Big Sur is one of the most popular areas to explore when it comes to visiting California. This surfer’s paradise is located in Monterey County, and is filled with small, winding roads, seaside cliffs, and amazing ocean views.
The Big Sur coast is a rugged area that’s home to natural beauty and tons of activities to do. With state parks, lighthouses, redwood groves, beaches, and more, Big Sur is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
Ready to learn more? Here are 12 things to do in Big Sur that we know you and your crew will love.
Bixby Bridge is often interchanged with Bixby Canyon Bridge, and is famed for its beautiful aesthetic design. It’s been photographed millions and millions of times since 1932 because it offers spectacular views of both the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. From a boat’s point of view, it is beautifully wedged between cliffs sitting over a canyon.
Make sure to tighten your hats, this area is so windy because of how open it is. It spans 714 feet in length, so it’s not a particularly long drive (thank goodness…don’t look down) so make sure to find a proper pull over to take photos instead of blocking traffic.
For all the Reese Witherspoon and Big Little Lies fans, you’ll recognize this bridge, as it was commonly used in the show.
A drive over the bridge is one of the best things to do in Big Sur!
SEE THE REDWOODS AT LIMEKILN STATE PARK
Limekiln State Park is the perfect place to spot some marine life. Located just 56 miles south of Carmel, California, you can check out the marine life in many of the creeks or the beach located in this state park.
One of the most popular reasons why people visit is to see the area where the three canyons meet. Visitors can take in the beauty of the amazing redwood forests while here, too.
At Limekiln State Park, you can take some of the most beautiful hikes, being completely emerged in the forest one minute and feeling the ocean breeze the next. Make sure to take in awesome views of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the rugged coastline.
TAKE A MOONLIT TOUR OF POINT SUR LIGHTHOUSE
The Point Sur Lighthouse is registered as a National Historic Landmark, and it’s a beautiful place to see panoramic views of the ocean during the day or at night. Be prepared to hike up to 450 feet in elevation for these beautiful views!
Group tours are offered on a first come first serve basis several times throughout the day. The groups are limited to 40 per group and they do get filled pretty quickly because of its popularity. Even if you aren’t someone who likes to hike, this lighthouse is worth the visit!
While some certainly take the hike alone, tours are recommended because the history of the lighthouse is fascinating. Even if most come for the views, it’s worth understanding how this area came about. Atop of the hill is where families used to live and work, but today, it looks more like a ghost town. These guided tours can tell you more about the lifestyle of the people who used to call this area home.
EXPLORE JULIA PFEIFFER BIG SUR STATE PARK
Visiting the different state parks in the area is one of the best things to do in Big Sur. Located just 30 miles south of Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is easy to get to.
The Pfeiffer Falls Trail is a great 1.3-mile hike that most enjoy thanks to its short duration. McWay Falls is certainly an attraction you don’t want to miss, as this 80-foot waterfall is beautifully surrounded by the redwoods.
Head over to the Big Sur River Gorge for a chance to swim in an amazing swimming hole. You’ll need to follow a trail that really isn’t maintained, and sits between sites 111 and 112.
HIKE TO THE WATERFALL OVERLOOK AT JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS STATE PARK
McWay Falls is an incredible 80-foot waterfall, as mentioned, but the hiking to get there is a journey that is enjoyable in itself. Interestingly enough, the trail will take you under the highway before bringing you around to McWay Cove.
It’s also worth taking a different way home. Just north of McWay Falls, you will come across Partington Cove, which is a great place to take a breather. Here, the water rushes in and out of the cove bringing a fantastic ocean breeze.
Something that most people don’t know is that on the main trail, if you turn off right instead of heading to the cove, you come across a private little beach that is definitely worth seeing.
HIKE THE BLUFFS AT ANDREW MOLERA STATE PARK
Calling all hiking lovers! Hiking the bluffs at Andrew Molera State Park is a remarkable hiking spot that you just cannot miss during your trip to Big Sur. Look down at the sandy beach with the waves crashing on the rock formations while hiking along the bluffs. This is one hiking experience that can’t be repeated!
The Bluffs Trail is 1.7 miles one-way, and is considered an easy trail for those who like to wander and stop for photos. Keep in mind that this trail does not give you access to the beach, and trying to find a way down would be dangerous.
For those who are a fan of history, you can head over to the historic Cooper Cabin. It was built in 1861 and is the oldest structure in all of Big Sur. Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper was Andrew Molera’s grandfather, and was a fur trader at this time. This site has been preserved for visitors to take a step back in time.
SKIP THE CROWDS AT GARRAPATA STATE PARK
All of the previously mentioned state parks offer beautiful views, but they also offer crowds. If you’re looking for a place that’s a little more secluded — but still has breathtaking views — check out Garrapata State Park. The area spans two miles of picturesque beachfront which is reason enough to go!
You’ll find yourself weaving in and out of beautiful dense redwood forests on the Soberanes Canyon Trail while you make your way up to the top. Through this hike, you’ll actually end up back at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
My favorite part of this location? Barking back at the sea lions you are likely to meet and greet.
VISIT PFEIFFER BEACH AT LOW TIDE
Located within the Los Padres National Forest, you’ll find Pfeiffer Beach — and visiting during low tide is an experience you shouldn’t miss! The purple sands glimmer with Keyhole Rock Arch in the background, and it’s a breathtaking sight like no other. Looking for more fun? During low tide you can wade out to the Rock Arch and see it up close.
If you can time it right, the low tide around sunset it is truly the most magical experience, with the light beams reflecting between the archway of the rock. This is certainly one of the best sights, so make this a priority.
WATCH THE SURFERS AT SAND DOLLAR BEACH
Sand Dollar Beach is a great spot to not only collect sand dollars, but watch skilled surfers crush wave after wave. It’s located just seven miles south of Limekiln State Park, which makes it easy to pair the two together. It’s also the largest section of unbroken beach inside the area of the Big Sur.
If you are not a surfer yourself, it’s worth trying fishing here. Sand Dollar Beach is a crescent-shaped beach, which is the reason why it’s a popular surf spot based on the waves. If you want to take a beach day, this is certainly one of the best places to do so!
ROAD TRIP 17-MILE DRIVE
One of the most scenic drives in the world is the 17-Mile Drive, which brings you along the coastline and offers views of scenic cliffs, white powdered beaches, and dense redwood forests. At the start of the drive, be prepared to pay a small admission fee (WORTH IT), but you can be reimbursed when you spend more than $25 at Pebble Beach Resorts on lunch, or anything at all.
Along this 17-mile driving tour, there are a number of stops you’ll love. Point Joe is a great spot to stop and take in the views of the rocks and water. The point is eerily responsible for many shipwrecks, as it has been mistaken for the entrance of Monterey Bay many times.
Cypress Point Lookout is another spot that is a great place to stretch your legs. Most people who visit here will recommend catching it around sunset, when beautiful colors of blue, orange, and purple, collide with the waves. At Cypress Point, you can also see the oldest Monterey cypresses, dating back 235 years. These trees only grow at this location and in Point Lobos. These trees are 16-60 feet high, so you can’t miss them!
TOUR SAN CARLOS BORROMEO DE CARMELO
Carmel-by-the-Sea still has an active Roman Catholic church dedicated as the headquarters of The California Missions. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo was dedicated as a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII in 1961. The church dates back to the 1770s, and has been preserved all these years.
The architecture is incredible, which draws many visitors to take tours here. Because it’s been preserved from such an incredible time period, there are still a lot of artifacts and art that remain here.
It’s located just three miles south of Monterey and is not far from U.S. 1, making it easy to stop by. Upon arrival, you’ll notice that the walls are particularly thick (5 feet to be exact), which explains why the structure has been around for so long.
WATCH MARINE LIFE AT POINT LOBOS STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Last, but certainly not least, add a visit to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to your Big Sur bucket list. This state park offers it all, from different walking and hiking trails to scuba diving. Don’t be surprised if you see locals coming to paint this beautiful landscape, as there is so much to take in.
It’s also a great place to catch marine life because of the coves, headlands, and the offshore area, that is also a part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This is one of the best areas to spot marine life, as you can catch sea lions, migrating gray whales, sea otters, and more.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA
- MONTEREY: 13 Sensational Things To Do In Monterey
- CARMEL: 15 Outstanding Things To Do In Carmel, California
- PISMO BEACH: 17 Things To Do In Pismo Beach For Fun In The Sun
- BAKERSFIELD: 13 Best Things To Do In Bakersfield, California
- SAN DIEGO: 19 Most Popular San Diego Beaches You Don’t Want To Miss
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