Located on the Central Coast of California, Big Sur is a region that is known for its dramatic cliffs, towering redwoods, and pristine beaches. The area is also home to a number of state parks, nature reserves, and other beautiful outdoor destinations. Whether you’re looking for a place to hike, camp, swim, kayak, or simply enjoy the incredible views, you’re sure to find it here. In this post, I’ll share the 14 Top Tourist Attractions And Things To Do In Big Sur that will help you make the most of your time in this amazing place.
1. Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is one of the top tourist attractions in Big Sur for nature lovers and photographers. The beach is well known for its striking “purple sand,” which is due to the erosion of manganese garnet deposits in the surrounding hills. The colorful sand is a beautiful contrast to the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
However, the highlight of this beach is the huge natural rock arch that stands just offshore. The arch, which is also known as Keyhole Rock, was formed over time by crashing waves. When the tide is low, you can walk through the keyhole to the other side. It’s also a great place just to sit and admire the natural beauty of the Big Sur coast.
Pfeiffer Beach is part of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which includes many miles of hiking trails through redwood forests and meadows. The park also features overnight accommodations, a campground, and a day-use area with picnic tables.
I should mention that the beach is only accessible via a steep, narrow, and twisting road, so it’s not recommended for RVs or trailers. And when you’re planning your visit, keep in mind that this is one of the few clothing-optional beaches in California. Nude sunbathing is only allowed in the designated area at the north end of the beach.
2. Partington Cove
If you love natural attractions, you’ll want to add Partington Cove to your itinerary. This is one of the best places to visit in Big Sur if you’re looking for dramatic coastal scenery.
Partington Cove is a secluded spot on the Big Sur coastline that can only be accessed via a short hike. Along the way, you’ll pass through a historical tunnel and over a quaint wooden bridge. And once you reach the cove, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the dramatic cliffs, crashing waves, and pristine coastline.
This is a great spot for photography, and there are also some excellent tidepools to explore. Keep in mind that the hike to Partington Cove can be challenging, and the trail is not recommended for young children or anyone with mobility issues.
3. Ragged Point
Ragged Point is another top tourist destination in Big Sur that’s worth a visit. The area gets its name from the rugged cliffs that line the coast. It’s one of the best places in California to enjoy breathtaking ocean views.
There are also several hiking trails in the area that lead to secluded beaches and waterfalls. One of the most popular trails is the Ragged Point Trail, which starts at the Ragged Point Inn and winds its way along the cliffs for about 1 mile.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Big Sur, the Ragged Point Inn is a great option. The inn is perched atop a 300-foot cliff with stunning ocean views. There’s also a restaurant on-site, which is perfect for enjoying a sunset dinner after a day of exploring the area.
4. Bixby Bridge
Next on my list of top tourist attractions in Big Sur is Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in America. The beautiful bridge spans Bixby Creek and is part of Highway One, which is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world.
Bixby Bridge was completed in 1932 and is considered an engineering marvel. This single-span concrete arch bridge is 720 feet long and 260 feet high. It was named after early California pioneer Charles Henry Bixby, who helped develop the area.
Today, Bixby Bridge is a popular spot for tourists to stop and take photos, especially at sunset when the light is just right. The views from the bridge are stunning, and there are several pull-offs where you can stop to enjoy the scenery.
If you’re driving along Highway One and spot Bixby Bridge in the distance, you can’t help but be impressed by its beauty. Just remember to pull over at one of the designated lookout points to enjoy the views and snap some photos.
5. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is named for a renowned pioneer woman who played an important role in the history of Big Sur. The park encompasses an ocean cove, waterfalls, redwood forests, and miles of hiking trails.
The centerpiece of the park is McWay Falls, a gorgeous 80-foot waterfall that flows year-round from a cliff directly into the ocean. The beach here is small and only accessible by hiking a short trail from the parking lot. However, it is worth the effort to visit this pretty little cove with its dramatic cliffs and turquoise waters.
So if you’re looking for the best things to do in Big Sur that are off the beaten path, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a great option. It’s one of the less-visited state parks in Big Sur, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.
6. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of Big Sur’s attractions for nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts. The park spans more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of land and features a number of scenic hiking trails that wind through the lush foliage and redwood forests.
The park also offers a number of campsites for those who want to spend more than a day exploring the area. During the summer months, the campsites fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to make a reservation in advance.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is also home to a number of waterfalls, including the 60-foot (18-meter) Pfeiffer Falls. The falls are best seen after a period of heavy rain, but they’re still worth checking out even if the flow isn’t at its strongest.
If you’re looking for a place to relax and take in the natural beauty of Big Sur, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is definitely worth a visit.
7. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey County. This top Big Sur tourist destination is considered one of the best places in the world to view wildlife, both above and below the water. In fact, Point Lobos was named one of the 12 best places on the planet to scuba dive by Forbes Traveler Magazine.
Point Lobos is also an excellent place for hiking, with different trails suitable for all fitness levels. One of the most popular trails is the Point Lobos Loop Trail, an easy loop that will take you past dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, and a lush forest. And birdwatchers will enjoy the reserve, which is home to more than 250 species of birds.
Please note that Point Lobos is a very popular destination, and it can get quite crowded during peak season. I suggest you arrive early in the day to avoid the crowds and to find a parking spot.
8. Garrapata State Park
Next on my list of top tourist attractions in Big Sur is Garrapata State Park, which is another great spot for nature lovers. The 2,939-acre state park features eight miles of coastline, with beautiful sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and tide pools.
There are several miles of hiking trails that wind through redwood and oak forests, meadows, and canyons. The most popular trail is the 2.8-mile Soberanes Canyon Trail, which takes you through the park’s abundant wildflowers, ferns, and giant trees. The park is also a great place for wildlife watching. I saw plenty of deer, squirrels, and birds during my visit.
9. Henry Miller Memorial Library
If you’re a fan of the Beat Generation writers, then you’ll want to include a stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library on your Big Sur itinerary. The library is dedicated to the memory of author Henry Miller, who wrote such controversial novels as Tropic of Cancer and Nexus Plexus.
The library is much more than just a place to read Miller’s books. It’s also a cultural center that hosts art exhibitions, poetry readings, and live music performances. You’ll also find a gift shop selling books, posters, and other merchandise.
The library is open to the public seven days a week, and admission is free. Whether you’re a fan of Henry Miller or not, this is definitely one of the best places to visit in Big Sur.
10. Tour Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle, located in San Simeon, is one of the top Big Sur attractions not to miss. The castle was designed by architect Julia Morgan and built between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Today, Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark. The castle is now a state park, and tours are offered daily. Visitors can tour the main building, gardens, and grounds.
Highlights of the main building tour include the Assembly Room, with its antique furniture and tapestries; the Billiard Room, with its 17th-century Flemish tapestries; and the Swimming Pool, with its Roman-style statuary and mosaics.
So if you’re looking for the best things to do in Big Sur, a visit to Hearst Castle should definitely be on your list.
11. Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park is another great spot for nature lovers, with its towering redwoods, scenic hiking trails, and beautiful waterfalls. The park is home to the limekilns for which it’s named. These kilns were used in the late 1800s to produce quicklime, which was then shipped to San Francisco to be used in the construction of buildings.
Today, the limekilns are a popular spot for picnics and overnight camping. The park also has a day-use area with picnic tables, barbecue grills, and restrooms. There are several hiking trails, including a 0.7-mile (1.1-kilometer) trail to the top of Limekiln Falls.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Big Sur, Limekiln State Park has a number of overnight accommodations, including tent campsites, RV sites, and cabins. The cabins can be reserved up to six months in advance, and they fill up quickly, so be sure to plan ahead if you’re interested in staying here.
12. Point Sur State Historic Park
A visit to Point Sur State Historic Park should be high on your list of top tourist attractions in Big Sur. The park, located about 19 miles south of Carmel, provides a chance to step back in time and learn about California’s maritime history.
The centerpiece of the park is the Point Sur Light Station, which is the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, and the surrounding land. The lighthouse offers tours, and visitors can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower for spectacular views.
Although the lighthouse is only open for tours only on weekend days, the grounds of Point Sur State Historic Park are open every day from sunrise to sunset. Visitors can explore hiking trails, picnicking, and tide pooling. The park also offers ranger-led walks and talks, which are a great way to learn about the area’s history and natural features.
13. Andrew Molera State Park
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Big Sur, check out Andrew Molera State Park. This beautiful state park is located on the Big Sur coastline and features miles of hiking trails, a secluded beach, and spectacular ocean views.
The meandering Big Sur River flows through the park, and visitors can hike to waterfalls, redwood forests, and beaches. There are also plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, especially for birds.
Beachcombing is a popular activity at this park, and the long expanse of sand is perfect for walks, picnics, and sunset watching. The beach is also a great place to enjoy some solitude, as it’s usually not very crowded.
14. Enjoy Camping in Big Sur
Do you love camping? If so, you’ll enjoy camping in Big Sur, which is often called the last frontier of the western world. The dramatic coastline, towering redwoods, and whale-watching opportunities make Big Sur a top California destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
There are many different campgrounds in Big Sur, and each one has its own unique charms. Some are located right on the beach, while others are nestled among the towering redwoods. Many of the campgrounds have RV hookups and other amenities such as showers and flush toilets.
No matter how you choose to camp in Big Sur, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience. I recommend making reservations in advance, as the campgrounds often fill up, especially on weekends during the summer.
These are just a few of the top tourist attractions in Big Sur. With its stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, and wealth of recreational opportunities, Big Sur is a great destination for a nature getaway. So if you’re planning a trip here, be sure to add these top attractions to your itinerary.