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If you are looking for a fun getaway that includes both relaxation and adventure, plus gorgeous scenery, then we highly recommend the Big Sur coast in California. The Big Sur coastline is a stretch of approximately 70 miles from San Simeon on the south to Carmel Highlands and Monterrey in the North. It’s the most picturesque and raw stretch of coastline in the U.S. When you think of most beautiful places in California, Big Sur in Northern Cali is one of the first places to come to mind.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite things to do in Big Sur if you are planning a visit to the area.
The drive along Highway 1 is characteristically followed by the awe-inspiring seaside vibe and raw beauty. The highway cuts through an iconic meeting of land and ocean. There are vista points along the 70-mile stretch almost every 10 minutes. So, you can pull up along the side of the road, come out of your car and admire the beauty, while massive waves crash below you on a beautiful white sand beach.
One of the highlights of the Big Sur coastline drive is Limekiln Park. Pull up at Limekiln Park to learn more about Big Sur and its history. This state park is a fabulous beach campground, but the main attractions are the hikes that lead inland.
There are Limekiln Trail and the waterfall trail. Both hikes begin on the same trail, and then in the middle, there’s a split that leads to two different endpoints.
The waterfall hike follows the streams up to a lovely waterfall with a large log sitting right in the middle of it, then back to the main trail. When on the main trail, you can continue on the other split to the historic Limekilns, nestled in the trees back at the end of the trail. Both of these spots are worth a hike and a great introduction to the Big Sur area.
Soak in the coastal vibe – While the entire Big Sur coastline has impressive views, some of the most spectacular can be found in the south part along the drive from Limekiln State Park to the next view stops. So, plan your time ahead and keep in mind to stop at the many different pull-out points for photo ops. The more time you have, the more you can just drive slowly, pull out whenever you want and enjoy the surroundings.
Located in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, McWay Falls is the most well-known stop in all of Big Sur, and the most-visited waterfall in the area. This famous waterfall requires is easy to spot on, as there’s a place to park on the road and a walkway that takes you to the viewing point
You cannot get down, close to the waterfall itself so you just have to enjoy it from above. Here, you can watch the waterfall as it gracefully cascades directly onto the beach. The advantage is there will be no people in your photos. If you want a sunset you’ll never forget, come to the McWay Falls in the evening.
The Partington Cove hike should be your next to-do thing in Big Sur. Though the hike can be hard to find as there are no signs and the parking is just along the side of the road it’s worth the effort.
This quick and steep hike will lead you through a tree-lined canyon, and you will emerge on a scenic rocky beach and then through a 60-foot tunnel that leads to Partington Cove. Partington Cove is an area where boats used to dock, so you are going to see pieces of wood peeking out between the rocks. And there’s a small bench at the cove where you can sit, relax and inhale some of the fresh beach air.
Another hike to consider include the Ewoldsen Hike, a 4.5-mile hike along the McWay Creek and through the serene redwood grove to a viewpoint with breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Time to put some food in you. The best place to stop for food is at Nepenthe Restaurant. While not among the beautiful stops mentioned so far, this is an excellent spot to enjoy a combination of California and greek Mediterranean food on your drive. Their highlight is the ambrosia burger – greek stick sandwich served on a French roll. You can also enjoy some seafood, but of course, the main reason to stop here is the fantastic open-air bar scene overlooking the Big Sur coastline.
Other places to stop for food and drinks include Sierra Mar, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant where you can stop for American meals and amazing views and romantic sunsets. You can also stop at the Big Sur Bakery for some bread, seafood, and soup with garnishes. Deetjen’s is also a beautiful easting spot, friendly atmosphere, cozy and there’s a relaxing fireplace room; there french toast filled with raspberry cheese is to die for!
Big Sur’s favorite park for the outdoorsy type is the Julia Burns State Park. Named after one of the area’s pioneer, the park is a sight for sore eyes; a culmination of all geological features that characterize Big Sur and the perfect hiking spot. It is among the few places you can enjoy some scuba diving in Big Sur.
The Pfeiffer State Park features 7 marked trails that will take you up waterfalls, hidden coves, along creeks and through redwood groves. While you are there, you can hike the Manuel Peak, a 3,379-foot-tall peak and enjoy scenic views of the ocean and mountain ranges.
Andrew Molera is another state park worth checking out. Sitting on 4,800 acres, it offers plenty of secluded beaches, red-clad forests, meadows and hiking trails along the Big Sur River. The parks flatter geography makes horse rides and biking possible.
Sitting on the Western Slopes of St. Lucia Mountains is another park, the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It also offers redwood groves hiking trails, meadows, and waterfalls but unlike other parks, its trails do not offer ocean view but will instead of its a lookout to the Big Sur Valley and the historic Point Sur Lighthouse.
If you have skipped the park trails, make sure you visit Pfeiffer Beach. Though it’s hard to find and requires you to drive on a sketchy one-lane road down to the parking area, it’s worth the effort as you will be rewarded with a fantastic beach that has a small rock arch out in the water and sand that turns purple after it rains.
The Pfeiffer Keyhole is the main draw, it offers incredible photo opportunities, and when the tide is low, you can wade the waters for a Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock look at the surrounding tides. The beach is never usually busy, but since its small, you might have to wait for a parking spot.
Wrap up your lovely day on Highway 1’s Bixby Bridge. Built back in 1932, this single-span concrete arch seats 280 feet above the Rainbow Canyon, surrounded by turquoise waters and fabulous rolling hills. This iconic spot is one of the most photographed places in the entire drive as the bridge crosses over the Rainbow Canyon, looks down on the ocean and look out over Big Sur’s most beautiful coastline. There’s a small pull-out spot on the north for photo ops at any time of the day.
Big Sur, California is an iconic destination that must be on your travel bucket list. The scenery in this part of California is incredible, and there is nothing like driving the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and stopping to explore along the way, as you never know what is coming around the next bend. Whether you are driving in a car, or exploring the area and camping in your RV at one of the many state parks (like we did), you are sure to love spending time in this part of California.
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