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Big Sur, California may be the ultimate coastal destination. It is an iconic stop along Highway 1 and home to incredible restaurants, outdoor adventures, and bucket-list hotels. Having only really passed through Big Sur, I was really excited to stay overnight to explore more in-depth.

I’m sharing this complete travel guide to Big Sur in hopes that you’ll be inspired to do the same. To travel a bit slower, to travel deeper, and soak in all that this coastal community has to offer. The community here has a deep connection with its natural surroundings.

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Home to coastal redwoods and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur may be just the ultimate place to get outdoors. It’s the best of both worlds.

Along the way, you’ll find those “hidden gems”. It is the local restaurants that are sourcing ingredients from nearby farms and taking inspiration from what is around them. Hotels that have a deep sense of connection and preservation for the natural beauty that they call home. All of this makes Big Sur, well, Big Sur.

It’s enchanting and the best way to experience it is by staying a bit longer, traveling slower, and soaking it all in.

This blog post is in collaboration with Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. As always, all opinions are my own.

Short on time? Here Are My Top Picks for 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 stay
  4. Glen Oaks, for the best design-for-dollar-hotel
  5. Post Ranch Inn, for the best luxury hotel

The Complete Extended Travel Guide to Big Sur, California


The Complete Extended Travel Guide to Big Sur, California

Before You Visit Big Sur

Responsible and Safe Travel

If this year has revealed anything to me as a traveler, it’s that collectively we must be more conscious of our decisions. Conscious of our impact on a local community, conscious of our footprint left in nature, and conscious of how we can be more responsible travelers. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Bathrooms are limited. The side of the road is not a toilet or a place to dump any trash. You’ll find open bathrooms at the restaurants you visit and in State Parks (paid entrance).
  • Leave no trace. Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Camping etiquette is important to note here. Be sure not to camp illegally, always extinguish fire pits after use, and dispose of cigarettes in ashtrays. Fire safety is crucial for Big Sur.
  • Stick to the designated hiking trails. For more responsible and safe travel trips in California, read this blog post here.

How Much Time is Needed in Big Sur?

For an extended stay in Big Sur, I would highly recommend a minimum of two nights. You’ll find that the coastal area of Big Sur is extensive. If you plan on going as far south as Limekiln State Park, you may want to consider extra time.

Big Sur has a lot of outdoor activities, and my one takeaway is that you could spend a week here and not see it all. Spending the day by the pool is also a wonderful option if you’re staying at the hotels. Not everything has to be adventure-based in Big Sur.

Other Important Travel Tips Before Visiting Big Sur

Some other travel tips for those visiting Big Sur for the first time:

  • Cell service: Cell service is incredibly limited here. My recommendation is to save offline Google Maps for the area and star any locations you plan on visiting.
  • Driving: The coastal Highway 1 is windy. Please drive responsibly and use turnouts that are large enough to stop at when you decide to pull over.
  • Best Time of Year to Visit Big Sur: I personally would consider Big Sur a year-round destination. The winter months are mild, you may have colder nights, but it is still pleasant enough to be outside. Shoulder season (early spring/late fall) has fewer crowds.
  • Photography Tip: Sunset is the best time of day for light across the coastline.

Where to Stay in Big Sur, California

Alila Ventana

Big Sur is home to some of the top-rated hotels in all of California. On this trip, I stayed at Alila Ventana which is perched up above Highway 1, nestled in the redwoods. It’s an idyllic stay in Big Sur. The hotel is now part of Alila Hotels and Resorts and this year turned into an all-inclusive hotel. As part of being an all-inclusive hotel, all meals and certain activities are included during the stay.

The Alila Ventana embodies all that this part of California is known for. The rooms are incredibly cozy, set with spa tubs and views of either the redwoods or the coast. They come set with their own fireplace and a bundle of wood ready to go.

Mornings start with sunrise peeking over the towering mountains and illuminating the hillside. I’d highly recommend starting the day down at the restaurant for breakfast, though you can order in-room dining.

The afternoons at Ventana can be spent in a variety of ways. You’ll find guests poolside and out hiking amidst the redwoods on the expansive 160 acres. Part of opening as an all-inclusive was to help limit outside guests, so it is just hotel guests on the property.

One unique experience you can request is the picnic lunch, where you can order lunch to be enjoyed down in the redwoods or out by the coast. By night, a happy hour kicks off as the epic sunsets grace Big Sur. Make your way down to the Sur House (main restaurant) for an incredible three-course dinner with ocean views. Their outdoor patio is set with heaters, so you’ll stay warm as the night comes.

Book the best Alila Ventana rates here.

Other Hotel Options in Big Sur

Big Sur is home to other amazing hotel options, some of which include:

  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 stay
  4. Glen Oaks, for the best design-for-dollar-hotel
  5. Post Ranch Inn, for the best luxury hotel

Looking for more hotels in Big Sur? Check out my guide for all budgets, from cabins to boutique stays in Big Sur.


Where to Dine in Big Sur, CA

COAST Big Sur

When the former Bar Tartine Chef Nick Balla came to COAST, he reimagined the menu. Alongside Bar Tartine Alumni, Andrea, and Tyler Rue, they created the COAST Big Sur you see today. It’s a delightful meal — whether you opt for the picnic takeaway or sit on their rooftop with ocean views.

The food is Big Sur inspired with a flare of Japanese flavors, and everything is ethically sourced. Their sourdough pizza slices are a delight, and the miso cod soup hit the spot on a cooler day. Be sure to check out their art gallery and shop, there are some great finds in this store.

Nepenthe Restaurant

An icon of Big Sur’s dining scene will always be Nepenthe Restaurant. Whether you pop in for lunch or dinner or even sunset drinks, you’ll want to snag a seat with a view. Their herb-crusted goat cheese with garlic is a hit, and you can never go wrong with their famous Ambrosiaburger.

Nepenthe Restaurant is quite easy to spot from the highway, so you’ll easily find it as you make the drive. It’s closeby to the Post Ranch Inn.

Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant

Those traveling from the north will recognize this spot along the way, but did you know you can stop in for a unique dining experience? The Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant offers its menu now as a takeaway packed up in a cooler. The great part is you can enjoy it on the back patio, or even take it down to the river to enjoy it in the Adirondack chairs that are set up.

Big Sur Bakery

It’s classic, I’ve been here countless times and always grab a pastry to go. Everything is just delicious and a great afternoon or late morning stop. I love to grab something to go before heading to a beach in Big Sur.

Big Sur Roadhouse

Come here for classic all-American food, right now it is open for takeaway.


Things to Do in Big Sur

Explore Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of my favorite State Parks to explore in Big Sur, and has often been called a “mini Yosemite.” There are redwoods and creeks to explore and plenty of places to park.

Try out the Nature Trail and River Path which is a short self-guided trail to learn about the area. For those looking for a more adventurous trail, the Valley View Trail and Buzzard’s Roost are great.

Hike through Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park is more “undeveloped” in the sense that there are only a few trails to do here. I really love the easy Bluffs Trail that follows the bluffs with ocean views from my previous trips here. The Creamery Meadow Trail is a nice 2 miles roundtrip and crosses over the Big Sur River.

Spend an Afternoon at Pfeiffer Beach

Off the beaten path, Pfeiffer Beach is a decent drive off the highway. You will want to use your maps as the signs are hard to spot. Down the road will take you to a paid entrance to the park.

As a top beach in Big Sur, the weekends do bring a bit of a crowd so prepare for some traffic to enter. The beach area is a decent size and is home to its famous purple sand beach. You’ll find plenty of space once there to enjoy.

Choose Your Adventure at Garrapata State Park

Garrrapata State Park has always been one of my favorite state parks in the Big Sur area that often doesn’t get a ton of love. There are two sides to the park including the inland and the coastal. Hike out to Soberanes Viewpoint along the ocean or do the 1.25 mile Soberanes Canyon Trail which goes inland.

Stop For The Coastal Views

You’ll find as you drive along Highway 1, there are multiple places to stop for views and photos. It’s part of the Big Sur experience. If you stop at iconic locations like Bixby Creek Bridge or pullover for the dozens of pullouts, you will want to be extra careful to be parked legally.

Safety and responsible visitation are critical for visitors to Big Sur. Some of my favorite coastal views are between Nepenthe and COAST Big Sur.

Find more things to do in Big Sur on See Monterey’s website.

Other Things to Do in Big Sur

  • Stop by the Henry Miller Memorial Library. This non-profit library is a wonderful stop-off to browse books. They often have events as well at the library, so keep an eye out for those.
  • Sand Dollar Beach. One of the longest accessible beaches in Big Sur is Sand Dollar Beach in the Los Padres National Foret. You will have to pay a day-use fee, so be prepared. It has a beach span of .5 miles long, and great for a picnic area.
  • Los Padres National Forest. While in the area, consider visiting more of Los Padres National Forest. It’s one of the largest natural forests in California spanning from Ventura to Monterey.

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Xx,
Jessica

2 Comments

  1. I love Big Sur. It’s gotten incredibly crowded n recent years, but it still holds a special place in my heart. You did a great job of hitting all the hot spots. If anyone’s looking for a good breakfast, I recommend checking out Deetjens. Cheers!

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