South of San Francisco, Big Sur is one of California's most unforgettable getaway. Enjoy the views along the rugged coast, McWay Falls, lunch at Nepenthe or hot springs.
The rugged and enchanting town of Big Sur is arguably the perfect spot for a getaway along the California coast.
Located along California's Central Coast, Big Sur is only about a 140 mile (225 km) drive south of San Francisco.
The state of California has 840 miles (1350km) of unforgettable coastline. With that much pristine coastline, there are many beautiful stops along the way from San Diego to Eureka, which lends to some stiff competition for Big Sur.
Fun Fact: In the United States, only Florida and Alaska have more coastline than California.
Carly and I often get asked if we do a lot of traveling together. We've done a few weekend trips to places like Joshua Tree and Big Sur. So Big Sur is actually one of the rare trips we've taken together! I'm still trying to get her to meet me for a big trip outside of the country, she's a bit more confined to San Diego at the moment than I am.
Big Sur has attracted as residents notable bohemian writers and artists including Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller, Edward Weston, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, Emile Norman, and Jack Kerouac.
Novelist Herbert Gold described Big Sur as "one of the grand American retreats for those who nourish themselves with wilderness."
That is one of the reasons that Big Sur is so special; no high rise hotels or condos, beachfront homes blend into their surroundings, no construction zones except for the necessary rebuilding after landslides - just unobstructed wild nature.
We think Big Sur should sit high on everyone's travel bucket list, and miiiight be the perfect California getaway. Here's why:
The Rugged California Coastal Drive
The 90 mile stretch of Big Sur is part of the Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway), between Carmel in the north and San Simeon in the south. Big Sur is widely considered the longest and most scenic stretches of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the breathtaking and winding highway is carved into the side of the mountains. Here you will find the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. The bridge is 714 feet long and was constructed in the 1930's.
Iconic California stops along the Highway 101 drive include San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey (the sleepy beach town which just made Architectural Digest's Top 35 Places to Visit in 2018), Big Sur, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Eureka.
You can even continue the Highway 101 drive through Oregon and Washington - in essence, driving from the border of Mexico clear across the West Coast of the United States to the border of Canada!
If you fly to California, it's not only recommended but, essentially required, to have (or rent) a car. We're still waiting for better public transportation in California, but even so, it's the remote ruggedness of Big Sur which is so alluring. So you'll need a car to truly discover it's secluded forests, coves and beaches.
It's a rarity that a drive to a destination is almost as magical as the destination itself. Plan for the drive to take longer than expected, you'll want to slow down or stop entirely for those "oh my goodness, that's spectacular!" moments.
McWay Falls is an iconic stop in Big Sur and a pillar in Big Sur tourism. The 80 foot waterfall is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The beach and waterfall are located on a secluded beach so you have to take in the view from up above.
With such a long coastline, Big Sur has only a few small beaches. Some beaches like Pfeiffer Beach are easily accessibly by car, while others you have to hike you.
Sand Dollar Beach is the longest stretch of beach in Big Sur. This beach is one of the few worthy surf spots in Big Sur and also offers picnic tables for both day visitors and overnight campers.
Mostly, the beaches of Big Sur are white sand however one, Pfeiffer Beach, is a must see in Big Sur as the sand here has a purple hue! This purple hue caused by a high concentration of garnet on the sand. Beyond the fun colored sand, the beach is a pretty spectacular spot for sunset.
Big Sur is an unusual place due to it's variety of landscapes - it's where coast, mountains and forest all meet. The ancient Redwoods, also known as Coast Redwoods, thrive along the Big Sur coast. The Redwood is a rapidly growing tree, and some individual trees have been measured at more than 360 feet (110m) in height, making it the tallest measured tree species on the earth! These trees are truly remarkable!
Big Sur is a foodie's delight. Many incredible dining options include:
Big Sur Bakery which is possibly the quaintest little place, serving up incredible breads, pastries and so much more. Dinner is served Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30pm - 8:30pm.
Nepenthe Big Sur is a quintessential California experience; enjoy a glass of wine, an Ambrosia Burger, or one of their exceptional homemade desserts.
The Big Sur Roadhouse features delicious California cuisine with fresh, locally sourced ingredients on their seasonal menu.
Because of Big Sur's proximity to wine country, pair any meal with delicious California wine!
One hike that is a MUST is the McWay Falls hike, for two reasons: McWay Falls is the image of Big Sur so it's a must to see, and the hike it's quick and easy at only .5 mile long and practically zero incline.
Personally, my favorite hike in Big Sur is Ewoldsen trail. The trailhead leaves from the same area as McWay Creek. It's roughly 4.5 miles roundtrip hike. It's moderate and traverses the Santa Lucia mountainsides, leading it's hikers along switchbacks along the dense forest until you reach a place where the forest clears and you have a clear view of the ocean, mountains and forests that surround you. If you continue the trail, at certain times throughout the year you'll see a hill of wild fragrant lupin flowers. Truly a spectacular hiking experience!
More hiking in Big Sur.
Big Sur is the perfect place to relax. Soak in Sykes Hot Springs or Esalen Hot Springs, have an ocean front picnic, a walk amongst giant redwood trees, star gaze, or go horseback riding. No matter what you choose to do in Big Sur, you will feel a million miles away from the stresses of city life, giving your mind, body and soul a much needed rest.
A trip to Big Sur gives you a chance to see some of natures most elusive animals such as blue whales, California condors, peregrine falcons, elephant seals, mountain lions and bald eagles.
Since Big Sur is perched high above the Pacific Ocean, it makes it the perfect spot for whale watching. Killer whales and dolphins live in the waters around Big Sur year round. While you can see Humpback Whales April through December, Blue Whales June through October, and Gray Whales December through May.
Big Sur is also home to the rare endangered California Condor, North America’s largest bird. In 1987 there were only 22 California Condors left in the wild! But by 2012, about 300 existed, approximately half in the wild and half in captivity. During our drive from our campsite to our hike, through the rugged cliffside road, we were lucky enough to see one fly beside our car a hundred feet over the ocean. It was a magnificent sight, one I know we will never forget!
P.S. there's a beach in San Simeon where elephant seals are so abundant that they call it “Elephant Seal Vista Point”.
Big Sur and surrounding areas have a ton of options for sleeping in the magnificent redwood forests, perched atop the Pacific Ocean or overlooking sweeping mountains.
Camping, glamour camping aka "glamping" in yurts or teepees, even accommodation options in an Airstream are all available to tourists visiting Big Sur.
Carly is not traditionally a fan of camping, but our site in Big Sur was perfect due to it's location on a creek and availability of power outlets - it was the perfect blend of disconnecting from the stresses of city life and amenities.
Carly and I are both from California, so we might be partial to Californian sunsets. However, they do offer incredibly magical moments. We think there's no better way to end a day, particularly while traveling, than with an extraordinary sunset, and Big Sur offer's its' lucky visitors plenty of opportunities for beautiful sunsets.
Epic Neighboring Towns
Big Sur is located ideally between the rolling vineyard covered hills of Paso Robles to the south, San Francisco to the north and Yosemite National Park to the east.
For those of you looking to come to California, within only a few hours of either direction you can experience a vast variety of cool California activities.
California is undoubtedly an incredibly diverse state with so much for everyone to explore; whether you're young or old, on a family vacation or romantic getaway, from California or a foreigner, staying for a weekend or a month, California will not disappoint.
As for Big Sur? It's clearly a jewel of California, perfect for any getaway.
Time to experience Big Sur, California for yourself? Ya, we think so, too.
Let us navigate the world of traveling planning for you.