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If you’re heading to Big Sur, California, you won’t want to miss these incredible things to do. Big Sur, CA is an iconic destination for a reason. A bucket-list stop on Highway 1, it’s home to jaw-dropping scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Thanks to its location on the Central Coast, you’re among the redwoods and alongside the Pacific Ocean.

But natural beauty isn’t the only draw to this area. In Big Sur, you’ll also find outstanding restaurants, scenery, hotels, and so much more. The community is deeply entwined with the landscape, sourcing and drawing inspiration from its natural surroundings.

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Through returning to this area, again and again, I’ve had ample time to explore all that it has to offer. This list covers all of my must-dos from my several trips. Great for beginners, even return visitors to Big Sur can discover something fresh and exciting. If you’re looking for things to do, Big Sur has you covered.

Planning a Trip to Big Sur? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Big Sur:

  1. Alila Ventana, for the best all-inclusive hotel
  2. Big Sur Lodge, for the best family-friendly hotel
  3. Big Sur River Inn, for the best budget-friendly hotel

For an in-depth guide to Big Sur hotels, read Where to Stay in Big Sur.

15 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Big Sur, California


1. Drive Along Scenic Highway 1

A drive along the Big Sur coast on Highway 1 is the stuff of dreams. Expect to make several stops to take in rocky cliffs jutting out into the blue ocean waters.

Some of my favorite coastal views are between Nepenthe and COAST Big Sur. Going during the golden hour will make for an extra special experience. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera.

If you’re looking to learn more about your scenic drive, consider purchasing this Big Sur Self-Driving Audio Tour. It will give you several scenic stops to make and insight into the road trip.

2. Get Sunset Drinks at Nepenthe

It’s all about the views at Nepenthe, a staple of the Big Sur dining scene. The restaurant is the perfect place to watch the sun dip into the ocean with a glass of wine off the award-winning list of 400 distinct wines. Nepenthe offers cocktails for hot nights or cold evenings, including refreshing drinks and boozy coffees.

3. See McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

things to do big sur

The stunning McWay Falls is a must-stop and one of the top things to do in Big Sur. The waterfall drops 80 feet into a beautiful cove next to the beach.

Reaching the falls viewpoint is easy, as it’s just a .6-mile round-trip walk. The waterfall flows year-round, so you’ll get to enjoy it no matter when you visit.

4. Eat lunch at COAST Big Sur

For a delightful meal, head to COAST and dine the rooftop, taking in the ocean views. A group of Bar Tartine alumni made the restaurant—whose ethically sourced menu features Japanese flavors—into what it is today. Don’t sleep on the sourdough pizza slices or the art gallery and shop.

5. See the Flowers in Calla Lilly Valley

things to do big sur

If you’re visiting between late January and the end of April, take the small but scenic hike through Calla Lilly Valley to see thousands of these beautiful white wildflowers in bloom. The valley itself is beautiful, too, with a creek that flows into the ocean. It’s a great spot for a relaxed walk and to stretch your legs after driving on Highway 1.

6. Go Hiking in Garrapata State Park

things to do big sur

Garrapata State Park is one of my favorite state parks in the area, but it tends to fly under the radar. The park has two distinct sides to the park—the inland and the coastal—and both are worth a visit. To get a taste of each, hike out to Soberanes Viewpoint along the ocean and do the 1.25-mile Soberanes Canyon Trail which goes inland.

7. Explore Andrew Molera State Park

andrew molera state park

Andrew Molera State Park may not have as many trails as other nearby state parks. It’s a bit more “undeveloped” in that sense—but the ones it does have are worthwhile. I love the easy Bluffs Trail that winds along the bluffs providing ocean views. The Creamery Meadow Trail is another favorite as it’s 2 miles roundtrip and crosses over the Big Sur River.

8. See the Purple Sand Beach at Pfeiffer Beach

You’ll have to go a bit off the beaten path to reach Pfeiffer Beach and its famous purple sand beach. Note that you will pay an entrance fee and potentially navigate crowds.

But once you’re there, you’ll find plenty of space to spread out and enjoy it. The sand gets its coloring from manganese garnet deposits on neighboring hills that wash down onto the beach.

If you’re looking for more beaches in Big Sur to explore, another local favorite is Sand Dollar Beach. Sand Dollar Beach is in the Los Padres National Forest part of Big Sur, and has picnic areas to enjoy.

9. Camp in Los Padres National Forest or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Campgrounds at Rancho Oso and Lake Cachuma County Park within Los Padres National Forest provide great getaways in beautiful settings. You can really choose your experience, with options ranging from low to high elevation, riverside to forest, and rustic to more developed. Dogs are welcome to join, but they must remain leashed.

10. See the Elephant Seals in San Simeon

andrew molera state park

Seven miles north of San Simeon on Highway 1, you’ll find the Piedras Blancas Rookery. It is easily accessible, free, and open every day. In the peak months of January, April, and October you can see up to 17,000 seals on the shore (they even have a live beach cam!). But you can see some of the animals no matter when in the year you go.

11. Drive Up to Point Lobos State Park Near Carmel-by-the-Sea

Point Lobos State Park has long been one of my favorite places to explore and immerse myself in nature. Miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it’s very easy to get to. The pristine ocean views and hiking trails make it a perfect place to spend a few hours or more.

The area is also home to an abundance of marine life. You’ll likely see birds, seals, otters, and more along the ocean.

12. Take a Hike in Limekiln State Park

Four lime kilns, used in the 1800s, make Limekiln State Park famous. History buffs will appreciate all it has to offer, but it bears some stunning natural features, too. It offers breathtaking views of the redwood groves and the coast, including Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

13. See Bixby Bridge

If you turn off the highway at one spot, make it this one. One of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, Bixby Bridge—completed in 1932—sits 260 feet above a canyon. Views from this area are amazing, particularly during sunset. You won’t regret going early to watch the light change before the sun dips into the ocean.

14. Visit Point Sur Lighthouse

andrew molera state park

History is everywhere at Point Sur Lighthouse. It’s part of the National Register of Historic Places and a California State Historic Park. You can visit the lighthouse, which sits atop volcanic rock formations, year-round on guided walking tours.

15. Tour the Henry Miller Memorial Library

This non-profit library is a wonderful place to stroll through and browse books. The Henry Miller Memorial Library also frequently hosts events, including concerts, lectures, book signings, and movie screenings. Be sure to check the calendar to see what’s coming up when you’re in town.


Where Should I Stay in Big Sur?

Alila Ventana for the Best All-Inclusive Hotel

Alila Ventana

Perched among towering trees and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you’ll have the best of nature at your fingertips at Alila Ventana. Not to mention features like mountainside Japanese hot baths, outdoor showers, and a collection of vinyls to borrow. The room rate includes dining and programming such as stargazing, beekeeping, and art workshops. Book the best rates here.

Address: 48123 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Big Sur Lodge for the Best Family-Friendly Hotel

Big Sur Lodge
Image via Booking.com

Big Sur Lodge is in a great location in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It’s easy to go for hikes right outside the lodge itself, and the property also makes a great home base for adventures farther afield. The building is beautiful and the rooms are well done and family-friendly. Book the best rates here.

Address: 47225 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Big Sur River Inn for the Best Budget-Friendly Hotel

Big Sur River Inn

Stay along the river at the Big Sur River Inn, a classic inn dating back to 1932. Though a stay here is less expensive than other options, there are still amenities onsite, including a restaurant and general store. Guest rooms are motel-style and there are a few different configurations on offer. Book the best rates here.

Address: 46800 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920


Frequently Asked Questions

What is Big Sur best known for?

Big Sur is best known for its coastal location and jaw-dropping views along the Pacific Ocean.

How many days are enough for Big Sur?

I recommend at least 2 nights in Big Sur. But you’ll need more to really tackle this list of things to do in Big Sur and soak up all its magic. With 3 or even 4 nights, you won’t run out of things to see and do. You could spend a week here and not see it all.

Is Big Sur worth seeing?

Big Sur is absolutely worth seeing. It’s one of the most visited stops on the Pacific Coast Highway for that reason. The combination of redwoods and ocean vistas makes for some of the best natural scenery in the United States.


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15 Can't-Miss Things to Do in Big Sur, California (2023)

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

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Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

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Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

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Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

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Xx,
Jessica

2 Comments

  1. Sachin Gusain Reply

    Your guide is a real lifesaver! Thanks for making it so simple to plan an incredible trip.❤️ Your straightforward approach is like having a trusted travel companion. 🌞🌲

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Thank you! So happy to hear you found it helpful!

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