The jaw-dropping, rugged stretch of coastline along Big Sur, California provides a special retreat to get away from it all. With the verdant Santa Lucia Mountains on the east and the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean on the west, this misty mountain spot will realign you with California’s mystical beauty! Hop on the winding State Route 1 with its seaside cliffs and breathtaking views and experience 12 Incredible Things to Do in Big Sur, California!
What to Do in Big Sur, California
Why Visit Big Sur, California
When you want to get away from it all, Big Sur is the place to visit. This pristine and natural place is always ranked as one of the top tourist destinations, many thanks to its scenic stretch along the undeveloped coastline. Few places exist like this anymore, making you feel like you have it all to yourself.
How to Get to Big Sur, California
There’s only one way to get to Big Sur, and that’s via your own mode of transport on Highway One. If you’re approaching from the south, you’ll need to exit US Hwy 101 at San Luis Obispo and then follow CA Hwy 1 north on through Morro Bay. From the north, you can take US Hwy 101 south to CA Hwy 156 west at Prunedale. Then you’ll take CA Hwy 1 south.
Know Before You Go
You really have to make sure you’re ready to disconnect from online life for a spell. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself mad because the reception is horrible in the Big Sur area. Cell service is iffy and good luck trying to connect to any Wi-Fi. But that’s the best part – going back to the way life was before we had these modern connections.
Additionally, it’s busy at certain points of the year, so you may want to watch out for other travelers. As for the roads, they may be closed from fires or mudslides so be sure you check the route before riding off to Big Sur.
12 of the Most Incredible Things to Do in Big Sur, California
Not to worry about the lack of cell service, for there are many things to do and see while you’re in Big Sur that will make you forget about it all.
For starters, head to Bixby Bridge, which is often called Big Sur’s answer to the Golden Gate, a major feat of construction that was completed in 1932. Pull over here and get a view of the bridge at sunset. It’s life-changing!
The Henry Miller Library
The Henry Miller Library is not your ordinary library where the librarians shush you. This place serves as a bookstore, nonprofit arts center, and performance venue while documenting the life and works of Henry Miller. It was built to honor Miller in the mid-1960s, but after Miller passed on in 1980, Emil White turned it into a memorial where local artists could show their stuff. Past performances have included Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, and Red Hot Chili Peppers among others. If you have any appreciation for literature, music, and arts, you must visit!
Pfeiffer State Beach
Pfeiffer State Beach has an incredible feature at the north end of the beach…purple sand!
This place is a bit of a challenge to find but make the effort and you’ll be rewarded. While having no wireless service will force you to resort to old-school navigation, you’ll have to be on the lookout since there is no street sign. The easiest way to find it though is to look for the Big Sur Deli. Then take the first left street and turn past that deli. Once you turn onto that street, you should see this sign:
Keep going after that as it’s a 2-mile drive to the beach. Come with cash as it’s $5 per car to park and gain access.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is named after a pioneer of Big Sur and offers the chance to see McWay Falls from the Waterfall Overlook Trail. You’ll need to stay within the proper areas to view it, but that 80-foot drop waterfall from the granite cliffs is spectacular even from there.
Sand Dollar Beach
Sand Dollar Beach is not covered in sand dollars, as you might imagine in your mind when you see the name. If you’re visiting in the winter months during low tide, you may be in luck though. It’s a beautiful beach at any time of year, the perfect place to have a picnic while watching the surfers ride the waves.
Point Sur Lighthouse
Point Sur Lighthouse Tour is ideal for history buffs and those who find beauty in lighthouses. Atop a volcanic rock, it’s a pretty prominent landmark in the area plus the former naval facility is definitely worth a look too. For an even more incredible experience, join in on one of the moonlit tours if you’re able to do so!
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a spectacular place to do a bit of sightseeing for every kind of visitor. If you’re more of an adventurer, go for the SCUBA diving, but if you’re a bit more of a dreamer, take photos and paint the landscape, or simply just revel in the surrounding beauty. On top of that, there are archeological sites and all sorts of fascinating plants and animals to see.
At Nepenthe, you can have a drink with a view! Residing high above the Pacific Ocean on a cliff, this beautiful spot offers a place to dine or grab a drink (or both!) while drinking in the view and history. It first opened in 1949 and continues to delight with delicious food and desserts in an unforgettable setting.
The Phoenix Shop
The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe is where you can buy locally made items such as Big Sur Salts, art, books, and more. Fair warning that you may spend more time here trying to decide between all the amazing things to buy. Whatever you choose will surely be a treasure that will help you remember your trip to Big Sur.
New Camaldoli Hermitage
New Camaldoli Hermitage is where you’ll find your own inner peace through the monks that reside here. Beautiful and inspiring all around, a quick stop in the bookstore and gift shop will give you the chance to bring this serenity with you in your travels. Don’t miss the brandy-dipped fruitcakes made by the monks themselves!
If you’re into art, you won’t want to miss your chance to visit the Coast Galleries. You’ll have the chance to see Gary M. Koeppel’s distinctive artworks, a must-see for any collector.
17 Mile Drive
17 Mile Drive directs you with a red-dotted line right on into a splendid world of coastal cliffs, surreal forests, stunning beaches, and world-class golf. It’s one of the most scenic drives of all, taking you by the Lone Cypress and other points of interest. While it does cost $11.25 per vehicle, you can get that fee reimbursed if you spend $35 or more at any of the Pebble Beach Resort restaurants (though not at the market).
Where to Stay in Big Sur, California
Of course, since Big Sur spans such a vast area and cell service is impossible, you’ll want to line up your accommodations before you go. Here are some of the best places to stay while visiting Big Sur.
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn was here before Highway One was even completed. Started in the 1930s by Helmuth and Helen Deetjen, Deetjen’s welcomed weary travelers, and now it serves as a historic and luxurious place to stay. The rooms are lovely, there’s romantic dining, and magnificent gardens offer beauty while the Castro Canyon waterfall brings that wow factor. You’ll feel right at home!
Read More: DEETJEN’S BIG SUR INN REVIEW
Ventana Big Sur
Ventana Big Sur is for adults only and you’ll love disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with each other here. There are 59 secluded suites that offer balconies to overlook the breathtaking view of the rugged Pacific coast. It’s a perfect retreat for finding yourself or simply getting away from it all to let that romance go wild with options for both resort stays and glamping.
Big Sur Lodge
Big Sur Lodge is surrounded by the redwood forestland of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is a haven for all that seek peace among the trees. This beautiful lodge offers 62 cottage-style guest rooms far from today’s chaotic world. Walk the paths in the morning to explore the scenery, swim in the refreshing Big Sur River, and soak up all the paradise of being in nature.
If you’re looking for the best glamping experience in Big Sur, you’ll find it at Treebones Resort. With hiking, exploring, dining, and relaxing, you’ll be fully covered for all your adventures. For those with older kids and those that want to avoid screaming toddlers, you’ll be glad to know that children must be at least 13 years old to stay here.
Glen Oaks Big Sur
Glen Oaks Big Sur offers a rustically modern style for you. It’s the perfect place for anyone who needs a moment in nature without roughing it. You’ll find the Adobe Motor Lodge, Oak Tree Cottages, The Redwood Grove, and the Bridge House all have enticing accommodations that fit your needs here.
Post Ranch Inn
At the Post Ranch Inn, you’ll enjoy some of the most superb accommodations in the area. Unwind in the spa. Embark on special experiences or partake in yoga, hiking, or pure relaxation. The savory dining and complimentary daily breakfast are sure to make you see about extending your stay.
It’s rare to find a place that has something for everyone, but that’s Fernwood Resort for you. There are forest and meadow view cabins, adventure tents for glamping, tent cabins with private fire rings and picnic areas, RV camping, regular camping, and a motel with hot tub rooms to choose from for your accommodations. There’s also a tavern and restaurant so even if you’re roughing it in tents, you don’t have to cook your own food. With tons of hiking all around, it helps you connect to nature even if you choose the spiffy cabins as your version of ‘camping.’
Ragged Point Inn
As the name implies, you will get pristine views at Ragged Point Inn from the cliff-side rooms to overlook the Big Sur Coast, all with their own deck or balcony. But for those that find the view dizzying, the garden rooms are a bit further from the ocean rather than being on the edge. Regardless of the room you choose here, you’ll find all the luxury you’ve been hoping for on this getaway.
Big Sur River Inn
Tucked in among those massive redwoods along the Big Sur River, Big Sur River Inn was the first hotel and restaurant in Big Sur. It was once called the Apple Pie Inn and is still one of the best quiet places to retreat to in this area. The pool offers a relaxing vibe while the views take you back to your inner peace with a nod to the nostalgic past. Delicious food and drinks in the historic dining room will ensure you’ll love every minute you’re here.
For a more rustic experience, choose Ripplewood Resort with 17 cabins hidden among the redwoods. Some overlook the river while the others are near the meadows or the highway. Most have kitchens, fireplaces, and fire pits on the deck or patio. It’s simple yet peaceful, though you won’t be completely out in the wild as the cafe and store have everything you need. The Ripplewood Café has American and Mexican food plus free Wi-Fi on offer for breakfast, lunch, or brunch, so plan ahead for what you’ll do for dinner.
If you’d like a truly unique experience, stay at the Esalen Institute. This campus and retreat center has an organic farm and garden, rustic accommodations, and natural hot springs on a setting of 100 acres of Big Sur beauty. Sign up for a workshop and you’ll get three meals per day plus use of the pool, art barn, meditation hut, and hot springs baths. It’s a place designed to be everyone’s own personal sanctuary and was the first tourist destination in Big Sur for those hot springs, which became popular after Thomas Slate, who suffered from arthritis, found relief in these waters in 1869.
New Camaldoli Hermitage Monastery
Yes, you can stay at the New Camaldoli Hermitage Monastery. There are a variety of accommodations to choose from here though no children under the age of 16 are permitted. This is ideal for anyone who wants to revel in silence. In the main retreat house, there are 9 private single-occupancy rooms that offer a personal garden overlooking the ocean, a place where you will truly find serenity.
Where to Eat in Big Sur, California
Whether you’re coming or going from Big Sur, you’re going to be hungry. There are plenty of places to stop for a bite, but these are the best you’ll find!
Read More: BEST FOODS ALONG CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY 1
Even if you’re not staying at Deetjen’s Inn , you’ll want to stop at this historic restaurant on the property. It was an addition from Barbara Blake, a traveler and widowed Englishwoman who fell in love with the area and had knowledge of how to run country inns plus the funds to make it work. That’s why you’ll find the charming traditional English-style restaurant that still maintains the ambiance it had more than 70 years ago. It offers breakfast and dinner every day except Wednesdays and Thursdays with hearty cuisine that is sure to satisfy your appetite. If you can only make it for one meal, stop in for breakfast as it has the best buttermilk pancakes, eggs benedict, and breakfast burritos around!
Get a taste of California with this fresh and local food stop at Roadhouse. The menu is seasonal so things change often, but all of them are delicious. It’s an ideal place for grabbing a snack, meal, coffee, or lingering for a glass of wine.
Big Sur Bakery
The Big Sur Bakery is a prime pit stop from 8:30 am to 3 pm Wednesdays through Sundays. Those are the times you can grab something from the bakery or sit down for breakfast or lunch. You’ll find omelets, breakfast sandwiches, salads, lunch sandwiches, and more. Dinner is available Thursdays through Saturdays from 5 pm to 8:30 pm with things like oysters and green garlic soup to try. Because this place sources the freshest local finds, it is always changing with the harvest so every time you stop here, you could find something new and exciting. If you’re passing by quickly, pop into the bakery for a treat to enjoy while on the road.
Don’t just stop at Nepenthe to see the view. Sit down for a meal and you’ll really be in for a treat. It is famed for the Ambrosiaburger which is a ground steak sandwich with its own Ambrosia sauce. Save room for dessert as the pies and cakes are made fresh daily in the bakery on-site. You’ve got deep-dish apple pie, a four-layer chocolate cake, and triple berry pie for those that desire sweetness, and there’s also an artisanal cheese plate that is perfect for anyone stopping in for a little wine.
Big Sur Taphouse
Right in the middle of it all, you’ll find Big Sur Taphouse with an excellent array of food and drinks. It’s a fun place where you can catch the game on the big-screen TVs or simply relax on a break from the drive. It’s a locally-owned and operated place, giving you that vibe that those big chain sports bars seem to be missing. They also own the Big Sur Deli next door and allow you to bring your deli order over to the Taphouse to enjoy.
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn
At the Post Ranch Inn, you’ll find the Sierra Mar Restaurant, which you can enjoy even if you’re not a guest of the inn. Dining here will make you want to get these accommodations though, but you’ll still be treated to unobstructed views of the ocean while dining on food that revolves around the chef’s garden and the farms of Big Sur. The menu is a Prix-fix style for both lunch and dinner, though if you’re not a hotel guest, there is limited availability. If you have kids under the age of 18, you should know it’s an adults-only experience so you’ll need to stop somewhere else. Ditto for pets, btw. But hey, there are plenty of other kid and pet-friendly places on this list so don’t worry!
What to Take Home from Big Sur, California
Need some souvenir ideas? These are great for anyone!
A book or lithograph by Henry Miller makes an excellent gift when you stop at that Henry Miller library. There’s a lot to sift through there and you just may find you’ve got your holiday shopping done long before it’s even time to do any holiday shopping.
A fruitcake made by the monks at New Camaldoli Hermitage. It’s completely unique, plus you’re supporting a good cause by buying something from them.
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Golden State Getaways wants to acknowledge that we live, operate, gather, and benefit everyday on the traditional stolen lands of several Indigenous peoples and nations including the Tongva (Gabrieleno), Kizh (Gabrieleno), Chumash, Popeloutchom (Amah Mutsun), Ohlone, Awaswas, and Fernandeño Tataviam peoples who have stewarded the lands and waterways throughout their many generations in what is now the state of California.
I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.
Big Sur is located on Esselen land. You can learn more about the Indigenous land you’re living on or traveling to by visiting the Native Lands website.