As a California native, Big Sur is one of those places we grew up going to. It's an iconic stop along Highway 1 with incredible restaurants, outdoor adventures and some top-rated hotels. It’s one of the top visited destinations in the state, so I wanted to give you an insider guide to visiting Big Sur after my dozen plus trips there. 

My last visit to Big Sur took me up and down the stretch of coast in Monterey County. I always forget that there is much more to do in Big Sur than the typical spots you’ll see online. It’s home to a vibrant art community, black sand beaches and plenty of trails that wind through the redwoods. 

When it comes to visiting Big Sur, there is a local code of sorts to visiting. Some do’s and don'ts to keep in mind which help keep travel to Big Sur sustainable. So as you read this insider guide to Big Sur, keep an eye out for those. It’s one way to keep Big Sur the gem that it is. 

I find myself craving a trip to Big Sur particularly in the early months of the year. I find this area to feel restorative — a sort of rest and resetting that happens when being in untouched nature. The early months of the year also means fewer crowds, something to consider if you’re wanting to visit.  

So whether you’re embarking on a day trip, passing through on a coastal road trip or looking to stay longer, read on to see your guide to visiting. 

What to Know Before Visiting Big Sur 

Big Sur Coast Forest

Be Mindful of The Roads 

This part of Highway 1 is pretty windy and with so many scenic spots, you’ll want to pull over when you can to take photos. When you do pull over, always park in a designated pull out (Important: if it’s full move on to the next and don’t attempt to cross Highway 1 on foot!). One other local tip — don’t use the side of the road as a bathroom, it’s become a serious issue and not very fun for other visitors. A full list of public restrooms can be found here. 

Leave No Trace 

When visiting Big Sur, do your part in keeping the trails, beaches and public areas clean. Pack out what you pack in. I like to travel with a spare garbage bag in my car as a way to cut down having to look for a public garbage can.

Where to Stay in Big Sur 

Big Sur Alila Ventana View When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in Big Sur, you're truly spoiled for choice. If you're seeking unparalleled luxury and a truly exclusive experience, Post Ranch Inn is really the top choice. Perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific, it offers stunning ocean-view rooms and a renowned spa. 

Across the way, Alila Ventana Big Sur blends contemporary design with rustic charm, providing guests with breathtaking views, secluded hot tubs and an eco-friendly ethos. Alila Ventana is an all-inclusive property meaning meals and select activities are included, so if you’re looking for ease in travel, this is the one. 

Glen Oaks Big Sur offers a more rustic yet equally charming experience, with cozy cabins nestled amidst ancient redwoods. I’ve done the cabins before along the river which are super fun for a getaway.  

Another great choice is Big Sur Lodge which provides a comfortable and family-friendly option, conveniently located within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Where to Eat in Big Sur 

Big Sur COAST cafe and gallery When it comes to dining in Big Sur, I absolutely love the range of experiences. There are some local favorites and some spots you can’t miss. At COAST Big Sur, you'll find farm-to-table cuisine, where housemade dips, soups and breads are some of the best things on the menu. The view from COAST Big Sur is also amazing on a clear day and I love to stock up on pantry essentials here to bring home. 

Perched atop a cliff, Nepenthe Restaurant is a Big Sur classic, offering panoramic ocean views and you can’t miss their famous Ambrosiaburger. It does get quite busy so plan ahead for an early arrival. For a more rustic-lowkey experience, head to Big Sur River Inn where you can dine on the deck next to the river. 

Look no further than Big Sur Bakery as the perfect pitstop for baked goods. And for a dose of Southern comfort and wood-fired flavors, Big Sur Roadhouse is your go-to spot.  

Things to Do in Big Sur 

Go Hiking

Big Sur offers some of the most breathtaking hikes along the California coast. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Big Sur. The McWay Falls Trail is a short but iconic option, leading to a stunning viewpoint overlooking a pristine waterfall cascading onto a secluded beach. When you’re visiting, be sure to stay on the hiking trails and respect private property. 

For a more challenging adventure, the Ewoldsen Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park takes you through lush redwood groves and offers panoramic vistas of the rugged coastline. And, don't miss the challenging Pine Ridge Trail, which ventures deep into the Ventana Wilderness where you’ll have wonderful vistas of the Santa Lucia Mountains. 

While you’re out hiking, do be mindful of poison oak, this is abundant in the area and so you need to keep an eye out while hiking. Keep in mind as well that on State Parks and on US Forest Lands, pets must be leashed for safety for other hikers and local wildlife. 

Hit the Beaches 

I am always surprised by how many great beaches there are in Big Sur. And whilst quite cold for swimming, they’re great for an afternoon out and walking. Pfeiffer Beach, with its distinctive purple-hued sand and dramatic rock formations, is a must-visit for its unique beauty. The parking lot can get full so budget some time for this. 

Garrapata State Beach, known for its rugged and wild coastline, has amazing tidepools to look at with the littles. The other beach I love is Andrew Molera State Beach which has expansive sandy shores and excellent hiking trails nearby as well. 

Keep in mind that bonfires are not allowed on the beaches but some do have designated areas for BBQ’s. So when you do use these, be fire safe as the littlest ash can cause a fire. 

See the Scenic Views 

You really could just spend a half day going for a scenic drive along Highway 1, using the designated pull outs to take in the views. I find myself always stopping every 10 minutes or so as it’s that beautiful. 

It’s one of the best things to do, and it takes just a bit of mindfulness when driving as the highway gets busy. I try to keep my speed much lower as I know I may be stopping, and giving plenty of notice with blinkers that I am pulling off before I do. 

One iconic sight that so many visitors go to is the Bixby Bridge. Parking for Bixby Bridge is always tricky as it is quite full, so avoid a quick stop and start to slow down as you approach it. It remains as one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges at 714 feet in length and is the icon of Big Sur. It’s one of those spots you have to see at least once. Although iconic, it’s one of the places to be most aware and responsible when traveling in Monterey County. 

When you arrive, make sure you’re not parked on private property or service roads and park only in designated areas. If the pullout is full, continue driving until the next vista point. Always ensure that your vehicle is completely off the roadway. As a heads up, you can’t use drones illegally (in fact anywhere on the Big Sur coast) as they are harmful to animals and distracting to drivers; if you’d like a permit you can click here for more information.  

Best practices when visiting Big Sur are available here.