Wondering what to do in Big Sur? I’ve covered you. Here’s a complete guide to the best things to do in Big Sur in California.
Spectacular Big Sur is a 90-mile (144 km) long coastline stretch along the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur stretches from Carmel-by-the Sea to San Simeon in California in the USA.
Big Sur is famous for some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, incredible wilderness, and amazing wildlife. Big Sur glamping is a must-have once-in-the-lifetime experience.
But, Big Sur is probably most famous as one of the most scenic routes in the world.
Stunning Big Sur is world-renowned for the striking parks with amazing hiking and biking trails, unspoiled nature reserves with awe-inspiring redwood forests, flower-filled meadows and secluded beaches, wonderful hot springs, untouched nature sanctuaries with rare plants, trees, and wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bobcats, squirrels, black-tail deer, and birds like belted kingfishers and dippers.
So if you are a nature lover and if you are wondering what to do in Big Sur, be at peace. Big Sur is a heaven on earth for outdoor enthusiasts.
There are many awesome things to do in Big Sur, but some of the best things to do in Big Sur are: see the iconic Bixby Bridge, admire spectacular McWay Falls, explore pristine beaches, streams, meadows, rivers, waterfalls, forests, camp, hike the trails, scuba dive… In short, enjoy the beauty of the wilderness, and witness the splendor of the wildlife.
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- WHAT TO DO IN BIG SUR
- 1. EXPLORE POINT LOBOS STATE NATURAL RESERVE
- 2. DISCOVER THE TRAILS OF GARRAPATA STATE PARK
- 3. SEE POINT SUR LIGHTHOUSE
- 4. EXPLORE PRISTINE ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
- 5. HIKE THE TRAILS OF PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
- 6. SEE McWAY FALLS
- 7. HIKE JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK
- 8. HEAD TO CELEBRATED PFEIFFER BEACH
- 9. SEE LEGENDARY BIXBY BRIDGE
- 10. BE WOWED BY THE BEAUTY OF LIMEKILN STATE PARK
- 11. DINE AT NEPENTHE RESTAURANT WITH FABULOUS OCEAN VIEWS
- 12. GO TO HENRY MILLER MEMORIAL LIBRARY IN BIG SUR
- 13. FIND A SAND DOLLAR ON THE SAND DOLLAR BEACH
- 14. SEE THE JADE COVE BEACH
- 15. SAY HELLO TO ELEPHANT SEALS
- 16. VISIT HEARST CASTLE
- Where to stay in Big Sur
- BEST TIME TO VISIT BIG SUR
WHAT TO DO IN BIG SUR
Best Big Sur activities to make unforgettable memories
1. EXPLORE POINT LOBOS STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one of the most beautiful parts of the Californian coast. Point Lobos is a State Park and Natural Reserve. It is one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in California.
Scuba dive, hike and witness the wildlife in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
Park for free along the highway and hike easy Carmel Meadow Trail, well-groomed North Shore Trail, and Cypress Grove Trail with fabulous overlooks of the Pacific.
Point Lobos Cypress Grove Trail is a wonderful natural display of exceptionally rare Monterey cypress trees. As a matter of fact, Cypress Grove Trail exhibits some of the most scenic cypress trees near San Francisco.
Take a 5.7-mile loop trail from Whalers Cove to Bird Island and back, watch nesting cormorants on Bird Island, head to Sea Lion Point, stop by Cannery Point, have a picnic in one of the picnic areas, and watch marine mammals.
Where is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve?
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is 3 miles s south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1.
Point Lobos is at Point Lobos 62 California 1 Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923.
2. DISCOVER THE TRAILS OF GARRAPATA STATE PARK
Garrapata State Park is well-known for its wonderful beachfront trails and stunning redwood hikes.
Hike Garrapata State Park and admire the breathtaking scenery and stunning wild CallaLily Valley. Watch sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and gray whales from Soberanes Point.
Where is Garrapata State Park?
Garrapata State Park is located 9 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1 in California. It’s 18 miles north of Big Sur.
3. SEE POINT SUR LIGHTHOUSE
Visit Point Sur State Historic Park with Point Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur Lightstation is one of the National Register of Historic Places. It dates back to the late 19th century. The lighthouse can be visited only in a 3-hour docent-guided tour on weekends starting at 10 a.m.
Where is Point Sur Lighthouse?
The Point Sur State Historic Park is located 19 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1.
4. EXPLORE PRISTINE ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
Untouched Andrew Molera State Park is located at the mouth of the Big Sur River.
Enjoy secluded beaches, redwood groves, meadows, dramatic buffs, the Big Sur River in less developed Andrew Molera State Park. Visit the historic Cooper Cabin from the 1860s, the oldest structure in Big Sur. See stunning Highbridge Falls and explore over 20 miles (32 km) of the park’s hiking trails.
Where is Andrew Molera State Park?
Andrew Molera State Park is 21 miles south of Carmel-by-the Sea on Highway 1, and near the 51.2-mile marker on Highway 1
5. HIKE THE TRAILS OF PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a gorgeous state park along the Big Sur River with amazing trails covering 1.000 acres of land.
Explore the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park trails: the 1.4-mile-long Pfeiffer Falls Trail, half-mile-long Valley View Trail, the 4.8-mile Buzzard’s Roost loop, and the 8-mile Mount Manual Trail.
Visit Big Sur River Gorge, camp along the Big Sur River, or stay at Big Sur Lodge which is within the park.
Note: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are not the same.
Where is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park?
The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located 28 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway, and near the 47.2-mile marker on Highway 1. It is set on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
6. SEE McWAY FALLS
The McWay Falls is a Big Sur landmark.
Whoever you ask what to do in Big Sur, they will say ‘see the waterfall that flows directly into the Pacific’.
The McWay Creek drops directly into the Pacific Ocean creating one of the most scenic waterfalls in the world. Unquestionably, McWay Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world.
There are two ways to reach the McWay Falls Overlook Trail. Park along Highway 1 and hike 0.3 miles down to the viewpoint.
Where is McWay Falls?
McWay Falls is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 37 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast in California.
7. HIKE JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park comes 12 miles south of the above-mentioned Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
The park is famous for spectacular Mcway Falls, 2.500 years old redwoods, great hiking trails, beautiful scenery, and camping sites.
Hike the trails, walk along the creeks, admire the waterfalls, wander the forest, and scuba dive in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The most popular hiking trails in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park are the mile-long Waterfall Overlook Trail, the 5-mile-long Ewoldsen Trail, the Canyon Trail, Lookout Trail, and the Partington Cove Trail.
Where is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park?
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is 37 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea on Highway 1 and near the 35.8-mile marker on Highway 1.
8. HEAD TO CELEBRATED PFEIFFER BEACH
Visit famous Pfeiffer Beach with the Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock in the sunset.
Head to unmarked and ungated 2-mile long Sycamore Canyon Road located just south of Big Sur Station on Highway 1. Park the car in the parking area and take a short walk to the Pfeiffer Baech and visit the place where Sycamore Canyon Creek goes into the Pacific Ocean. See spectacular Keyhole Rock with the amazing natural arch and go to the northern part o the bach with wonderful purple sand.
The best time to visit Pfeiffer Beach is in the sunset when the last rays of daylight go through the arch of Keyhole Rock.
Where is Pfeiffer Beach?
Pfeiffer Beach is 31 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is located at 9100 Sycamore Canyon Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920. It’s in the heart of Big Sur within Los Padres National Forest.
9. SEE LEGENDARY BIXBY BRIDGE
What to do in Big Sur? See the Bixby Bridge!!
Take photos of the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge from multiple viewpoints.
Bixby Bridge is a synonym of Big Sur. It is one of the most photographed and Instagrammed bridges in the US because of graceful arches and spectacular setting. Bixby Bridge crosses the steep Bixby canyon made by Bixby Creek. The massive construction was completed in 1932. Since then the bridge still remained as one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world.
Where is Bixby Bridge?
Bixby Bridge is 13 miles (21 km) south of Carmel by-the-Sea on Highway 1 in California. It is located in the northern part of Big Sur.
10. BE WOWED BY THE BEAUTY OF LIMEKILN STATE PARK
Enjoy the wilderness of Limekiln State Park, a state park with the most spectacular views of the Big Sur Coast.
Limekiln State Park covers more than 700 acres of land and it features a redwood forest, a beach, Limekiln Falls, and four lime kilns from the 19 century.
Camp in one of the 11 ocean sites or the 31 sites among the redwoods within Limelkilen State Park campground. And hike Hare Creek Canyon, Limekiln Creek, or Limekiln Falls. The Limekiln Falls is the most beautiful in early spring when the water flows strong.
Where is Limekiln Park?
Limekiln State Park is located 56 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, off Highway 1. It is 2 miles south of Lucia on the Big Sur Coast.
11. DINE AT NEPENTHE RESTAURANT WITH FABULOUS OCEAN VIEWS
Eat and enjoy spectacular views of the Big Sur Coast and the Pacific Ocean from the famous Nepenthe restaurant where once Orson Wells, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Clin Eastwood, and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few were regular guests.
In fact, the restaurant was built on the site where a cabin of Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth in the 1940s stood. The Nepenthe restaurant is world-celebrated for the epic panoramic views of The Pacific Ocean and Santa Lucia Range.
Where is the Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur?
The Nepenthe restaurant is located 29 miles (47 km) south of Carmel.
12. GO TO HENRY MILLER MEMORIAL LIBRARY IN BIG SUR
Visit Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, an art hub and a book store founded on the property of Henry Miller in a redwood grove near to a famous Nepenthe restaurant.
The property is a former Big Sur home of Henry Miller, a world-celebrated late American writer, and artist. Today his home hosts music and art events.
Buy a copy of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Sexus, or, the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch and check out Miller’s watercolor paintings.
Where is Henry Miller Memorial Library?
Henry Miller Memorial Library is located in the heart of Big Sur and 26 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is 1/4 mile south of Nepenthe restaurant.
13. FIND A SAND DOLLAR ON THE SAND DOLLAR BEACH
Big Sur’s Sand Dollar Beach is the longest beach in the area. A 3/4 mile long beach is popular beachcombing, lounging, and surf spot with a spectacular setting. Contrary to its name, sand dollars are not an easy find here. But try your luck, give it a try and you might find your lucky sand dollar.
The beach can be reached by a short walking trail and a stairway.
Where is Sand Dollar Beach?
The Sand Dollar beach is 60 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and 30 miles north of San Simeon on Highway 1. It is about 7 miles south of Limekiln State Park on the southern Big Sur Coast.
14. SEE THE JADE COVE BEACH
The Jade Cove Beach is named after the jade stones that have been pulled out of the ocean here in the past.
Jades from the Beach Cove have been very appreciated as they’ve been big and valuable. Today there are no more jades on the beach, but still, the rocky beach is a well-worth visit.
Where is Jade Cove Beach?
The cove is 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Sand Dollar Beach in southern Big Sur. It’s at 69232 Cabrillo Hwy, Big Sur, CA 93920 and within Los Padres National Forest.
15. SAY HELLO TO ELEPHANT SEALS
The Elephant Seal Vista Point in Big Sur belongs to the Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area.
The elephant seals come to the Elephant Seal Vista Point to form colonies to give birth, breed, and molt. Elephant Seals are protected earless seals. Up to 18.000 elephants could be seen on the 4-mile long San Simeon State beach.
Where is the Elephant Seal Vista Point?
Elephant Seal Vista Point is in the southern part of Big Sur, 1.5 miles south of Point Piedras Blancas and 5 miles north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
16. VISIT HEARST CASTLE
The Hearst Castle is a historic landmark of California and one of the most visited attractions in California. More than one million people visit Hearst Castle a year.
The Hearst Castle in San Simeon was the home of newspaper magnate Randolph Hearst. It was built between 1919 and 1947. The castle represents an opulent palace with 165 rooms, 127 acres (51 ha) of gardens, fountains, and pools. The castle’s art collection includes Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiques, European masterpieces, oriental rugs, and tapestries … The castle gives an insight into the lifestyle of Holywood’s elite of the ’50s and ’60s who were Hearst’s friends and regular visitors. The castle sits at 1600 m above sea level and the vistas from the castle are nothing less than superb.
Tickets are sold at the Visitors Center and a tour bus takes the visitors up the hill to start the tour.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Hearst Castle tour with an expert guide and pick up in San Simeon or Cambria.
Where is Hearst Castle?
Hearst Castle is in San Simeon on the Pacific Coast in California. It’s located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s a 4-hour drive from San Francisco or a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles. Address: 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452-9741
Where to stay in Big Sur
- Ventana Big Sur – is an iconic luxury resort in Big Sur. It has 59 secluded oceanfront suites with spectacular views of the Pacific ocean.
- Big Sur Lodge – is a great place to stay in Big Sur as the accommodation comes with a free day pass to three state parks: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
- Fernwood Resort – is a rustic and family-friendly motel with forest-view rooms in Big Sur.
- or check out Best Rentals and Best Airbnbs in Big Sur
BEST TIME TO VISIT BIG SUR
The most popular time to visit Big Sur is from April to October, but the best time to visit Big Sur is from September to November.
The rainy season in Big Sur goes from December to February. The lowest temperatures in Big Sur are in December.
Chilly spring is a good time for visiting Big Sur as nature awakes after rainy and cold winter. Big Sur is among the best places to travel in March for the wildflower blossom and to watch the grey whale migration.
Big Sur in summer is foggy, but the fog gets up until noon.
Autumn is the best time for outdoor adventures in Big Sur. The highest temperatures Big Sur sees in September.