Masterpiece is the only way to describe Big Sur, California.
This 90 mile stretch of road that weaves in and out of mountains while hugging the Pacific Ocean is a destination for travelers around the globe.
The views are undeniably gorgeous, the state parks adventurous, and the town quaint and quiet. It’s the perfect escape to enjoy some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Big Sur is commonly visited during a California road trip with people either traveling to or from the San Francisco area. It’s a quick 2.5 hour drive from San Fran and the views never disappoint, not even once. Be prepared to pull off the road multiple times and have the GoPro charged and readily available.
I just returned from visiting California for the first time ever. I’m not sure why it took so damn long to get out there, but “California Road Trip” can officially be crossed off the travel bucket list (woo-hoo)!
Our trip covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time with about 2-3 days in each location. It was the perfect blend of fast-paced and relaxation. And Big Sur definitely fell into the relaxation & rejuvenation category. My entire psyche softens just thinking about the beautiful views and charming campgrounds.
Below is A LOT of information to help inspire and shape a visit to the Big Sur area.
Take what you like from this, expand upon it, and then leave the rest unknown. It’s a great place for discovery and adventure, and that’s coming from someone who’s nicknamed polly planner.
So without further ado, get ready to jot down notes, save this to your Pinterest boards, or simply daydream away…
Important Big Sur facts:
- There’s absolutely no cell-phone service in the area – NONE. I’m sure there’s WIFI but we chose to disconnect from our phones, it was a much needed digital detox.
- The true “Big Sur” stretch starts in Carmel and ends at Hearst Castle (both great places to stop).
- It can be seen in a day but do yourself a favor and spend at least 2 days here.
- Prepare to pay higher prices for everything, especially food and gas.
- Be ready to embrace Mother Nature – it’s what Big Sur is all about!
How to experience the Big Sur drive:
- Rent a car – it’s the only way to experience the California coastline!
- Spend the night before in Carmel, just do it. I’ll explain down below why.
- Get on the road early to experience less crowded vista points and roadways.
- Pack drinks and snacks to avoid stopping along the way.
- Pull off the road wherever your heart desires (unless it’s dangerous)!
- Pack a hiking outfit in the car as you never know when adventure will set in.
- Charge all cameras – you’ll want to use every single one of them!
Tips & Tricks:
- Purchase a map because there is no cell phone service. And because it’s fun! I purchased an awesome map from our campground upon arrival.
- Reserve your accommodations as far in advance as possible. Big Sur is a popular destination for globe trotters and locals alike. Don’t wait till the last minute!
- Be prepared for all types of weather as California can be cold one moment and then hot the next. We quickly learned this a few days into our trip!
- Have cash handy as it’s easier for smaller businesses and necessary for entry into some state parks.
Where to Stay:
If camping is easy and accessible for you, then by all means camp away! For those of us who are traveling across the country or possibly internationally, camping is a lot of work for a few days. We chose to stay at Ripplewood Resort and it was absolutely great. The campground offered daily housekeeping services, a gas station, ice & firewood, a grocery store, and restaurant. It was well stocked for all of life’s basic needs! Below are some of the places I looked into or heard about while planning our travels.
- Rippledwood Resorts – we stayed in cabin #17.
- Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn – an adorable place that I hope to stay at next time.
- Big Sur River Inn – the area’s first hotel and restaurant.
- Glen Oaks Big Sur – newly updated and named a romantic spot for couples.
- Fernwood Resort & Campgrounds – known to have the friendliest tavern in town.
- Treebones Resort – a unique place that offers 16 yurts that define “glamping”. Book FAR in advance as this place is desirable!
- Esalen Institue – a retreat center that focuses on holistic living and yoga.
Where to Eat:
I have to admit, we didn’t eat out too often while staying in Big Sur. Aside from trying to save money, we also didn’t want to waste time with full sit down meals every morning or lunch. Below are places we visited or heard great reviews from other travelers/ locals.
- Nepenthe – the most popular restaurant in town for the stunning views and beautiful atmosphere. Be wary of the aggressive blue jays here, they will steal your food with no shame!
- Deetjen’s – a charming restaurant that will immediately make the word cozy come to mind. It’s on the pricey side ($28 – $40 an entrée) but from what we heard, totally worth it! Breakfast and dinner are recommended here!
- Ripplewood Resort – serves breakfast and lunch.
- Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant – super adorable, iconic place in the area. Dinner prices are on the higher side!
- Fernwood Tavern – This was our jam as it was moderately priced and didn’t require a reservation. It’s typical bar food but delicious!
Big Sur State Parks:
For such a short stretch of land, Big Sur offers up tons of hiking and exploring opportunities! The area boasts four state parks with well established hikes and beautiful views. We had no idea where to hike and or what to hike as our cell phones were useless and I left this part of our trip unplanned. After driving the full extent of the Big Sur coastline, we chose to explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. What started as an intended short hike ended as a three hour, six mile hike with stunning ocean views, waterfalls, and redwood forests. It was magical and unforgettable. Below are the four state parks to explore:
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – where we hiked. It’s an intermediate hike totaling about six miles with a lot of steep inclines. It costs money to park your car inside but roadside parking is easily accessible across the street. There’s also bathrooms and trail signs throughout the park.
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – offers campground, restaurant, different hikes, and waterfalls. Entrance fee is $10.
- Pfeiffer Beach – this is worth mentioning because the beach is a stunning example of Mother Nature. It’s a hidden road that is not advertised to the public. But here’s the secret – take the 2nd right after Big Sur Station, you will see a sign that states No RV’s or Trailers. It’s a $10 entrance fee and restrooms are available.
- Andrew Molera State Park – offers campground, beach, and hiking. There is a parking fee and restrooms are available.
- Limekiln State Park – offers campgrounds, beach, hiking, waterfalls, and old historic kilns. There is a $10 entrance fee.
As promised above, I want to quickly mention the adorable town of Carmel where Big Sur starts.
We stopped here on our way from San Francisco after hearing rave reviews from friends and fellow travelers. The town is something out of a storybook, as if it was illustrated and then plopped into reality. I couldn’t handle the “cuteness” overload!
Anyway, I definitely recommend stopping here for an afternoon or possibly staying for the evening before heading down to Big Sur (or if leaving and heading north).
Below is a quick run down of what we did in our short time there:
- Stroll the streets and gawk at how adorable it is.
- Window shop or really shop if not on a budget.
- Go for a quick wine tasting at Caraccioli Cellars – reasonable, great ambiance, and delicious wine & snacks.
- Grab a drink at Starlight 65 Rooftop Lounge and then eat dinner downstairs at Vesuvio.
There are truly no words for how beautiful and inspirational this slice of Mother Nature is.
Big Sur is one of those places that YOU MUST visit and experience for yourself.
When we reconnect with the outdoors, nature, and the simple raw beauty of this planet – it allows us to live with a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude. It’s a big reminder that’s served to us in the simplest form.
Take time to explore this vast world we live in friends, it’s an open book waiting for you to read!
*To view all of the stunning photos from Big Sur – click here.