The Absolute Best Things to Do in Big Sur in 2024 (Map & Photos!)

If you’re looking for a stunning destination that combines natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cultural charm, look no further than Big Sur.

This scenic stretch of California’s central coast is a must-see for travelers who love breathtaking views, rugged landscapes, and cozy vibes. Whether you want to hike, camp, surf, or just relax, Big Sur has something for everyone.

Here, I’ll cover the best things to do in Big Sur that will make your trip unforgettable!

But first, in case you’re unfamiliar with Big Sur, here are a few details you might want to know!

What is Big Sur famous for?

Big Sur is famous for its rugged coastline, scenic views, and diverse wildlife.

The biggest highlight is driving along Highway 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway or “The One” to locals), an iconic road trip route that offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the USA!

As you wind along the cliffs and curves of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll see rocky coves, sandy beaches, and towering redwoods. 

Whether you want to hike, camp, surf, or just relax, Big Sur has something for everyone. You can explore the redwood forests, visit historic lighthouses, or marvel at majestic waterfalls. 

It might sound cheesy, but Big Sur is really a place where you can reconnect with yourself and the world’s beauty.

Where is Big Sur?

Generally speaking, Big Sur is a region of California’s Central Coast, where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. 

But where does Big Sur start and end?

Well, that depends on who you ask. There is no official boundary for Big Sur, but most people agree that it covers the 71-mile (114 km) stretch of Highway 1 between Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands in the north and San Carpóforo Creek near San Simeon in the south. This is also the area where the entire Santa Lucia range lies between these creeks.

But some people may consider Big Sur to extend beyond this segment of Highway 1, either north to Monterey or as far south as San Luis Obispo.

For the sake of this article on the best things to do in Big Sur, I’m starting at Pebble Beach and ending at Hearst Castle.

However, at the time of writing, you cannot drive further south than Lucia. Heavy rains triggered a massive landslide (named Paul’s Slide) that buried the road and cut off access to many communities and attractions.

As I write this, there is no timeline for when the road will reopen, but we hope it will be soon- check here for updates!

Is visiting Big Sur worth it? 

If you’re looking for a scenic and adventurous (or relaxing!) getaway, visiting Big Sur is definitely worth it. 

Besides the breathtaking nature that I’ve mentioned, there are also plenty of charming towns, historic landmarks, and local restaurants to explore. 

As you’ll find in this list, there are so many incredible things to do in Big Sur. It’s truly one of the best road trip destinations in the United States, in my opinion!

All in all, Big Sur is a place where you can reconnect with nature and yourself and experience the beauty and wonder of the world. It’s definitely worth visiting.

When is the best time of year to explore Big Sur?

There is no wrong time to visit Big Sur, but some seasons are arguably more spectacular than others. 

To me, the very best time to visit is in the spring. From March to May, you’ll find wildflowers blooming and waterfalls roaring. The weather is mild and sunny, and the crowds are smaller than in the summer.

But another great time of year to visit to avoid crowds is from September to November. You’ll have sunnier days, mild temperatures, and clearer skies.

We visited in late September and had the most wonderful time. While most mornings were foggy, by the time the afternoon rolled around, there were clear blue skies and sunshine! 

Winter, while cooler and a bit rainier, brings an added bonus: whales! You’ll likely see gray whales migrating along the coast from early December to April (or even as late as May!). You can also spot elephant seals, sea otters, and dolphins. Just be prepared for some chilly and foggy days!

If you’re planning to visit in the summer months from June to August, keep in mind that it’s peak season. That means you’ll want to book your accommodation and activities in advance. You may also have to deal with traffic and parking issues. But you will also get to enjoy some of the most popular events and festivals in Big Sur, such as the Big Sur International Marathon, the Big Sur Folk Festival, and the Big Sur Jade Festival!

Where should I stay on a trip to Big Sur?

We chose Carmel-by-the-Sea as our home base on our last trip to Big Sur and stayed at Carmel Inn and Suites. It was super close to Downtown Carmel-By-The-Sea and very affordable; we chose a suite so that our baby could be in a separate room from us! If you want a higher-end place in Carmel-By-The-Sea, try Carmel Valley Ranch or L’Auberge Carmel.

If you’d prefer to stay directly in Big Sur, there are plenty of incredible places to stay in the area.

My sister and her husband chose the epic adults-only resort Alila Ventana Big Sur for their trip, and I’ve only heard rave reviews about this spot! The resort offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, cozy fireplaces, and spacious suites. You can enjoy the outdoor heated pools, the spa, and the fine dining options.

Post Ranch Inn is another high-end resort with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Lucia Mountains, and redwood forests. They’ve got a variety of accommodations, from cozy cottages to spacious suites, all with fireplaces, private decks, and organic amenities. You can also enjoy their heated infinity pools, spa treatments, yoga classes, and fine dining.

For more budget-friendly stays (I’m with ya!), here are a few more options:

Big Sur Lodge is a family-friendly stay nestled in the heart of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. You’ll love the spacious rooms, outdoor pool, and convenience of having a restaurant and a grocery store on-site.

Big Sur River Inn is another budget-friendly option, located along the Big Sur River. It’s got rustic charm, outdoor fire pits, and live music on Sundays!

Tip: Don’t have the budget to stay at high-end resorts but want to experience a taste? Book a table at their on-site restaurants! For example, dining at Sierra Mar is a great way to see the Post Ranch Inn!

Tips for planning your trip to Big Sur:

  • If you’re flying into California, one of the easiest airports to fly into is San Jose. (That’s where we flew into- Southwest flies straight there from Dallas!) From there, you can drive about 1.5 hours to start your Big Sur road trip.
  • Big Sur is a popular destination, so booking your accommodations in advance is important, especially if you’re traveling during peak season.
  • This is a remote area, so it’s important to be prepared for that! Cell service is pretty bad in a lot of areas here, so download offline maps before visiting.
  • Be sure to pack plenty of food and water, and don’t wait to get gas! You might not find another gas station for a while! (Side note: Big Sur has some really stinkin’ cute gas stations! You’ll see what I mean when you visit!)
  • Big Sur is a stunning place full of natural beauty. As such, it’s essential to respect the environment! I hope this goes without saying, but be sure to pack out all of your trash and leave no trace!

Map of Things to Do in Big Sur

Here is a map of all of the best things to do in Big Sur! As I mentioned above, when you visit, I recommend downloading offline maps on Google Maps, as cell service can be incredibly spotty. 

The Best Things to Do in Big Sur

Let’s get to it! Here are the best things to do in Big Sur, from north to south!

I’ve included entrance or parking costs where they are applicable. Most California State Parks have a $10 parking fee but no entry fee (ie. if you’re visiting on bike or on foot), and require cash.

Drive the Scenic 17-Mile Drive

Entrance cost: $11.75 per car

If you’re looking for a scenic and relaxing drive, you can’t go wrong with the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. This famous route costs $11.75 per car to enter and takes you through some of the most beautiful and iconic spots on the Monterey Peninsula. You’ll get stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the rocky coastline, and the lush forests. 

You get a map of the drive when you enter through one of its 5 entrances.

While the entire coastal portion of this drive is beautiful, if you’re trying to complete the 17 recommended points of interest on the map, there are five that just aren’t worth your time, in my opinion. 

Specifically, Shepherd’s Knoll, Huckleberry Hill, Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, Ford’s Meadow, and Cypress Point Lookout (there’s a really tall chain-link fence here that makes getting a photo here impossible! You may see seals though). 

On the flip side, I’ve got to mention two stops that are musts on this drive:

Lone Cypress

One of the most iconic sights on the California coast is the lone cypress on the 17-Mile Drive. This majestic tree has stood on a rocky outcrop for over 250 years, defying the wind and waves that constantly batter it. It symbolizes resilience and beauty and is a must-see!

The lone cypress is also a popular spot for photographers, who capture its stunning silhouette against the blue sky and ocean. If you are lucky, you might spot some wildlife around it, such as seals, otters, or birds.

Gallery Cafe

Gallery Cafe is a cozy and elegant spot to enjoy a delicious meal with a view of the Pebble Beach Golf Course.

This was one of our favorite meals we had on our last trip to Carmel and Big Sur! We sat on their patio and enjoyed brunch here after driving the 17-Mile Drive.

While literally everything we ordered was incredible, my favorite thing was their homemade cinnamon roll… it was the best cinnamon roll we’ve ever had. Don’t hesitate to order it!! 

Also, if you spend above $35 at any establishment within the 17-Mile Drive, you can show them your receipt for the $11.75 entrance fee, and they’ll deduct it from your total.

Tip: While in the Monterey area, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the entire country! It’s pricey, though! Budget $60 per adult for this activity.

Stroll Around Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea has to be one of the most charming small towns I’ve ever visited! If you’re looking for a lovely, picturesque destination, look no further than Carmel-by-the-Sea.

This quaint village has cozy cottages, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Strolling along the cobblestone streets and admiring the fairytale architecture was one of my favorite things to do in Big Sur during our down time. 

This quaint village by the sea was incorporated in 1916 and adopted a unique set of ordinances to preserve its character and charm! Some of these include requiring some buildings to have wood shingle roofs and banning chain restaurants and fast food outlets. The town also has a tradition of naming its streets after trees, flowers, and animals instead of numbers or letters. 

Dining in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea has a vibrant culinary scene that offers a variety of cuisines and atmospheres. Some of the best restaurants in town are:

  • Porta Bella: this charming eatery offers a variety of Italian dishes, from fresh seafood to hearty pasta, all made with local and organic ingredients.
  • The Tuck Box: housed in a historic cottage built in 1927, this is one of the most photographed buildings in town. You will love the quaint atmosphere, the friendly service, and the mouthwatering menu. Whether you crave a classic English scone, a hearty omelet, or a fresh salad, the Tuck Box has something for everyone.
  • La Bicyclette: a cozy French bistro that serves wood-fired pizzas, salads, soups, and desserts made with local ingredients. The restaurant also has a wine bar and a bakery that offers fresh breads, pastries, and coffee.
  • Dametra Cafe: a family-owned Mediterranean restaurant that offers dishes from Greece, Italy, Turkey, Morocco and more. The restaurant is known for its lively entertainment, featuring live music, dancing, and singing every night.
  • Casanova: a romantic Italian restaurant housed in a historic cottage that once belonged to Charlie Chaplin. The restaurant serves classic dishes such as pasta, risotto, veal, and seafood and has an extensive wine list. The restaurant also has a secret garden that is perfect for outdoor dining!

Visit the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum

Cost: $13 per adult

One of the most beautiful historic places to visit in Central California is the old Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea. This stunning church was founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra, and it is the final resting place of the famous missionary.

The mission has a rich history and a serene atmosphere, with a lovely garden and a museum that showcases the art and culture of the native people.

It’s considered one of the most beautiful and authentic examples of Spanish colonial architecture, and you really can see why when you visit! 

At the time of writing, it costs $13 per adult to visit. 


  • Monday & Tuesday: closed
  • Wednesday & Thursday: 10:00 – 4:00 pm
  • Friday & Saturday: 10:00 – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday: 11:30 – 5:00 pm

Get the latest visitor information here.

Wine & Dine at Folktale Winery & Vineyards

The best word I could use to describe Folktale Winery is enchanting. We visited at sunset one Thursday evening and were blown away by the atmosphere here! It’s one of the best things to do in Big Sur to end your day.

You can enjoy live music, outdoor seating, and stunning views of the vineyards and the fairytale-like building. They serve up delicious food and a variety of wines, from crisp whites to bold reds.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Parking cost: $10 per car

If you love nature and adventure, you should definitely visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. This amazing place offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, diverse wildlife, and fascinating trails. You can explore the rocky shores, the lush forests, and the hidden coves. You can also enjoy snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and hiking. 

There are a ton of different trails here and different parking sections where you can access them. It costs $10 per car to park here, but you can pay with a credit card when the manned pay booth is open, unlike most of the state parks we visited in the area that are cash only.

Bird Island Trail

If you do one trail at Point Lobos, make it the Bird Island Trail. There is an ADA addition to this trail that makes it stroller and wheelchair friendly! We strolled James in his stroller, and it was incredibly convenient!

This easy 0.8-mile round-trip hike offers stunning views of the coast, pine forest, and wildlife. At the end of the hike, you’ll reach a viewpoint where you can see hundreds of birds nesting on a rocky island. You might also spot seals, sea lions, otters, and whales in the water (seasonally). 

However, it’s what you see along the hike that really makes this one a must, in my opinion. You get spectacular views of Gibson Beach and the jade-green waters of China Cove from above.

Garrapata State Park

If you love nature and adventure, you should visit Garrapata State Park in California. Unlike most California State Parks, this one is free to visit, making it one of the best things to do in Big Sur for budget-conscious travelers.

This park offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and diverse wildlife. You can hike, bike, camp, or picnic in this scenic spot.

If you’re looking to relax on the beach, Garrapata Beach is a hidden gem that’s pretty easy to get to! There are pull-offs near mile marker 18, and from there, you can take a coastal trail down to the beautiful beach.

Tip: If you’re visiting in the spring, you can’t miss the incredible Calla Lilly Valley right by Garrapata Beach! It’s on the walk to Garrapata Beach, but you can also type Calla Lilly Valley into Google Maps, and it’ll bring you to the right spot. They typically bloom between late January and mid-April. Beware of poison ivy, and don’t trample the flowers!

Garrapata State Park Bluff Trail

A really easy way to explore Garrapata State Park is to do the 0.5-mile out-and-back Bluff Trail. It takes you along the stunning coastline of Big Sur, where you can see wildflowers, cacti, and bluffs as you walk on the well-maintained path. The trail is suitable for all skill levels and offers plenty of opportunities for photography, birdwatching, and whale spotting during whale season!

Soberanes Point

Soberanes Point is a scenic spot at the top of a big hill where you can enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. I tried to count but lost track- I believe there are around 114(ish) stairs to get to the top. It’s pretty easy, though- just not stroller or wheelchair friendly. 

When you get to the top, you’ll get stunning views of the Garrapata State Park’s rocky coastline and Big Sur’s blue water.

It’s totally free to visit, and there is parking along the side of Highway 1 for this spot!

Tip: You can park at the same spot to visit both Soberanes Point and Garrapata State Park’s Bluff Trail!

Bixby Creek Bridge

Here is hands down one of the most iconic things to do in Big Sur if you’re a photographer- or anyone who loves epic views.

This stunning bridge is one of the most photographed spots in Big Sur, and for good reason. The views of this historic bridge- and marvel of engineering- are simply breathtaking! 

Here are some tips on how to find the best viewpoints to see it:

Castle Rock Viewpoint

The most classic view of the bridge is from the west side of Highway 1, where there is a small parking lot. (It’s labeled Castle Rock Viewpoint on Google Maps.) From here, you can see the bridge’s graceful arch against the backdrop of the green hills.

This spot is especially beautiful at sunrise when the sun illuminates the bridge and the ocean. The only caveat is that many mornings in Big Sur are foggy- including when we visited. I think the foggy setting is still gorgeous, though! You also get a dramatic view of the ocean from here, too!

Bixby Bridge Vista Point

If you want to see the bridge from a different angle, you can park along Old Coast Road (which is across the street from the main parking lot). Views from this road offer a closer look at the bridge and the canyon below. You can also see the ocean behind the bridge, which creates a stunning contrast with the dark concrete. You’ll find the spot from my photos labeled as Bixby Bridge Vista Point on Google Maps, but you can also drive further down Old Coast Road for alternative views!

South of the Bridge

There’s a little pull-off right when you exit the bridge that you can stop at for a photo. It’s not as good as the other Bixby Bridge viewpoints, but I’m dropping this here so that you know it’s an option!

Hurricane Point Vista Point

Another option is to drive south on Highway 1 and stop at Hurricane Point Vista Point, which is about two miles from the bridge. This viewpoint gives you a panoramic view of the coast and the bridge from a higher elevation.

You can also kind of see how the bridge curves along the edge of the cliff, which adds to its dramatic appeal. You’ll want to make sure you have a zoom lens for this, as the bridge is off in the distance here. I got the photo above with my 24-120mm lens at full zoom! (See what else is in my camera bag here!)

Point Sur State Historic Site and Lighthouse

Cost: $15 per adult

Located in Point Sur State Historic Park, the Point Sur Lighthouse is the only complete turn-of-the-century light station open to the public in California, and it offers breathtaking coastal and ocean views. However, this historic lighthouse is open to the public for tours, but only on weekends. 

You can join a three-hour guided tour of the lighthouse to learn about its fascinating history, architecture, and role in maritime safety. You can also explore the grounds and see the original buildings, such as the keeper’s house, the barn, and the blacksmith shop. 

While Point Sur Lighthouse is open year-round, tours are limited, and they don’t accept reservations; it’s first come, first served. It costs $15 per adult and is roughly a 1-mile walk. Check their schedule here.

Andrew Molera State Park

Parking cost: $10 per car

This state park offers a variety of hiking trails with great views and abundant wildlife. 

But one big thing to know about Andrew Molera State Park is that you’ll need to get on a trail to see anything other than the parking lot! We didn’t realize this was the case until we pulled into the parking lot, which is surrounded by trees. After I looked at the map, I realized that even to get to the beach, we’d need to hop on the 2-mile round trip Creamery Meadow Trail.

You can see a full list of trails on the California Parks website here. The easiest trail is the Creamery Meadow Trail to the beach, but the best views are supposed to come from the steep and strenuous 1.3-mile one-way Panorama Trail. 

That being said, if you’re a hiker, this park is definitely for you. Along its roughly 20 miles of trails, you can also enjoy camping, fishing, surfing, and kayaking.

If you want to camp, plan ahead and reserve your campsite online. The park has 24 walk-in campsites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You will need to hike about a third of a mile from the parking lot to the campground, so pack light and bring a flashlight!

Pfeiffer Beach

Parking cost: $10 per car

We loved visiting Pfeiffer Beach! This secluded beach is known for its purple sand and dramatic rock formations, making it one of the coolest things to do in Big Sur. The erosion of garnet crystals from the nearby hills creates a smattering of purple sand across the beach.

I tried to capture the purple on camera, but on a cloudy day, it’s pretty hard to see:

Anyway, when you pull off Highway 1 to visit Pfeiffer Beach, you’ll take a steep, winding side road that people live on, so drive carefully! All year round, it’s a great place to relax, enjoy the views, explore tide pools, and take photos.

While you may find the occasional surfer here, be aware that the water is not suitable for recreational swimming since the waves and currents are very strong!

(When we visited in September, it was so cold and foggy out that I couldn’t fathom even wanting to get into the ocean anyway!)

Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is famous for the Keyhole Arch, a natural arch that frames the sunset beautifully. While sunset is a popular spot for photography here, its popularity peaks in December and January!

Right around Christmas and New Year’s, the sun’s trajectory creates the most magical effect, completely illuminating the arch. Photographers flock to Pfeiffer Beach during that time to capture this phenomenon! 

Regardless of the time of year, it’s beautiful to photograph. And it’s quite easy to spot Keyhole Arch. You’ll notice a few arches grouped together after you walk the relatively short path from the parking lot to the beach- but keep walking a bit further down.

You’ll be able to tell which one Keyhole Arch is because it’s a standalone arch in a giant rock. I was mesmerized watching the powerful waves crash through the arch!

Parking is limited and costs $10 cash; if you’re planning on capturing the sunset through Keyhole Arch, come early to get a parking spot!

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Parking cost: $10 per car

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is like a mini Yosemite! Covering over 1,000 acres of land, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the best things to do in Big Sur for nature lovers. You can explore the famous redwoods (as well as oaks, sycamores, etc.) that grow along the Big Sur River as you hike or camp.

It’s home to a variety of hiking trails, including the Pfeiffer Falls Trail and the Valley View Trail. The moderately challenging 1.8-mile out-and-back Valley View Trail leads to a panoramic vista of the Saint Lucia Mountains and the ocean. Pfeiffer Falls Trail was closed when we visited, but you can still see the falls from the Valley View Trail.

For campers, the park has a campground with 189 sites for tents and RVs- but reservations fill up about six months in advance, so keep that in mind! There’s also a lodge in the park, Big Sur Lodge, that has a cafe on site.

Dining Big Sur

There are a few notable spots in Big Sur for dining, and at this point on Highway 1, you’ll find three famous spots worth visiting!

Big Sur Bakery

Get ready to drop some dough on the best pastries you’ll have in Big Sur! #worthit (and pun intended).

We spent $60 here and got a chocolate banana strudel, coconut chia overnight oats, a cream-filled doughnut, a ham and cheese croissant, a mocha Pu-erh tea latte, and a cup of milk for our toddler. While my impulsive tea latte tasted like cardboard (that’s what I get for trying something new on a whim), everything else was beyond phenomenal! 

When I posted my strudel on my Instagram stories, it got the most replies out of all of my Big Sur stories. People rave about this place, and for good reason- it’s one of the tastiest things to do in Big Sur. So make sure you include this stop when you’re in the area!

Big Sur Bakery is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday, and you can see their menu here. Note that they source the freshest local ingredients they can, so their menu changes with local harvests!


If you are looking for a cozy and charming place to enjoy a delicious meal, look no further. This historic restaurant offers dishes made with fresh and local ingredients, from hearty breakfasts to elegant dinners. You can dine in the rustic dining room, surrounded by antiques and wood-burning fireplaces, or on the patio, overlooking the lush gardens and the creek. 

Deetjen’s is open for breakfast daily from 8 am-12 pm. They also serve dinner starting at 5:30 pm from Friday to Sunday (reservations recommended).


Here’s another popular dining spot in Big Sur! Nepenthe is a Big Sur institution and a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike. 

You can enjoy delicious food and drinks on the terrace, which overlooks the ocean and the hills or browse through the eclectic collection of books, art, and souvenirs at the Phoenix Shop. You might also catch some live music, poetry readings, or other events here. 

I ordered their special of the day, a turkey club sandwich, and Harrison got their burger. It was pretty good, but what really made this place stand out was the atmosphere and the view. It’s a great place to enjoy a meal or a drink while taking in the scenery!

They are open daily from 11:30 am to 10 pm, which makes them stand out among most of the dining spots in the area. Many places are closed on Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday, so if you’re visiting early in the week, this is the perfect spot for you!

Henry Miller Memorial Library

If you love books and music or want to get a dose of culture, this is one of the best things to do in Big Sur! The Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur is not just a library but a cultural center that hosts concerts, workshops, and events. Dedicated to the life and work of author Henry Miller, an influential writer of the 20th century, this library is located in Miller’s former home. You can browse the shelves of books by Henry Miller and other authors, relax in the cozy reading room, or enjoy the beautiful garden.

It’s open from 11 am to 5 pm daily except for Tuesdays, when it is closed.

Tip: Before heading to the next spot on this list, you’ll see a pull-off parking lot for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Vista Point. Here are some examples of the kind of views you’ll see right from the parking lot:

It’s definitely worth pulling into- it has the most incredible views of the coast! You can also plug “Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Vista Point” into Google Maps, and it’ll take you to the right spot.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Parking cost: $10 per car

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park features a breathtaking landscape! You can hike through redwood forests, see waterfalls, and spot wildlife like seals, otters, and whales. Bring $10 cash for parking!

The most popular hike to do here is the easy walk to the McWay Falls overlook. It’s a must when considering things to do in Big Sur! I’ll go into more detail about McWay Falls in a second. 

Another great trail here that we didn’t have time for is the Partington Cove Trail. This scenic trail takes you through a lush forest, a historic tunnel, and a rocky beach with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

The trail is only 0.6 miles long (about 1.1 miles out and back), but it’s steep and uneven, so be prepared for a moderate challenge! The trail splits into two options towards the end; I’ve heard it’s worth it to explore both! The two trails lead to two different scenic coves.

McWay Falls

The easy trail to McWay Falls is a must! The path starts right by the first parking lot. You’ll walk through a tunnel under Highway 1 and follow the path to see McWay Falls dropping 80 feet into a turquoise cove.

The view is from a distance, so keep that in mind! You can’t actually descend into the valley to see the falls, but the viewpoint is incredible!

Tip: If you’re shooting with a camera, I recommend bringing a polarized lens filter with you! If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an attachment you put on your camera lens.
When you rotate it, you can find the perfect angle that eliminates the light glare of the sun reflecting on the water. You’re left with the true, deep turquoise color of the water instead. It’s a game-changer!

A lot of people make Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park the end of their drive to Big Sur, which is what we did. This is especially true at the time of writing since the road is closed just south of this state park! But I’ll mention a few more noteworthy things to do in Big Sur when the road reopens:

Limekiln State Park

Parking cost: $10 per car

Limekiln State Park is a beautiful and historic place to visit on the Big Sur coast.

There are several hiking trails in the park, ranging from easy to difficult. One of the most popular trails is the Limekiln Falls Trail, which leads to a 100-foot waterfall that drops into a fern-lined pool. The trail is about 0.5 miles one way and crosses several bridges over Limekiln Creek. That’s the trail I’d do if we had been able to visit! I’ve also heard great things about the Redwood Creek Trail, which winds through a redwood forest.

You can also learn about the history of the lime industry that operated here from 1887 to 1890; there are ruins of the iron-and-stone kilns that extracted lime from limestone. 

Other than these highlights, you can enjoy the beach (accessible from the campground or from a short trail near the park entrance), go fishing, whale watch (seasonally), camp (there are 29 sites along the creek, the beach, or the forest), and more!

Camp at Kirk Creek Campground

Camping reservation fee: $45

For those who love camping, camping at Kirk Creek is one of the best things to do in Big Sur! I mean, how does pitching your tent on a bluff overlooking the ocean, enjoying stunning sunsets and sunrises every day sound?

This is one of the most scenic campgrounds in Big Sur, offering stunning views of the coast and the mountains and easy access to hiking trails and beaches. Besides hiking in Los Padres National Forest, you can enjoy biking, fishing, surfing, and more.

The campground has 40 sites, each with an ocean view, picnic table, and campfire ring. You can reserve a site online here at As you might imagine, these campsites book up fast, so get yours in advance! The reservation fee is $45 per night, and the maximum stay is 14 nights. 

Sand Dollar Beach

Parking cost: $10 per car

This is one of the largest and most accessible beaches in Big Sur and a great place to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. 

You can walk along the crescent-shaped shore, watch the waves crash against the rocks, or look for sand dollars and other shells. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try surfing, kayaking, or fishing here!

Ragged Point

This scenic viewpoint offers stunning views of the Big Sur coastline. It’s a great place to stop and take in the scenery, hike, or picnic. 

If you’re looking for a scenic hike with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, you can’t go wrong with Ragged Point Trail in Big Sur. This short 0.8-mile trail takes you along the edge of a cliff where you can admire the rugged coastline. Keep an eye out for sea lions, whales, or dolphins in the water!

The trail ends at a black sand beach, where you can relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. Keep in mind that during high tide, you won’t see much of the beach!).

Also, once you get to the shore, you might see the seasonal 300-foot-tall Black Swift waterfall behind you! It can dry up in periods with little rain, like in the summertime, and is best seen following a storm.

If you want to stay in this part of Big Sur, Ragged Point Inn is a highly-rated place to relax and unwind.

Hearst Castle

Cost: $30+ per adult

Hearst Castle in San Simeon is the last stop I’ll mention in this post of things to do in Big Sur! It’s a stunning historical landmark that was built by the media mogul William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century.

You can explore the magnificent architecture, art, gardens, and pools of this sprawling estate with a variety of tours to choose from.

To visit Hearst Castle, you need to buy tickets in advance. Tickets start at $30 for adults (check full admission info here!).

Tip: While you’re this far south, check out the Piedras Blancas Rookery, home to around 7,000 elephant seals! There are a series of free and easily-accessible boardwalks and viewing platforms that extend from the parking lot.
It’s worth visiting all year round, but peak months are January, April, and October. During these months, you can observe different behaviors and life stages of the seals, such as pups being born, males fighting for dominance, and females nursing their young.

And at this point, you’re almost at San Luis Obispo, a vibrant and beautiful city in central California! If you want to explore San Luis Obispo as well, check out this post on the best things to do there!

In conclusion…

These are just a few of the many things to do in Big Sur. With its stunning landscape, scenic pull-offs, redwood forests, and secluded beaches, Big Sur is a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of California. 

I hope this list of the best things to do in Big Sur helps you plan your trip and explore this beautiful part of Central California! Have a wonderful time in Big Sur!

And if you’re exploring more of the West Coast, here are a few more posts you might enjoy:

Happy exploring!


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About the author
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
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