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Big Sur

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McWay Falls, Highway 1
Big Sur coastline with glimpse of Bixby Bridge, Highway 1

Big Sur [1] is a region on the Central Coast of California. It contains vast wildernesses and breathtaking views as it stretches 90 miles along the rugged Pacific Ocean. It is approximately 150 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of Los Angeles. The area is great for outdoor recreation and contains several state parks, two national wilderness areas and is part of the Los Padres National Forest, all of which include hiking trails. The most common visitors to Big Sur are those just driving through to enjoy the scenery. The next most common activity is hiking/backpacking in the open natural spaces.

California Highway 1 (also known as Pacific Coast Highway) winds through Big Sur flanked by the steep Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the rocky Pacific Coast to the west. Big Sur begins just south of Carmel and continues south through the small towns of Big Sur Village (between Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park), Lucia, and Gorda. It ends in San Simeon (where the Hearst Castle is located). When driving on Highway 1 through Big Sur be sure to stop at the many turnouts and vista points to see the beauty of the area.

Big Sur Village is a mile-long village containing gas stations, roadside markets, lodges and restaurants.

Big Sur is known as a destination for the "Merry Pranksters" in the 1960s.

For more information visit the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce [2], which is continually updated with a Calendar of Events.

Get in[edit]

Big Sur is a remote area accessible only via Highway 1. The easiest and most common way to get there is by car, though some enthusiastic adventurers cycle along the highway. Gas stations are far between and gas is expensive, so best to have plenty of gas when you enter the Big Sur region.

From San Francisco take US-101 south to CA-156 west which merges with Highway 1 20 miles from the beginning of the Big Sur area. Approximately 125 miles and 2-3 hour drive.

From Los Angeles take US-101 north and exit onto Highway 1 toward Morro Bay/Hearst Castle which is 45 miles south of the end of Big Sur. Approximately 250 miles and 4-5 hour drive.

Monterey-Salinas Transit route 22 bus runs from downtown Monterey to Nepenthe in Big Sur. It runs several times a day, seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day (last week of May through first week of September), and weekends only the rest of the year. During winter and spring, the bus is sometimes canceled due to bad weather, so call to check. 888-678-2871, [3].

Get around[edit]

Monterey-Salinas Transit route 22 bus (see above) stops at several state parks, the Big Sur River Inn, and Nepenthe.

Bicycling along Highway 1 is popular, though challenging.

See[edit][add listing]

Point Sur and Lighthouse, Highway 1
  • Bixby Bridge, 11 miles north of Big Sur Village. Iconic bridge built in 1933. One of the most photographed in the world because of its location within such beautiful scenery.
  • Henry Miller Memorial Library, Highway 1, a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant, 831-667-2574, [4]. Wi-Fi internet access.
  • Point Sur Lighthouse, 5 miles north of Big Sur Village, [5]. Point Sur is a dominant feature along Highway 1. It is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the only complete turn-of-the-century light stations open to the public in California. Allegedly one of the most haunted places in America. Spectacular views can be had from atop Point Sur. Tours (3 hours) are offered - meet west side of highway at farm gate a quarter mile north of Pt Sur Naval Facility. Winter times Sa, Su 10AM, W 1PM. $10 adult, $5 children.
  • McWay Falls, 12 miles south of Big Sur Village. One of the most spectacular places anywhere in Big Sur. The falls drop 80 feet onto the beach or tide. There is a hike out to a view point but it can also be seen from the road just before Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  • New Camaldoli Hermitage, located in Lucia off Highway 1 (25 miles south of Big Sur village), 831-667-2456, [6]. Monastery offering guided retreats, also sells gifts and food items.

Do[edit][add listing]

Redwoods in Ventana Wilderness along the Pine Ridge trail
Big Sur river canyon from Pine Ridge trail in the Ventana Wilderness

Hiking/backpacking - There are over 80 day hikes, varying in length and difficulty. There are hikes to beaches and vistas along the coast, along rivers and through canyons, and through redwood forests in the Santa Lucia Mts. For longer and more remote adventures, backpacking is an option. There are hundreds of miles of trails through the region, particularly the Ventana Wilderness. Be prepared and know what you are doing before going backpacking in the Wilderness. More information can be found at the Big Sur Ranger Station located 3 miles south of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315. NOTE: Always check conditions before hiking or backpacking. Hiking areas in Big Sur can be closed down in winter due to mudslides. Know before you go.

Beaches - Remote and pristine beaches are accessible. Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, and Sand Dollar Beach are the most commonly visited.

Locations:

  • Andrew Molera State Park, less than 1 mile north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315, [7]. Miles of trails, beaches, and meadows. Also has 24 primitive camp sites (first come, first serve).
  • Hunt for jade, beaches south of Big Sur Village. Jade is a common semi-precious stone found on the beaches in the Big Sur region.
  • Pfeiffer Beach, 2.5 miles south of Big Sur Village turn west on Sycamore Canyon Rd (unmarked road, only paved and non-gated road to the west in the area). Great sunsets and a fun beach. Dig into the wet sand and find it is purple due to manganese garnet. If you are heading south on Route 1, the key to finding this beach is to look for the yellow sign - "NARROW ROAD No RVs - Trailers"
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 2 miles south of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2315, [8]. There are hiking trails through redwood groves. It is a 1.4 mile round trip to 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls that runs from Dec to May.
  • Point Lobos State Reserve, 24 miles north of Big Sur Village (just south of Carmel), 831-624-4909, [9]. Well managed and developed recreation area offering many hikes, beaches, coves and points. Also offers SCUBA by permit only. Often referred to as the crown jewel of the State Park System. $10 per car.
  • Sand Dollar Beach, 35 miles south of Big Sur Village (across Highway 1 from Plaskett Creek Campground, stairs lead to the beach). Largest expanse of sand in Big Sur and also well protected from wind.
  • Ventana Wilderness, Big Sur Ranger Station (3 miles south of Big Sur Village), 831-667-2315. The wilderness covers 167,323 square acres. Within the wilderness area alone there are 237 miles of trails and 55 designated camping areas.

Buy[edit][add listing]

There are art galleries and gift shops throughout Big Sur all along Highway 1.

  • Del Campo Gallery, fine art by Big Sur artists. A hidden treasure worth finding. Formerly ARS Gallery, located on Hwy 1 at Loma Vista in the Courtyard of the Spirit Garden.[10]. Daily except Tu 11:00-6:00. Also by appointment: 831-667-2618
  • Big Sur Arts Center, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-1530, [11]. Home to Big Sur Arts Initiative non-profit organization. Features a Hidden Garden Tour.
  • Big Sur Garden Gallery, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-2000. Local and exotic gifts and jewelry.
  • Big Sur Spirit Garden, located at Loma Vista, 831-667-1300, [12]. Botanical garden featuring exotic succulents and plants. Also provides cultural, musical, artistic, and educational programs and classes.
  • Chappellet Studios, Rancho Rico, 831-238-6943, [13]. Gallery by appointment only.
  • Hawthorne Gallery, located across from Nepenthe, 831-667-3200, [14]. Open daily 10:30am - 6:30 pm. Representing works of the Hawthorne family and other internationally known artists.
  • Heartbeat Gift Gallery, next to Big Sur River Inn, 831-667-2557, [15]. Shopping featuring jewelry, clothing, and collectibles.
  • Local Color, located in Big Sur Village Shops, 831-667-0481, [16]. Local artists and craftsmen featuring Big Sur jade, redwood bowls, and tie-dyed cloths.
  • Post Ranch Mercantile, 831-667-2347, [17]. Open daily 10:30 am - 7:00 pm. Natural products featuring tableware, clothing, bedding, and body care products.
  • Sofanya's Art Gallery 831-626-2876, [18]. Personalized artwork, portraits, sculptures and wearable art you can take with you. By appointment.
  • Soul River Studios 831-667-2559, [19]. Located by the River Inn upstairs at the Village shops

Eat[edit][add listing]

Pfeiffer Beach sunset

If there's a place you'd like to eat especially, reservations are recommended. If you like to eat late, call ahead -- many places stop taking walk-ins by 9pm, and you'll be lucky to get fed at all in this tiny, isolated community.

  • Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, 831-667-0520, 47540 Highway One, [20]. Wedding cakes, desserts, pastries. Breakfast, lunch and dinner until 9pm with plenty of outdoor seating and friendly staff.
  • Big Sur Lodge Restaurant & Espresso House, 831-667-3111, [21]. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the banks of the Big Sur River, views of redwoods.
  • Big Sur River Inn, 831-667-2700 or 800-548-3610, [22]. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Deck overlooking Big Sur River. Live entertainment on Sundays.
  • Big Sur Roadhouse, 831-667-2264, [23]. Open for dinner 5:30 - 9 pm. Closed Tuesdays. Call for reservations. Californian-Latin American cuisine.
  • Cafe Kevah, located on a terrace just below Nepenthe, 831-667-2344, [24]. Open March - December, 9 am - 4 pm. Brunch and light lunch.
  • Cielo, located at Ventana Inn, 831-667-2331, [25]. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Offering 50-mile vistas of the Pacific from the outdoor terrace.
  • Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, 831-667-2378, [26]. Breakfast 8 am - noon, dinner 6 pm - close.
  • Lucia Lodge, (866) 424-4787 or (831) 667-2391, [27]. Open for lunch and dinner from 11 am - 9 pm. Excellent Fish & Chips (judged as one of the Top 10 in the US by Coastal Living Magazine).
  • The Maiden Publick House, next to Big Sur River Inn in the Village Center Shops, 831-667-2355. Classic affordable pub with food and drinks.
  • Nepenthe, Highway 1, 831-667-2345, [28]. Picturesque dining location overlooking 40 miles of coastline. Can be pricey. Also a great spot for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, providing the same view for a fraction of the cost.
  • Ragged Point Inn, located 15 miles north of Hearst Castle, 805-927-5708, [29].
  • Redwood Grill, located at Fernwood Resort, 831-667-2129, [30]. Open 11 am - 9 pm. Serves buffalo burgers, salmon burgers, hamburgers, veggie burgers, sandwiches, salads and more.
  • Ripplewood Resort, 831-667-2242, [31]. Open 8 am - 2 pm. American cuisine with Spanish flair. $5-$12 per entree.
  • San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill, 805-927-4604, [32]. Panoramic ocean view. Pool table, TV's, live entertainment. Wi-Fi internet Access.
  • Sierra Mar Restaurant, located at the Post Ranch Inn, 831-667-2800, [33]. Light lunch noon - 3:30, drinks 3:30 to close, dinner nightly. At 1,149 feet the restaurant offers great views of the coastline.
  • The Grill at Treebones Resort, 805-927-2390, [34]. Casual dinners nightly starting at 7 pm.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Many local restaurants also contain bars and/or provide drinks.

  • Fernwood Resort, just north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2422, [35]. Lodging, food, and a bar all in the same place. Open later than almost anywhere, with pizza by the slice available most nights after 10pm. You're likely to see every local in Big Sur here after dinner, listening to a band, drinking, and playing ping pong on the back patio. Very casual.
  • The Maiden Publick House, next to Big Sur River Inn in the Village Center Shops, 831-667-2355. Classic affordable pub with food and drinks.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The two main options for sleeping in Big Sur are either camping or staying in a hotel/resort. Some locations have both options provided. Camping is popular in Big Sur and there are many small campgrounds through the region that are not listed below but can be found along Highway 1.

  • Big Sur Campground and Cabins, 47000 Highway 1, Big Sur (just south of River Inn), 831-667-2322, [36]. Accommodations include campsites, tent-cabins and rustic cabins, all beneath giant redwoods and beside the Big Sur river. There is great swimming in the river and hiking is close by. Kids can ride inner-tubes or rubber boats down the river and a short 3 mile drive either north or south will get you to beautiful beaches (Pfieffer to the south and Molera to the north.)
  • Big Sur Lodge, 47225 Highway 1, Big Sur (just south of Big Sur Village), 800-424-4787 or 831-667-3100, [37]. Lies within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Contains 61 cottage style units and all resort amenities. Many cabins have a fireplace, and the resort prvides a bundle of wood each night plus a Duraflame firestarter (bring your own matches!).
  • Big Sur River Inn, Highway 1 at Pheneger Creek, Big Sur, 831-667-2700 or 800-548-3610, [38]. Heated swimming pool. Full service restaurant and bar. 20 guest rooms. Rates: Rooms with one queen bed $125 - $170; Rooms with two queen sized beds $150 - $215; Two room, Riverside Suite with one king size bed and two single day beds $225 - $270. The higher rates are in effect during high season. The rooms are in cabins made from fragrant wood, the beds are comfortable, and there are excellent products for the shower, so you do get value for your money.
  • Deetjens Big Sur Inn, 48865 Highway 1, Big Sur, 831-667-2377, [39]. Norwegian-style setting nestled in the redwoods of Castro Canyon. (Advanced reservations recommended)
  • Fernwood Resort, just north of Big Sur Village, 831-667-2422, [40]. Cabins, tents, RV's, all allowed but with limited availability. Also has a bar and grill as well as other resort amenities.
  • Glen Oaks Motel, Highway 1, Big Sur, 831.667.2105, [41]. 17 clean and comfortable units available year-round.
  • Limekiln State Park, Highway 1, 831-667-2403, [42]. Gorgeous campsites along a creek that runs into the ocean. Sites on the beach and under the redwoods. There are a few small hikes to the historic limekilns and a significant waterfall (be prepared to cross the creek a few times to get to the waterfall, but it's so worth it in the spring).
  • Lucia Lodge, 62400 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 831-667-2456, [43]. Coastal cabins with great views of the coastline ranging in price and privacy.
  • Post Ranch Inn, Highway 1 (2 miles south of Big Sur Village), 888-524-4787 or 831-667-2200, [44]. High end resort style accommodations, three pools, spas, and private decks. Sits 1200 feet above the Pacific.
  • Ragged Point Inn & Resort, 20 miles north of San Simieon on Highway 1, 805-927-4502, [45]. 30 rooms and a gourmet restaurant. Nearby stores, snacks and espresso.
  • Ripplewood Resort, Highway 1, 831-667-2242, [46].
  • Riverside Campground & Cabins, Highway 1, 831-667-2414, [47].
  • Treebones Resort, 71895 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, 877-424-4787, [48]. Features 16 yurts and 5 campsites. Amenities include pool, hot tub, restaurant, gift shop, and lodge.
  • Ventana Inn & Spa, 28 miles south of Carmel, 831-667-2331 or 800-628-6500, [49]. Ultra-luxurious resort with all possible amentias including pools, hot tubs, sauna, restaurant, bar, and of course great views.
  • Los Padres National Forest, Monterey Ranger District 831-385-5434, [50].
  • Kirk creek campground. Just south of Lucia and Limekiln SP. All campsites are located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. There are few trees (much warmer than under the redwoods!) and the sites are on well kept grass. Amazing sunsets and decent bathrooms. There are a few nice short trails leading down to the beach.

Cope[edit]

Be aware that there are long stretches of coastline with little or no cell phone signal, and plan accordingly. Also, fill your gas tank before you drive to the area, as gas stations are few, and some charge as much as $7 a gallon! It is also highly advisable to buy bottled water or replenish your supply from good tap water (the tap water in Big Sur Village, for example, which is delicious mountain spring water) when you have the chance, and try to avoid being caught having to drive long distances after dark with the fog rolling over the highway. Big Sur is very wild country for long stretches. A sign that might exemplify this for you is one that appears on Route 1 southbound, showing curves, with the text "Next 72 miles"!

Get out[edit]

To continue a trip going north on Highway 1 you can stop by Carmel and Monterey.

To continue a trip going south on Highway 1 several interesting stops include: Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and the small city of San Luis Obispo.


Routes through Big Sur
MontereyCarmel  N noframe S  San SimeonSan Luis Obispo


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