Big Sur, a stunning 71-mile (114-kilometer) stretch of California’s Central Coast, boasts epic views of the mighty Pacific and jagged, dramatic coastline. Running from the Carmel Highlands to San Simeon, the unincorporated area is very lightly populated—in fact it’s the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower United States.
Hiking is an ideal way to experience the natural beauty of Big Sur—and the area’s size easily allows you to find total solitude. Numerous hiking trails run through Big Sur, from a gentle coastal walk past redwoods and the 80-foot (24-meter) McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, to the mountainous terrain of Los Padres National Forest. Other attractions along the way include the Bixby Bridge and the famous Nepenthe Restaurant.
The area famously inspired such artists and writers as Ansel Adams and Jack Kerouac, and is still home to a large artistic community. The Henry Miller Memorial Library hosts a varied schedule of readings, workshops, concerts, and film screenings.
Big Sur tours depart from Monterey Bay and San Francisco, and drive all or part of the stretch of coastline. Some tours also stop at nearby popular attractions like Morro Bay, Hearst Castle, and San Luis Obispo, which lay south of Big Sur, and Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, to the north.
Things to Know Before You Go
- With few connecting roads, Highway 1 is prone to lengthy traffic backups, especially during the summer high season. Slow down and enjoy the views.
- Perched on the coast, the road is vulnerable to rockslides, mudslides, and construction closures. Always check road conditions before departing for Big Sur.
- There is no mobile phone service along much of the highway, due to its remoteness.
- Those who suffer from car sickness may want to consider taking precautionary measures before a trip to Big Sur.
How to Get There
Big Sur is 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of San Francisco and 310 miles (500 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. Most campsites are located within the state and federal parks and are usually on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want to stay at one of the few hotels, make reservations in advance or risk disappointment.
When to Get There
Fall and spring are the best times to visit Big Sur, with lower concentration of crowds and better weather. Summer sees a huge rise in population, and Highway 1 can get socked in with fog, impeding the vistas. Winter rains can bring mudslides, rock slides, and road closures.
Big Sur Flora and Fauna
Coast redwood and the rare Santa Lucia fir are both found in this area, as is a type of orchid found only in the Monterey Peninsula and surrounds. Resident fauna includes tule elk, the California condor, coyote, and fox. The offshore area is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and is home to harbor seals and sea otters, and provides passage for migrating humpback whales.