Big Sur California Travel Guide

Big Sur California: Travel Guide

Big Sur, California is an amazing RVing destination with road trip adventures for all ages! Technically not a town or a city, the Big Sur area includes a variety of places to go and things to see from the main Big Sur area all the way up to nearby Monterey and back again! 

On our way up the coast we had the pleasure of experiencing many great attractions, rugged beaches, windy roads, great restaurants and lesser known treasures which led us to create this guide!

Our Big Sur, California Travel Guide will cover the Big Sur area as a whole and include many exciting things to do in Big Sur and Monterey County. Read the whole thing or jump around with these quick links to find what you need:

Things To Do In Big Sur

Big Sur is an area off the coast of California that is easily accessible if you’re planning a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. If you don’t have an RV but would love to take this epic road trip in one, find an RV to rent with Outdoorsy and see if RVing is right for you with a test trip!

Of course, we recommend you travel in your RV and take your home on wheels along for the ride, but if you want to take this trip with just the car and find lodging in the local area that will work as well. 

Actually, we love to road trips with and without the RV and when we do- we typically stay in either cabins, hotels or Airbnb homes! If you’re interested in an Airbnb, Big Sur has many options available for small and large groups! Check out some options here!

Let’s get started!

Places to Go & Things to See in Big Sur

What would a road trip be without great places to go and things to see?

Not much in our book, so to start this guide off the right way, we’re going to jump right into some of the best things to see in Big Sur for all ages!

Big Sur Station Visitor Center

The best place to start any road trip or RV adventure is to find the visitor center! Asking lots of questions like, “What are the best things to do in Big Sur?” can help you narrow down what locals consider worthy of sightseeing. 

Big Sur Station is actually the Big Sur Visitor Center and Information Station!

It’s located on HWY 1 and is open daily from 9am-4pm. Be sure to pick up lots of brochures for all the attractions you are considering visiting during your trip.

Point Sur Lighthouse in Big Sur

Sitting above the water by more than 350 feet, this light station is the only turn of the century lighthouse open to the public.

Visitors enjoy the location of being on top of a volcanic rock, for docent only led tours which last around 3 hours. Located just 19 miles south of Carmel along Highway 1, you can stop by any weekend but make sure to arrive early to get parking and call prior for the most up to date tour information.

17 Mile Drive: Fun Big Sur Tourist Trap

A scenic drive in Pebble Beach, California- the 17 Mile Drive is a tourist trap worth taking. Located at the tip of the Monterey Bay Peninsula, the historic town of Pacific Groves has found a way to monetize the sights of this beautiful road trip! 

At just $10.50 per vehicle, you can enjoy The Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, Spanish Bay, Point Joe, The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and much more! Download the 17 Mile Drive App and enjoy an illustrated map of the resort, virtual concierge, and even an audio guide!

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Off the beaten path, Pfeiffer Beach is well worth the windy drive along Sycamore Canyon Road. While your RV won’t be able to accompany you along the twisty trek, once you get to the parking lot- it’s just a short walk down to the beautiful beach!

Hard crashing waves and tide pools invite travelers to explore this Big Sur treasure!

Have you even seen purple sand? Head to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, and you’ll leave with pictures to prove you have!

Carmel by the Sea, Big Sur fairy house
Carmel by the Sea | Photo credit: www.carmelcalifornia.com/

Carmel by the Sea

The storybook town of Carmel by the Sea offers one of a kind experiences, big adventures and small-town treasures! Cover every inch of this one-square mile village during your trip to the Central California Coast and take in some of the world’s finest restaurants, shopping, art galleries and scenery!

Explore the top sights in just one day, or speed it up and cover them in a few hours.

Make sure to hit the Carmel Mission, Hog’s Breath Inn, Devendorf Park, and Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co!

Carmel Beach, Big Sur

One of the nation’s prettiest beaches, Carmel Beach is a Big Sur hot spot that can’t be missed! White sands at the foot of the Ocean Ave, welcome travelers for hours of play taking in the beautiful scenery, playing with your dogs off leash, surfing, playing volleyball or just walking along the Scenic Bluff Path!

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, CA

Make time to pull over and grab a shot of the Bixby Bridge, Big Sur equivalent to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco! Soaring 260 feet above the canyon, Bixby Bridge is a must-see road trip way point for travelers looking to get the most iconic pictures along Highway 1. 

Driving a large RV or pulling a large travel trailer or 5th wheel, will make it difficult to pull over and take pictures, but road trippers in cars, small motorhomes, and Class B types will have few issues. 

Hiking in Big Sur

Hiking in Big Sur California

Hiking in Big Sur is the perfect way to spend your days on the coast! With a variety of hikes, barring in length and difficulty, taking a day or two to go hiking in Big Sur is something you’ll definitely want to make time for. From majestic redwoods to amazing coastline, Big Sur is one of the most beautiful areas for hiking.

So are you interested in going hiking in Big Sur?

Awesome- check out these 7 easy Big Sur hiking trails!

North Shore Trail for Hiking in Big Sur

Located at Point Lobos State Reserve, the Big Island Trail is an easy 3.2 mile hike! Heading along the coastline for views of the bay. The trail ends by the Sea Lion Point parking area, and you can return using the same trail or continue onto Sea Lion Point Trail for more hiking. Dogs however are not allowed.

Hiking in Big Sur on Sea Lion Point Trail

Also located in Point Lobos State Reserve, the Sea Lion Point Trail can be picked up right at the west end of the Sea Lion Point parking lot and is just .07 miles long. Overlooking the Sea Lion Cove it’s surrounded by wild sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters. Dogs aren’t allowed on this trail.

Cyprus Grove Trail for Hiking in Big Sur

An easy 0.8 mile loop located in Point Lobos State Reserve, Cyprus Grove Trail is an easy dog-free hike that goes around the Allan Memorial Grove, one of only two natural stands of Monterey Cypress in the world.

Big Sur, California

Hiking in Big Sur on the Waterfall Overlook Trail

At just ½ a mile round trip, this short hike is the perfect length for young and mature travelers who want the least amount of work for the biggest reward. Located inside the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, it’s almost a flat walk over to the oceanfront overview that provides a great view of McWay Falls.

Partington Cove Trail for Hiking in Big Sur

Also located at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the Partington Cove Trail is a short steep hike covering just 1-mile round trip. Great for a short, it leads over a wooden bridge down to a 60-foot tunnel where you exit onto a rocky beach. It’s an awesome short hike!

Hiking in Big Sur on Soberanes Point Trail

Located in Garrapata State Park, the Soberanes Point Trail is an easy 1.8 miles round trip hike. Dog are not allowed on this trail, but it does offer panoramic whale watching views at the top of what is called, Whale Watching Peak!

Pfeiffer Beach Trail for Hiking in Big Sur

If you’re looking for an easy Big Sur hiking trail where you can bring the dog along, Pfeiffer Beach Trails is the perfect choice! It’s an easy 1 mile round trip hike, that starts at the west end of the Pfeiffer Day use parking lot at the trailhead sign. Head out and wind along the Cypress Creek to the beach with picture perfect sandstone arches and rock formations.

Carmel Beach, Carmel by the Sea in Big Sur California
Carmel Beach Big Sur | Photo credit: www.carmelcalifornia.com/

3 Beautiful Waterfalls in Big Sur 

Waterfalls in Big Sur come in all shapes and sizes. The rugged and lush landscape changes with each and every hike out to see the water flowing natural beauties and hiking there is just the star of the fun!

While there are many waterfalls in Big Sur, we’ll cover 3 that came highly recommended during out trip and leave you with the design to dive deeper if you choose.

Limekiln Falls: Waterfalls in Big Sur

You’ll want to have your camera ready when hiking through the lush forest to get to the Limekiln Falls, which splits near the top and falls beautifully below!

It’s a beautiful 100-foot waterfall, that is undoubtable at its best during the winter or early spring when seasonal rains increase water flow. Located in Limekiln State Park, there is a small fee for parking, which is totally worth it.

McWay Waterfall: Waterfalls in Big Sur

Picture perfect shot! The McWay waterfall can be seen from the Waterfall Overlook Trail, since the beach is actually closed to the public.

The water drops drastically 80 feet from the granite to the cove below. Its a short hike to the overlook area, but the colors in the water are beautiful- so it’s definitely a do not miss- if you’re already in the area. If you’re looking for waterfalls in Big Sur, and don’t want to make a big deal out of it, just head here and grab your camera!

Pfeiffer Falls: Waterfalls in Big Sur

One of the most popular and most noted waterfalls in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Falls is a small 60-foot, multi-stranded waterfall inside Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. 

While the shorter trails are currently closed, you can take the Valley Loop which is 2-miles and little more moderate. It climbs 200 feet through the redwoods and if you take the right at the fork- you’ll find Pfeiffer Falls!

Top Big Sur Restaurants

Top Big Sur Restaurant

If you’re anything like me, you can’t visit a super cool destination and not indulge in some of the local food! Eating at great restaurants in the areas we travel to, is just part of the road trip fun!

Make it a point to try different types of cuisine, as well as the local favorites! And if you really want to make memories- try something new at a local restaurant like raw oysters and make sure to take pictures!!!

Big Sur has some great places to eat, let’s get into a few options…

Top Big Sur Restaurant: Big Sur Bakery

Big Sur Bakery

Big Sur Bakery right off of HWY 1, next to the Big Sur Taphouse! 

If you’re looking for tasty pastries like almond croissants, strudels, and donuts, or delicious fare like chowder, fried chicken, chicken salad, or wood fired pizza, this is the place to go! The prices are high- so just keep that in mind, but the food is high quality and highly recommended. 

Currently open Wednesday – Sunday from 9am-5pm. They’re offering to-go food and drinks until bakery items are sold out for the day. Kitchen items are available from 12pm-5pm and beer, wine and drinks are available until close!

Nepenthe Restaurant

I can’t say enough great things about this family owned Big Sur restaurant! Nepenthe is a Big Sur favorite, that actually includes the restaurant, a cafe called Cafe Kevah, as well as The Phoenix Shop- gift shop!

This cliff-top restaurant is located about 30 miles south of Carmel on the waterside of HWY 1, you’ll enjoy insane views of over 50 miles of ocean coastline. 

The menu includes appetizers, lunch and dinner options as well as a decent kids menu for young ones! Chow down on sandwiches, salads, soups, steak, roasted chicken, fish, vegetarian dishes, and much more!

Nepenthe is open daily from 11:30am-10:00pm except for Thanksgiving & Christmas- so make sure you stop by on your next trip up the coast and try to get a spot by the outdoor fire pit!

Big Sur Roadhouse

The Big Sur Roadhouse is a fun place to grab a bite to eat any day of the week!

Open 7 days a week from 8am-2:30pm, this fun, casual, and modern Big SUR Restaurant, has a little something for everyone! They serve California favorites made with local ingredients!

Stop by for coffee with your breakfast, a delicious burger or tacos for lunch, a glass of wine or a small snack!

4 Big Sur State Parks To Visit

The Big Sur area has several great state parks for visitors to enjoy during their trip. Open daily from ½ an hour prior to sunrise and ½ and hour after sunset, you’ll have plenty of time to explore. 

There is a $10 per day/per car entrance fee, which allows you access to all the Big Sur State Parks for the day. Another option is grabbing a State Parks Pass, which is $195 for the whole year and includes all California State Parks. 

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park is located on Highway 1 near mile marker 51 a short drive below Carmel. The park offers a good amount of still relatively undeveloped grounds and allows visitors to take advantage of miles of great hiking through hilltops, bluffs and beaches where you can enjoy some amazing beachcombing. It also offers panoramic views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Car parking is permitted in the designated day use parking lot (RVs not permitted), as well as in the pullouts along HWY 1.

A few things to know:

  • The park is open 8 a.m. to Sunset.
  • Restrooms are currently open.
  • Dogs are not allowed past the day-use parking lot.
  • Near mile marker 51.2 on Highway 1
  • The campground remains closed due to prior flood damage.
  • The Ranch House Museum is closed.
  • Fishing is also restricted
  • Swimming and surfing is not allowed

If you love hiking, Big Sur is the perfect destination and this state park can offer many different terrains for you to enjoy!

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Named after a well respected pioneer- Julia Pfeiffer Burns, this Big Sur state park is another great stop for your road trip! Stretching along the coastline into about 3K foot ridges- you’ll find oak, redwoods and an 80-foot waterfall dropping from the granite cliffs above into the clear ocean waters below, at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Keep in mind, there is a very limited amount of parking spots available. Also the maximum vehicle length is 22’ and the parking does fill up quickly. If you drive over and find there are no parking spots available, you cn park on the side of HWY 1- if you stay on the side of the white line. 

Hike in camping is available at this state park at two environmental campsites on the west side of the highway. Both sites fill up really quickly, so try to plan 6 months out! 

Ocean watching is great at this state park! From the Overlook Trail, you can see grey wales passing by as well as sea otters and harbor seals in the coves. Bird watching is all incredibly popular here!

A few things to know:

  • The park is open 8 a.m. to Sunset.
  • Restrooms are open
  • Dogs are not allowed past the day-use parking lot.
  • Environmental campground is currently open.
  • Waterfall Overlook Trail is open
  • Partington Cove Trail is open
  • All trails east of Highway 1 are currently closed

Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park is another great stop if your looking for Big Sur State Parks to visit during your Pacific Coast HWY road trip! Just 52 miles south of Carmel, the park features over 700 acres, a breathtaking waterfall, and seascapes of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary!

The Campground at Limekiln State Park is open!

That’s great news for travelers like us, who want to take the RV with us or live in it full-time! Speaking of camping, there are restrictions on the length of the camping vehicles! Travel trailers and 5th wheels are allowed up to 15 feet and motorhomes are allowed up to 24 feet.

Offering about a dozen developed campsites, several with ocean-views on the beach, where sea birds can be seen while the sun sets or rises.

  • The park is open 8 a.m. to Sunset.
  • Restrooms are open
  • Dogs are not allowed past the day-use parking lot.
  • Campground is open
  • Beach is open.
  • All trails are closed

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located in Monterey County, California. It covers over 1K acres of land, centered around the Big Sur River and is known as the “mini Yosimitie” The park has several types of trees including redwoods, conifers, oaks, cottonwoods, maples and alders that you can admire while you walk along the river banks! 

It also includes a large campground that can accommodate hikes, bikers, and RVers, with many of the campsites being located right along the Big Sur River. There is also a lodge on the property with over 60 guest rooms, a cafe and a grocery store. 

The Campground offers over 180 RV and tent sites on or near the Big Sur River. Reservations fill up about 6 months prior, so make sure you plan ahead and use the online reservation system at ‘ReserveCalifornia” for around $35- #50 per night! 

During peak season there is a maximum stay of 7 nights, so keep that in mind when planning your trip! 

  • The park is open 8 a.m. to Sunset.
  • Restrooms are open
  • Dogs are not allowed past the day-use parking lot.
  • Campground is open
  • All trails are closed
  • Nature Center is closed.

That’s All Folks…

We hope you enjoyed this information on Big Sur! On our way up the coast we had the pleasure of experiencing many great attractions, rugged beaches, windy roads, great restaurants and lesser known treasures which led us to create this guide! 

Big Sur, California is an amazing RVing destination with road trip adventures for all ages! Every road trip to the area includes a variety of places to go and things to see from the main Big Sur area all the way up to nearby Monterey and back again! 

So start from the north and head south, or start from the south and head up north, it’s your choice!

This Big Sur, California Travel Guide covered the Big Sur area as a whole and include many exciting things to do in Big Sur and Monterey County. 

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