Best Things to Do in Big Sur, California: 12 Big Sur Attractions

by Flora
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Are you thinking about visiting Big Sur, California this year? Here are some of the most exciting and unique places to visit in Big Sur, CA. These incredible sights and destinations will make for an unforgettable trip.

Welcome to the land of towering redwoods, breathtaking coastlines, and enchanting wildlife. Welcome to Big Sur, California. This rugged stretch of California’s central coast is one of the best places to visit in the United States for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. It’s a place where the mountains meet the sea, creating a landscape so stunning it will leave you speechless.

Take it from me – Big Sur is not just a destination; it’s an experience. It’s the feeling of the cool Pacific breeze on your face as you hike through the lush forests of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. And the sound of the crashing waves echoing through the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. It’s the sight of the sun setting over the ocean, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink.

From exploring the hidden gems of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to capturing the perfect shot of the mystical Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in this coastal haven.

In this article, we’ll take you on a journey through the best places in Big Sur, California. We’ll share insider tips, hidden spots, and must-see attractions that will make your trip unforgettable. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Big Sur, CA.

The top places to visit in Big Sur, California right now
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Best Places to Visit in Big Sur, California: Your Ultimate Guide to Big Sur

Are you ready to jump into all the best places in Big Sur? As noted above, there are things for everyone to do in Big Sur. So, keep reading to discover the best activities in Big Sur, CA.

Are you looking to discover the best scenery that Big Sur has to offer? Or would you prefer a more relaxing getaway in nature? Whatever you’re planning, Big Sur can accommodate your needs. Here are all the best Big Sur activities that you should know about:

1. Explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Just a few miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, you’ll find the breathtaking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Often referred to as the “crown jewel” of California’s state park system, this 400-acre park is a haven of natural beauty. And one of the coolest places in Big Sur or lovers of the great outdoors.

The reserve is home to a diverse range of wildlife, from sea otters and seals frolicking in the surf to deer grazing in the meadows. The park is also known for its unique geological features. Including hidden coves, rocky cliffs, and underwater forests, making it one of the best attractions in Big Sur for adventure enthusiasts.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: A stunning coastal sanctuary with diverse wildlife, scenic trails, and breathtaking landscapes.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: A stunning coastal sanctuary with diverse wildlife, scenic trails, and breathtaking landscapes.

One of the must-see spots in the park is the jade-green waters of China Cove. The path to China Cove is short but sweet, offering panoramic views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape. Although you can’t go down to the beach itself due to its fragile ecosystem, you can take in the sights from above on the Bird Island Trail.

For those who want to get up close and personal with the coastline, the Sea Lion Point Trail is a great option. Here, you can see sea lions basking in the sun and hear their distinctive barks echoing across the water.

If you’re a nature lover, a photography enthusiast, or just someone looking for a peaceful escape, there are activities for everyone in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. It’s a must-visit destination in Big Sur.

2. Photograph the Bixby Creek Bridge

No trip to Big Sur would be complete without a visit to the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. As one of the most photographed bridges in California, it’s a sight to behold. Spanning 714 feet across a deep, rocky canyon, the bridge is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of nature.

The Bixby Creek Bridge isn’t just a marvel of engineering; it’s also a fantastic vantage point. From here, you can take in panoramic views of the rugged coastline. The crashing waves, and the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a sight that’s sure to take your breath away, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Bixby Creek Bridge is an conic California coastal bridge with stunning views and architecture.
Iconic California coastal bridge with stunning views and architecture.

For the best photo opportunities, head to the viewing area on the northwest side of the bridge. Here, you can capture the bridge in all its glory, with the dramatic backdrop of the coastline behind it. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a whale or two in the distance!

For any traveler who appreciates a good view, the Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the coolest places in Big Sur. It’s easy to see why this attraction is one of the most popular sights in the state!

3. See Elephant Seals in San Simeon

As far as places in Big Sur go, this attraction is one of the coolest! For wildlife enthusiasts, a trip to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon is an absolute must. This stretch of beach is home to a large colony of elephant seals. Providing a unique opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

The rookery is a bustling hub of activity, with seals basking in the sun, battling for territory, or nursing their pups. The best time to visit is during the breeding season. This is from late January to early May, when the beach is teeming with seals. Another good time is in late October when the seals return to molt.

a trip to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon is an absolute must
A trip to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon is an absolute must

The viewing areas along the beach provide a safe distance for observing the seals without disturbing them. Interpretive signs and volunteer docents are also available to provide information about the seals and their behavior.

Remember to bring your binoculars and your camera, because you’re going to want to capture this unforgettable wildlife experience. Just remember to respect the seals and always keep a safe distance.

4. Look Into the Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

If you’re in search of unique things to do in Big Sur, make your way to Pfeiffer Beach. This secluded beach is famous for its purple sand, but the real star of the show is the Keyhole Arch. This natural rock formation features a hole that perfectly frames the crashing waves and the setting sun.

The Keyhole Arch is especially magical around the winter solstice when the sun dips into the heart of the keyhole, illuminating the arch with a warm, golden glow. It’s a sight that’s sure to leave you in awe of nature’s beauty.

Pfeiffer Beach in California boasts stunning purple sand and scenic beauty.
Pfeiffer Beach is a secluded beach is famous for its purple sand

Getting to Pfeiffer Beach can be a bit tricky, as it’s located down an unmarked, narrow road. But the journey is well worth it. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a peaceful, uncrowded beach with stunning views of the coastline.

Whether you’re a photographer looking for the perfect shot or a traveler in search of hidden gems in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach and the Keyhole Arch are must-see attractions on your next trip to Big Sur, CA.

5. See McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Without a doubt, one of the best Big Sur attractions is the majestic McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This 80-foot waterfall is a sight to behold, as it cascades down a granite cliff and into a sandy cove before finally merging with the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The waterfall is accessible via a short, easy trail that offers stunning views of the falls and the surrounding coastline. Making it one of the best attractions in Big Sur for families. The trail leads to an overlook where you can take in the full beauty of McWay Falls. It’s a sight that’s sure to leave you in awe, no matter what time of year you visit.

McWay Falls in California: a stunning coastal waterfall in Big Sur.
The 80-foot waterfall at the McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a sight to behold

The waterfall isn’t the only attraction in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The park also offers several hiking trails through redwood groves and chaparral-covered ridges. Providing plenty of opportunities for exploration and adventure.

If you’re a nature lover, a photography enthusiast, or simply looking for peaceful places in Big Sur to visit, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must-see.

6. Drop by Carmel-by-the-Sea

Just north of Big Sur, you’ll find the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This small town is a treasure trove of boutique shops, art galleries, and farm-to-table restaurants. All nestled within a picturesque setting of fairy-tale cottages and cypress trees.

Stroll down Ocean Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find a variety of shops selling everything from high-end fashion to local handicrafts. Don’t forget to stop by one of the many art galleries that showcase the work of local and international artists.

A stroll down Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea
A stroll down Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea

When you’re ready for a bite to eat, Carmel-by-the-Sea has you covered. The town is renowned for its culinary scene, with restaurants serving up everything from fresh seafood to gourmet pizzas.

And of course, no visit to Carmel would be complete without a wine tasting. The town is surrounded by the vineyards of Monterey County, making it a great place to sample some of California’s finest wines.

With so much charm and personality, it’s clear to see why the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the best places in Big Sur, CA.

7. Camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

For those who want to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of California, camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the best Big Sur activities. Nestled in the heart of Big Sur, this park offers stunning views of the Big Sur River Gorge and the Santa Lucia Mountains.

The park’s campground is set among towering redwoods, providing a serene setting for your stay. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and a fire pit, perfect for cooking up a meal under the stars. And with over 180 campsites to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect spot.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers redwood forests and scenic hiking.
Camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the best Big Sur activities

Camping isn’t the only thing to do at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The park also offers a network of hiking trails that wind through redwood groves, chaparral-covered hills, and riverside meadows. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a casual walker, there’s a trail for you!

Get ready to pack your tent, grab your hiking boots, and enjoy an unforgettable camping experience at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

8. Walk Among the Redwoods at Limekiln State Park

If you’re a fan of towering redwoods and serene waterfalls, then a visit to Limekiln State Park should be on your Big Sur itinerary. This lesser-known park is home to some of the tallest redwoods in Big Sur, offering a peaceful retreat from the more crowded tourist spots.

The park features a network of trails that take you through dense redwood groves, past historic lime kilns, and up to a beautiful waterfall. One of the best hikes in Big Sur is the Hare Creek Trail. This easy, half-mile trail follows the creek through a lush redwood forest, leading you to the base of Limekiln Falls.

One is one of the best hikes in Big Sur is the Hare Creek Trail
One is one of the best hikes in Big Sur is the Hare Creek Trail

The beauty of Limekiln State Park extends beyond its forests. The park also features a beach where Limekiln Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great spot to relax, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the stunning coastal views.

The true serenity and awe-inspiring natural beauty of Limekiln State Park make it one of the best places to visit in Big Sur for all travelers, and one I recommend to everyone that I meet.

9. Visit the Henry Miller Library

Looking for a dose of culture amidst the natural beauty of Big Sur? Make sure to pay a visit to the Henry Miller Library, one of the best destinations for history lovers in the state. This isn’t your typical library; it’s a cultural hub that celebrates the life and work of author and artist Henry Miller, who lived in Big Sur from 1944 to 1962.

The library is housed in a rustic wooden building surrounded by redwood trees, creating a serene and inspiring atmosphere. Inside, you’ll find a collection of Miller’s works, as well as books about Big Sur and the Central Coast.

Henry Miller Library, one of the best destinations for history lovers in the state
Henry Miller Library, one of the best destinations for history lovers in the state

The Henry Miller Library is also a venue for concerts, film screenings, and literary workshops. Over the years, it has hosted performances by renowned artists like Patti Smith, Arcade Fire, and Philip Glass.

So, if you’re looking for Big Sur things to do with a touch of literary and musical charm, don’t miss out on the unique and captivating Henry Miller Library.

10. Watch Whales at Garrapata State Park

There are many incredible activities in Big Sur, but this is hands-down one of the coolest. For an unforgettable wildlife experience, head to Garrapata State Park. This park, located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, sits on a whale migration route and offers incredible vantage points overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

During the migration season, you can spot gray whales, humpback whales, and even the occasional blue whale from the park’s coastal bluffs. The best times to see these majestic creatures are from December to February. That is when they migrate south, and from March to April when they return north.

Garrapata State Park, located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, sits on a whale migration route.
Garrapata State Park, located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, sits on a whale migration route.

But there’s more to Garrapata State Park than whale watching. The park also offers miles of hiking trails that wind through coastal terraces, redwood groves, and wildflower meadows. And with its stunning views of the coastline and the Santa Lucia Mountains, it’s a photographer’s dream.

Pack your binoculars, lace up your hiking boots, and prepare to be enthralled by the natural wonders of Garrapata State Park.

11. Drive Down Old Coast Road

For a taste of Big Sur’s history and a dose of adventure, take a drive down the Old Coast Road. This 10-mile dirt road used to be the main route through Big Sur before the construction of Highway 1. Today, it’s one of the best places in Big Sur to go off-roading and experience the rugged beauty of the area.

The Old Coast Road starts at the northern end of the Bixby Creek Bridge and winds its way through redwood forests, open meadows, and rolling hills. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the coastline, the Santa Lucia Mountains, and the verdant valleys of Big Sur.

Historic Old Coast Road in California, scenic route through Big Sur.
Take a drive down the 10-mile dirt road, Old Coast Road.

Driving down Old Coast Road is like stepping back in time. You’ll see few signs of modern development, and the peace offers a respite from the busier parts of Big Sur. Just make sure your vehicle is equipped to handle the rough terrain, and always check the road conditions before you set out.

If you’re up for an adventure and want to see a different side of Big Sur, driving the Old Coast Road is one of the best things to do in the state.

12. Admire Point Sur Lighthouse

Perched atop a volcanic rock, the Point Sur Lighthouse has been guiding ships along the treacherous central California coast since the late 1800s. This historic lighthouse, the only one in California open to the public, offers a glimpse into the past and some of the most incredible views in Big Sur.

A visit to the Point Sur Lighthouse is a journey back in time. As you climb the winding path to the top of the rock, you’ll hear stories of shipwrecks, ghostly sightings, and the hardy lightkeepers who lived and worked here.

Point Sur Lighthouse in California: historic, scenic, and perched atop cliffs.
Point Sur Lighthouse, an historic lighthouse is perched atop a volcanic rock

Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the vast Pacific Ocean, the rugged coastline, and the Santa Lucia Mountains. It’s one of the coolest places in Big Sur to watch the sunset and perhaps spot some whales or sea otters.

If you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a fan of stunning views, the Point Sur Lighthouse is a must-visit attraction in Big Sur, CA.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the Best Things to Do in Big Sur, CA

Looking for more information on what to do in Big Sur? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Big Sur, California:

What is Big Sur best known for?

Big Sur is best known for its dramatic and breathtaking coastline, where towering cliffs meet the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. This rugged stretch of California’s central coast offers a unique blend of natural beauty. It features redwood forests, pristine beaches, and misty sea stacks.

The iconic Highway 1 runs through Big Sur, making it one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Along this route, landmarks like the Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls captivate visitors with their picturesque settings. The region also boasts numerous state parks, hiking trails, and untouched wilderness areas. This makes it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and anyone seeking escape and inspiration from the raw power and beauty of nature.

What is the best time to visit Big Sur, CA?

Big Sur is a year-round destination, offering different attractions depending on the season. For whale watching, the prime times are between December and February or March and April when the majestic creatures migrate. If you’re interested in hiking and camping, the spring and fall months offer mild weather and fewer crowds. However, the summer months, while busier, provide the perfect weather for beach activities and water sports.

Is Big Sur worth seeing?

Absolutely! Big Sur is a testament to nature’s grandeur, offering coastal views, dense forests, and majestic mountain ranges. As you drive along Highway 1, every turn unveils a new scenic wonder. This includes everything from the architectural marvel of Bixby Creek Bridge to the cascading waters of McWay Falls that seem to pour directly into the Pacific Ocean.

With its tranquil redwood groves, vast marine sanctuaries, and rugged cliffs against a backdrop of azure waters, Big Sur provides an unparalleled experience of California’s wild beauty. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a photographer, or just someone looking to escape the hustle and bustle, Big Sur’s breathtaking landscapes and serene ambiance make it an undeniable gem worth seeing.

How many days do I need in Big Sur?

While it’s possible to see the main attractions in a day, to truly immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Big Sur, we recommend spending at least two to three days. This will allow you to explore the area at a leisurely pace, take in the stunning views, and perhaps discover some hidden gems off the beaten path.

Best Places to Visit in Big Sur, California: Your Ultimate Guide to Big Sur
Big Sur is best known for its dramatic and breathtaking coastline.

Is Big Sur family-friendly?

Absolutely! Big Sur is a fantastic destination for families. With a variety of easy hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and fascinating wildlife, there are fun Big Sur things to do to keep every member of the family entertained. Plus, the area offers a range of accommodation options to suit families, from campgrounds to family-friendly hotels and vacation rentals.

What are some local delicacies I should try in Big Sur?

Big Sur offers a range of culinary delights that reflect the area’s rich natural bounty. Fresh seafood is a must-try, with local specialties including Monterey Bay salmon and Dungeness crab. The area is also known for its farm-to-table cuisine, with many restaurants serving dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. And don’t forget to sample some of the excellent wines produced in the surrounding vineyards of Monterey County.

Discover the Magic of Big Sur, California

In conclusion, the enchanting landscape of Big Sur is a paradise waiting to be discovered. From the towering redwoods of Limekiln State Park to the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, from the bustling wildlife at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to the serene beauty of McWay Falls, Big Sur is a destination that captivates the heart and stirs the soul.

Whether you’re an adventurer seeking thrilling trails, a nature lover yearning for breathtaking vistas, or a peace-seeker in search of tranquility, there are things to do in Big Sur for every traveler. Its diverse attractions offer a unique blend of natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural experiences. As such, this makes it a must-visit destination on California’s central coast.

Pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to discover the magic of Big Sur, CA. Embark on this unforgettable journey and let the charm of Big Sur inspire your wanderlust.

the top things to do in Big Sur, California for all types of travelers
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