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Traveling to Big Sur is a quintessential California travel experience. This area’s natural beauty is unmatched, and, if you ask us, camping in Big Sur and sleeping in a tent under the stars is the best way to soak it all in.
Essential Things To Do In Big Sur
Once you’ve planned a trip to Big Sur, it’s time to start planning your itinerary. From easy hikes to beach walks and historic landmarks to iconic restaurants, take a look at these 20 top things to do in Big Sur.
Where To Eat in Big Sur
Although Big Sur is rugged and remote, restaurants are scattered along the coast where you can (and should!) grab a bite. If you’re camping, there’s no need to suffer through camp coffee when you can grab an expertly made cappuccino at Big Sur Bakery.
Here are four iconic Big Sur restaurants (organized from south to north) that offerup delicious eats and are casual enough to visit while camping or driving .
Be sure to add this art gallery and café to your Big Sur bucket list. Grab upscale picnic provisions from the café on your way to the beach. After a few hours in the sun, head back to COAST and enjoy gourmet ice cream on their rooftop patio. COAST is open from 11- 4, Thursday through Monday.
COAST Big Sur, 49901 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Tucked into a cliff at the world’s edge, Nepenthe serves up unbeatable views that are only matched by its delicious menu. This iconic Big Sur eatery is rich in history. Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles once owned the property, and local celebrity Henry Miller even crashed there for a stint. If you’re looking for a casual lunch or dinner, grab a seat on the patio and order the famous Ambrosia burger.
Nepenthe, 48510 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Big Sur Bakery
Big Sur Bakery perfectly aligns with the region’s quirky, rustic charm. Stop in for coffee and sample their scrumptious pastries before heading out to explore. Note: Big Sur Bakery is closed on Tuesdays, so plan accordingly!
Big Sur Bakery, 47540 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
The Fernwood Tavern is one of Big Sur’s most popular watering holes. This casual bar and eatery regularly hosts live bands and offers interactive activities like trivia night and karaoke. Grab a drink and order pizza on their dreamy back patio, where you’re surrounded by towering redwoods with string lights sparkling overhead.
Fernwood Tavern, 47200 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Take a hike. Literally.
Big Sur is full of gorgeous hiking trails so we say it’s (almost) mandatory to hit at least one. Whether you’re a hard-core hiker or prefer to stick to the beaten path, hiking is one of our favorite things in Big Sur. With over 50 trails, you’ll find everything from shorter, accessible loops to more strenuous day hikes.
Limekiln Creek Falls Trail, Limekiln State Park
The Lime Kiln Creek Falls Trail winds along a stream through a redwood forest. One fork of the trail leads you to a waterfall, while the other heads towards historic lime kilns that were once used for smelting limestone before sending it to Monterey and San Francisco. This shady trail is perfect for a hot summer day. Due to multiple creek crossings, water shoes are recommended.
Partington Cove, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
The 1.5-mile Partington Cove trail is a mini adventure with tunnels, bridges, giant boulders, and crystal-clear coves. Fun fact: The tunnel was built in the 1870s by John Partington to transport redwood and tanoak bark to the adjacent cove.
Nature Trail and River Path, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
This short (0.6-mile) trail is perfect for families with younger children. Start with the nature trail – be sure to grab a pamphlet to learn more about some of the flora and fauna you’ll see along the way. Then, cross over to the river path, where you’ll find a grove of towering coastal redwoods. Look for the Proboscis tree – an unusually shaped redwood tree with a protruding growth that looks like a nose! If you (or your kids) are still full of energy, tack on the Warden’s Trail Loop.
Pfeiffer Falls Trail, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
The Pfeiffer Falls Trail is a moderate 1.3-mile hike – and one of the most popular trails in Big Sur. You’ll stroll through a redwood forest and scramble up switchbacks to reach a graceful waterfall. When you finally reach the high point in the Santa Lucia mountains, you can see the entire Big Sur Valley, and the Pacific Ocean.
Sea Lion Point Trail, Saint Lobos National Preserve
Views for days with (almost) no effort. The upper loop is handicap accessible, so this 0.6-mile loop is a simple stroll along the Big Sur coast that everyone can enjoy. Looking for something a little longer? Sea Lion Point Trail ties into the Sandhill Loop.
Soberanes Canyon and Whale Point Loop, Garrapata State Park
The Soberanes Canyon and Whale Point Loop is the longest hike on our list (4.1 miles) and one of the most challenging. Adventure-seekers will appreciate the varied terrain and enjoy river crossings and rock scrambling through a canyon. Ultimately, the trail reaches the top of Whale Peak, offering incredible views of the Big Sur coast.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
There’s so much to explore in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Choose your adventure! The South Shore Trail and Bird Island Trail are great for otters and seals, and the aptly-named Cypress Trail weaves its way through a stunning Cypress grove.
Can’t miss landmarks
You wouldn’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, now would you? These can’t-miss landmarks are an essential part of any trip to Big Sur. Be sure to pull out your camera (or phone) and snap a few photos. With surroundings this stunning, it’s impossible to take a bad one.
McWay Falls is one of the most iconic spots in Big Sur. If you were lucky enough to nab one of the coveted campsites in Julia Pfeiffer State Park campground, this waterfall is literally in your backyard. If not, it’s definitely still worth the trip. Note: Many visitors make the mistake of assuming that the beach area is accessible, but it’s actually illegal (and dangerous) to make your way down to the beach.
Henry Miller Memorial Library
Henry Miller was an infamous author who settled in Big Sur in the 1940s. His love for the rugged, remote coast is almost as well known as his racy books (ahem, Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring), which were banned in the US until the 1960s.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library brands itself as “the place where nothing happens,” – but nothing could be further from the truth. The library is a popular destination for private events and regularly hosts writers, artists, and musicians. Be sure to check their events page in advance of your visit!
Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach
Over thousands of years, relentlessly crashing waves carved a keyhole shape out of the jagged, jutting rocks. It’s worth seeing any time of year, but if you’re lucky enough to visit Big Sur during the Winter Solstice, you can see the arch “light up” as the sun slips behind the rocks at sunset.
Point Sur Lighthouse
History buffs will want to check out the Point Sur Lighthouse. This turn-of-the-century light station was first lit in 1889. To this day, the Point Sur Lighthouse remains in use, protecting ships traveling along the treacherous coastline. The Point Sur Lighthouse is open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. Guided walking tours are required.
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Bridge is one of Big Sur’s most iconic landmarks – so you’ll definitely need to stop to snap a pic or two. Pull off at the Castle Rock viewpoint on the north side of the Pacific Coast Highway, or take a short(ish) half-mile hike to the Bixby Bridge viewpoint on Old Coast Road. Hurricane Point is another great option – you’ll get unobstructed bridge views with the Pacific Ocean in the background. It’s about a mile away but typically less crowded.
Big Sur’s beaches are legendary, but some of the more secluded coves are quite treacherous. Powerful tides and steep coastal cliffs are beautiful to behold but not necessarily ideal for a day at the beach. Luckily, many of Big Sur’s public beaches are more suitable for swimming, surfing, picnicking, and exploring.
Gem enthusiasts and rock hunters will want to add Jade Cove to their Big Sur bucket list. A short but steep trail leads to a small cove flanked by towering green cliffs. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the cliffs are made of jade — that gorgeous verdant rock is called serpentine. True Big Sur jade is found on the ocean floor but occasionally washes up on shore. If you’re hoping to try your hand at prospecting, your best bet is to visit during low tide or after a storm.
Sand Dollar Beach, Los Padres National Forest
Sand Dollar Beach is one of the best spots for surfing, whale watching, and picnicking – some of our favorite things to do in Big Sur. If you’re hoping to find the eponymous sand dollars, arrive early. The few that do wash up are quickly snatched by eager beachcombers. If you’re traveling with strollers or wheelchairs, navigating the steep stairs leading to the beach could be problematic. If accessibility is an issue, you can still take in the spectacular scenery from a viewing platform.
With its purple sands, majestic sea stacks, and uncrowded beaches, a trip to Pfeiffer Beach is definitely at the top of our list of things to do in Big Sur. Getting there, however, can be a challenge. If you’re driving, there’s no signage (or cell service!), so be sure to plan ahead and print out maps (or at least screenshot them) in advance. If you plan to visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Big Sur Visitors Center offers a shuttle bus to and from Pfeiffer Beach.
Andrew Molera State Beach, Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera Beach is a secluded stretch of sandy coastline perfect for surfing or swimming. The catch? It’s a mile-long hike to the beach but you’ll need to wade across the Big Sur River. During the summer months, a seasonal footbridge facilitates your crossing. If you’re looking to escape the crowds during the busy season, Andrew Molera Beach is your best bet.
Have Us Plan Your California Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in California vacation planning? Whether you plan camping in Big Sur, taking a road trip down Highway 1, or checking out some of California’s incredible national parks, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Opening photo by Trinette Reed, Nepenthe photo by Naeblys; Pfeiffer Falls Hike by Gerry Matthews; Point Sur Lighthouse by pkorchagina; Jade Cove photo by Podo’s Photos