the beginning of the s—XX when the fishing industry flourished in Monterey.
At the end of the pier, the boats leave to see whales first thing in the morning. Among them, we leave you the review of several so that you can get an idea: Princess Monterey Whale Watching, Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center, or Discovery Whale Watch. The tour can last about three hours.
At the entrance of the pier, hopefully, you will also see a sea lion. Right across from the pier is California’s oldest administrative building, Customs House.
From 1822 to 1846, Monterey was the capital of Alta California under Mexican rule. In 1846 it passed into the hands of the United States, and since then, it has been used as a customs building until 1858.
From there, you can take the car to Cannery Row and visit the Monterey Aquarium. The Aquarium, while not the largest, offers many activities for younger children in the Splash Zone. The “touch pools” allow you to interact with animals, such as stingrays, crabs, or starfish.
There are also displays to feed otters and tuna. You will be able to see Pacific octopuses, and it has a very large exhibition of jellyfish. And be sure to see the Kelp Forest and Open Sea aquariums as well as the Baja California exhibition.
There is a parking lot next to the Aquarium with a flat rate for the whole day. So at the end of the visit, you can take the opportunity to take a walk through Cannery Row and eat at one of the restaurants in the area.
Once you’ve seen everything there is to see in Big Sur, you can head up to San Francisco. Or go down to Santa Barbara or Los Angeles. And for a longer trip, you can check out travel tips and more destinations to visit in California and the United States.
What to do in Big Sur