18 Things To Do In Big Sur That You Can’t Miss

As you can tell Big Sur is at the top of my list of favorite places in California.

Driving along the winding Highway 1 through Big Sur is a must if you want a glimpse of California’s beauty.

Sure, you could just drive the 90 miles without stopping and it would still be amazing, but there’s so much more to Big Sur.

There are plenty of spots to pull over, explore, hike and really take in everything the area has to offer.

18 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Big Sur

1. Hwy 1 Drive

venti views

Highway drive 1 through Big Sur is an attraction in itself. As you drive along the route you’re treated to the stunning views at every turn – Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and lush forests.

Download this Big Sur Self-Driving Audio Tour to have the route planned and learn more about this scenic drive.

2. McWay Falls

McWay Falls is a 80-foot waterfall that cascades directly into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a must-see spot in Big Sur. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen tons of McWay Falls photos already taken from the same viewpoint.

The fact that it flows all year means you can visit any time and still witness its mesmerizing beauty.

3. The Ewoldsen Trail

Ewoldsen Trail is a good compliment to a McWay Falls Trail.

They start at the same parking area and the trail loops around, giving you a mix of forest and coastal views.

4. Take A Picture Of Brixby Bridge

It’s an iconic Big Sur landmark. There are a few viewing spots on Highway 1 both north and south of the bridge.

The north side gives you that classic, sweeping view with the ocean in the background – perfect for those wide shots.

And if you go to the south side, you can get up close for a better look at the bridge’s impressive architecture against the coastline.

Aim for early morning or late afternoon to get the best light and beat the crowds.

5. Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur Lighthouse is only available with the tour on weekends.

The tour involves 1.5 miles of walking, including a significant uphill portion. Tours operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so arrive at least 30 minutes early, especially in summer, as only 40 people are allowed per tour.

The guided tour lasts about 2.5 hours, covering the history and structure of the lighthouse and surrounding buildings.

Potentially you can spot grey whales during their migration from there.

6. Andrew Molera State Park

The park’s entrance is on Highway 1, near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and south of Carmel.

The park is great year-round, with fall colors visible in winter.

The Andrew Molera Loop, which includes the Bluffs, Panorama, and Ridge Trails, is a popular hiking route within the park, providing scenic coastal views, access to Andrew Molera Beach, and a mix of terrain including redwood and oak groves.

7. Pfeiffer Beach

This is one of the best beaches along Highway 1. The one with purple sand and Keyhole Rock.

The best time to see the sunlight aligning through the Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach is during the winter solstice, around late December to early January. During this period the sun sets directly through the arch, creating a spectacular light effect.

8. Pfeiffer Falls Trail at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Falls Trail features a well-maintained path that includes a modest climb through redwoods and a steep section leading to the Valley View overlook, which offers expansive views of the Big Sur River gorge and the ocean.

9. Henry Miller Library

Henry Miller Library is more than just a library, it’s a cultural spot that captures the spirit of Big Sur.

Check out the events page to see if you can catch a concert there during your visit.

10. Go For Drinks At Nepenthe

Image by 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. 

11. Tanbark Trail and Tin House Trail

Tanbark Trail and Tin House Trail is a great hike if you have at least half of the day. The trails start from the same point but offer different experiences.

Tanbark leads through dense forests to stunning views, while Tin House ends at an old, abandoned house with its own story.

12. Partington Cove Trail

Partington Cove Trail is a moderately difficult hike suitable for most experience levels.

It features a 60-foot tunnel constructed in the 1880s, leading down to Partington Cove, a historically significant site once used for tanbark transportation and later as a supply point for Highway 1 construction.

The round trip can take from 45 minutes for experienced hikers to two hours if you take your time to enjoy the views and have a picnic.

13. Hike To Limekiln Falls in Limekiln State Park

Limekiln State Park is smaller and usually less crowded. The trails here are well-maintained and kid-friendly.

14. Salmon Creek Falls

Salmon Creek Falls

The Salmon Creek Trail is a scenic hike that spans about 5 miles.

The best time to do is after wetter seasons to see the fall in full flow.

15. Ragged Point

Ragged Point is an hour’s drive north of the main Big Sur area, it’s a bit out of the way but offers some of the most dramatic views.

Ragged Point Trail starts right across the road from the Ragged Point Inn and you can read more about here.

16. See The Elephant Seals

Located seven miles north of San Simeon along Highway 1 the Piedras Blancas Rookery is open to the public daily at no charge.

You can spot some seals regardless of the season. But during the peak season in January, April and October it’s home to as many as 17,000 seals. And they have a live cam! Adorable!

17. Whale Watching

While you can spot whales from the shore in Big Sur, I still recommend heading to Monterey for a whale watching tour.

Yes, Monterey is not technically part of Big Sur, but its whale watching tours are so exceptional that they deserve mention in this post.

18. Treat Yourself To A Glamping Experience

Image by Ventana Big Sur Glamping

Big Sur has no shortage of unique accommodations. When choosing where to stay in Big Sur I highly recommend checking our post with incredible glamping options.

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