20 Best Things To Do in Big Sur, California

by Seema Nande Updated on 13 Oct 2018

A jagged coastal stretch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur is a part of California’s central coast. Framed on one side by Carmel and San Simeon on the other, Big Sur is unlike any other charming and laid-back coastal town. It is an adventurer’s paradise and a hiker’s dream-come-true. The numerous state parks, the craggy coastlines and the plethora of mountains give this stretch of land its rustic characteristic.

From hiking along the redwoods in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to riding the waves at the Sand Dollar Beach and from exploring the inlets of Partington Cove to trekking up the Salmon Creek Falls, there is no dearth of things to do in Big Sur for those craving for an adrenaline rush!

1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Attraction Type: Hiking

Located on California's Pacific coast, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park houses 300-foot redwoods which are over 2,500 years old. Named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a rancher in the Big Sur region, this state park was established in 1962. The most notable feature of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the McWay Fall which cascades from a height of 80 feet, passing over granite cliffs, into the Pacific Ocean. One of the most popular Big Sur attractions, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park also features seven marked trails which meander through the creeks and forests and are perfect for hiking.

2. Pfeiffer Beach

Attraction Type: Beaches

A unique beach with an unusual purple sheen, Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most amazing things to do in Big Sur. This unusual shade is due to the manganese garnet rocks in the cliffs which are washed down the hillside. The iconic Keyhole Rock is the defining characteristic of this beach -  this natural arch few feet into the ocean which is the second-most photographed point in Big Sur. At low tide, visitors can paddle through the water and look through the Keyhole Rock at the surrounding tide pools. The best time to visit Pfeiffer Beach is at dusk when the setting rays of sunshine brightly through the keyhole.

3. Los Padres National Forest

Attraction Type: Hiking

Featuring a huge variety of eco-systems and terrains, Los Padres National Forest treats you to some of the best hikes in Big Sur. Covering most of the mountainous land along the California coast from Ventura to Monterey, Los Padres National Forest is a rugged stretch of land that is a preferred site for mountaineering and camping. Spread over approximately 1,950,000 acres, the forest is divided between two divisions. The northern division includes the beautiful Big Sur Coast and picturesque interior areas while the main division of the forest includes lands within San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern Counties featuring numerous mountain ranges.

4. Partington Cove

Attraction Type: Hiking and Photography

Counted amongst the most adventurous things to do in Big Sur, Partington Cove can be reached after a quick and steep hike through a canyon framed by trees, a scenic rocky beach and finally, through a tunnel. A secluded cove where rusty ruins of the loading apparatus are scattered across the boulders and rocks, Partington Cove consists of a secluded bench upon which you can sit and take in the beautiful scenery surrounding you. Since the cove is far away and sheltered from the rays of the sun, the water here is unbelievably cold!

5. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Attraction Type: Hiking

Covering a huge area of approximately 1,006 acres, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is named after John Pfeiffer, who lived in a cabin on the property in 1884. Housing California coast’s characteristic redwoods, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features a small yet appealing nexus of trails which are perfect for hiking. Big Sur's largest state park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the most popular things to do in Big Sur. The most well-known hike which excites most of the trekking enthusiasts visiting this state park is the trail to the 60ft-high Pfeiffer Falls which usually runs from December to May and is a 2-mile round-trip. 

6. Henry Miller Library

Attraction Type: Literature and Memorial

More of a hub focused on promoting literary and artistic works of Henry Miller than a typical book store and library, Henry Miller Library always features on the list of Big Sur things to do. Founded a year after Miller’s death by close friend Emeil White as a memorial to his friend and as a gallery for local artists, Henry Miller Library is more of an experience than a place. Equally popular among locals as well as tourists, this place also serves as a venue for musical performances.

7. Bixby Bridge

Attraction Type: Photography and Landmark

Bixby Bridge, also known as Bixby Creek Bridge, is the most photographed attraction in Big Sur, thanks to its elegant architecture and glorious setting. This open-spandrel arch bridge is 714 feet in length and overlooks the scenic California coast. This phenomenal parabolic structure is pet-friendly and considered to be one of the most popular things to do in Big Sur with dogs. Spanning across the Rainbow Canyon, Bixby Bridge is one of the world’s highest single-span bridges and a prominent landmark in the state. 

8. Andrew Molera State Park

Attraction Type: Hiking and Surfing

Featuring trails that bequeath tourists to spectacular views of the coastal bluffs, and access to several remote beaches, Andrew Molera State Park offers multiple activities and attractions to everyone. From sheltered beaches to redwood groves and meadows, is nothing short of a scenic coastal beauty. The opportunity to go horseback riding in the park and surfing along the beaches is what attracts adventure enthusiasts to this state park. One of the best things to do in Big Sur with families, there is something for everyone in Andrew Molera State Park.

9. California Sea Otter Game Refuge

Attraction Type: Wildlife

The perfect place to catch the cute little sea otters in action or lazing around their natural habitat, California Sea Otter Game Refuge is one of the best things to do in Big sur with toddlers. A part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, this refuge covers the area from the Carmel River to the Santa Rosa Creek in San Luis Obispo County. This is the best place to see the sea otters in kelp, floating, eating, grooming themselves, or dozing in the sun.

10. Calla Lily Valley

Attraction Type: Nature

At the tiny gorge where Doud Creek passes through on the way to Garrapata Beach, the Calla Lily Valley awaits the visitors. Filled with graceful, wild calla lilies, this valley gives you a chance to get up-close with these delicate flowers with the help of the numerous stairs and trails that take you through this area. One of the most beautiful sights to see in Big Sur, Calla Lily Valley is truly spectacular!

11. Limekiln State Park

Attraction Type: Hiking

Spread over 711 acres, though Limekiln State Park is one of the smallest parks in Big Sur, it is home to four lime kilns from an 1887–1890 lime-calcining operation, a redwood forest, a beach, and the 100-foot Limekiln Falls! In addition to this fascinating historical significance, the fact that this state park is located on the steepest coastal canyon in the continental United States makes it one of the most amazing things to do in Big Sur! With trails that offer direct access to the beach, a trip to the Limekiln State Park is ideal for both, beach bums as well as nature-lovers.

12. Garrapata State Park

Attraction Type: Hiking

Offering beautiful views of the scenic California coastline, the Garrapata State Park is one of the best things to do for free in Big Sur. Sandwiched between the St. Lucia Mountains and the rugged Pacific coastline, this state park boasts of a diverse landscape which can be explored by the means of various trails which wind through its periphery. A hike among Garrapata State Park's redwood groves is one of the most adventurous things to do in Big Sur.

13. Sand Dollar Beach

Attraction Type: Beaches

A rugged coastline of Sand Dollar Beach is the largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur. As the name suggests, this coastline is often graced with washed-up sand dollars. A perfect spot for a relaxing picnic, Sand Dollar Beach is one of the popular things to do with families in Big Sur. This beach is also said to be a popular place to spot migrating whales. The craggy peaks, the crashing waves and the uncrowded sands make the Sand Dollar Beach ideal for relaxing and lazing around.

14. Salmon Creek Falls

Attraction Type: Nature

A 120-foot waterfall gushing down the Santa Lucia Mountains and crashing into the pool below, giving rise to a spray of mist, Salmon Creek Falls enchant one and all. A fascinating sight here is the main plunge consisting of a pair of waterfalls that join as they drop! The Salmon Creek Trail takes the visitors closest to the falls while bequeathing them with expansive views of the coast. For those wondering what to do in Big Sure in addition to the popular touristy attractions can pay a visit to the Salmon Creek Falls.

15. Point Sur Lighthouse

Attraction Type: Lighthouses

A part of Point Sur State Historic Park, the Point Sur Lighthouse was established in 1889 and is operational even today. Standing atop a dramatic volcanic rock, it guides ships along the treacherous Central California Coast. Emitting a beam of light which sweeps across the arc to seaward of the Point, this lighthouse is open to the public by the means of 3-hour-long guided tours. One of the most popular Big Sur attractions, a visit to this magnificent lighthouse gives you a chance to step back in time as well as admire the stunning views of the coast.

16. Big Sur Bakery

Attraction Type: Food

One of the best places to eat in Big Sur, the Big Sur Bakery is a place renowned for its limited but creative menu. The perfect place to indulge in some decadent desserts like pastries pies, fudges and ice creams, the Big Sur Bakery welcomes everyone with its warm lighting and funky ambiance. Also a restaurant which serves delicious wood-fired pizzas and rustic dishes like grilled dry-aged prime beef strip loin, wood-fired half chicken, and a wide variety of salads, this eatery is every foodie’s dream-come-true.

17. Ragged Point

Attraction Type: Lookout Point

A rocky cliff outcropping which treats tourists to splendid views of the California coast, Ragged Point is a popular thing to do in Big Sur. Lying along the Pacific Coast Highway 1, Ragged Point gives visitors a unique opportunity to spot whales as well as dolphins. About 15 miles north of Hearst Castle, this lookout point promises you with some of the most Instagrammable photo-ops in Big Sur.

18. Hawthorne Gallery

Attraction Type: Museum

Showcasing the brilliant artwork by the some of the most talented artists belonging not only to the Hawthorne family but also others, the Hawthorne Gallery displays some of the best works of contemporary painting, sculpture, blown glass, ceramics and cloisonné. Located across from Nepenthe, this gallery is also popular for the exhibits of Albert Paley’s forged steel masterpieces, celebrated Big Sur artist Barbara Spring’s creations in wood and Max DeMoss’ bronze works.

19. Jade Cove

Attraction Type: Beaches

As the name suggests, Jade Cove is a popular spot in Big Sur which is famous for the jade stones that have been taken from these waters for years. Though jade stones come in different colors like red, blue and black, the stone that is most commonly found in this water is the green-colored one. Thanks to the ample amount of jade-hunting opportunities, this cove is one of the most popular things to do in Big Sur with toddlers.

20. The Esalen Institute

Attraction Type: Retreat Center

A retreat center in Big Sur which gives you a glimpse into California’s spiritual bohemianism, The Esalen Institute conducts workshops in the areas of meditation, ecology, spirituality, massage, yoga, psychology, and organic food. This institute derives its name from the fact that the grounds of this institute were first home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen. The perfect place to relax and soak in the flavor of Big Sur, The Esalen Institute offers a variety of services like lodging, therapy, massages, a farm, a bookstore, etc.

Author: Seema Nande
A deep-dyed Piscean, Seema is a dreamer. This extends to the fact that she is seldom in another world of her's or dreaming of the place she would rather be. A wild-child at heart and a keen observer otherwise, Seema's free-spirited psyche is eternal...

Are you looking for a Big Sur travel itinerary? Create an itinerary within minutes, on your own!

Day-Wise Ideas for What To Do in Big Sur

Find what not to miss in Big Sur! Recommended Big Sur itineraries and vacation ideas created by travelers across the world.

Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Big Sur, California

Must see places in Big Sur ranked on popularity. Here is the complete list of best attractions in Big Sur and points of interest to visit.

  1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    # 1 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 2048 times in trip plans
    Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    Tags: Outdoors, Beach, Walking Area, Entertainment

    Address: State Route 1, Milepost 37 south (52.7 north), Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 05:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    This beautiful state park got its name from a pioneer woman of Big Sur, named Julia Pfeiffer Burns and it stretches along the coastline of Big Sur. Highlighted features of this park are the different ...Read more

  2. Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area

    # 2 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 1758 times in trip plans
    Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area

    Tags: Outdoors, Beach, Water Body, Waterfront

    Address: Sycamore Canyon Road, Right off Highway 1,Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 09:00 am - 08:00 pm Details

    Dog friendly and crescent-shaped beach, purple sands, huge double rocks are some of the significant features that describe this beautiful Pfeiffer Beach. The huge waves of the sea crashes along the co...Read more

  3. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

    # 3 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 988 times in trip plans
    Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

    Tags: Hotel, Outdoors, Garden, Park

    Address: 47225 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 05:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    Visit Big Sur’s largest state park where the hiking trails bends through redwood groves. This hiking trail is said to be one of the popular trails and it takes you to a beautiful 60 feet waterfa...Read more

  4. Bixby Creek Bridge

    # 4 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 2156 times in trip plans
    Bixby Creek Bridge

    Tags: Bridge, Walking Area, Broadway

    Address: Highway 1, Big Sur, CA

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    Also known as Bixby Bridge, it is said to be the most favored bridge of California. It is also said to be the world’s highest single-span bridge and one of the most photographed bridges along th...Read more

  5. Carmel River State Beach

    # 5 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 2147 times in trip plans
    Carmel River State Beach

    Tags: Outdoors, Beach, Waterfront, Tourist Center

    Address: Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, United States

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    One of the popular destinations among divers, kayakers and birders is Carmel River state beach. Take a look into the deep blue ocean, the water seems to be very calm. However, its sudden riptides atti...Read more

  6. The Esalen Institute

    # 6 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 1111 times in trip plans
    The Esalen Institute

    Tags: Outdoors, Educational Site, Entertainment, Spa

    Address: 55000 Highway 1, Big Sur, California 93920

    Timings: 09:00 am - 08:00 pm Details

    Covering around 25 acres of land, the Esalen Institute is a popular non-profitable organization that aims at educating tourists on spiritual studies, martial arts, yoga and various aspects of dance. I...Read more

  7. Andrew Molera State Park

    # 7 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 1010 times in trip plans
    Andrew Molera State Park

    Tags: Park, Nature

    Address: Big Sur, CA 93920, United States

    Timings: 05:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    The park might look a bit underdeveloped as compare to other State parks of Big Sur, but this long loopish trail offers a great opportunity for hiking and beachcombing. It also gives a spectacular vie...Read more

  8. Limekiln State Park

    # 8 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 332 times in trip plans
    Limekiln State Park

    Tags: Outdoors, Garden, Entertainment, Nature

    Address: Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 08:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    One of the popular state parks of California, offering a breathtaking view of Big Sur Coast is how Limekiln State park can be defined. Surrounded with beautiful redwoods, bordered with rugged coasts, ...Read more

  9. Ragged Point

    # 9 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 275 times in trip plans
    Ragged Point

    Tags: Hotel, View Point, Cafe, Restaurant

    Address: 19019 Highway One, Big Sur, CA 93452

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    Situated 15 miles north of Hearst Castle San Simoen, this point is generally termed as ocean view point along the Pacific Coast Highway 1. Hiking this trail gives a spectacular view of the Pacific Oce...Read more

  10. Henry Miller Memorial Library

    # 10 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 166 times in trip plans
    Henry Miller Memorial Library

    Tags: Library, Educational Site

    Address: Highway One, Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 11:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    This library was set up for the public benefit. It is a non-profitable organization where the literary work, artistic and cultural contributions of the later writer Henry Miller is preserved. He was s...Read more

  11. Point Sur State Historic Park & Lighthouse

    # 11 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 165 times in trip plans
    Point Sur State Historic Park & Lighthouse

    Tags: Outdoors, Light House, Garden, Park

    Address: Hwy. 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    Located on Big Sur coastline of Monterey County, the Point Sur state historic park emerges like a green fortress out of the sea. From a distant, the park might look like an island but it is actually c...Read more

  12. Garrapata State Park

    # 12 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 327 times in trip plans
    Garrapata State Park

    Tags: Park

    Address: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93923, United States

    Come and visit the unknown jewel of Big Sur, commonly known as Garrapata State park. Filled with unexplored hiking trails, the path leads to the stunning view of the vast coastline of Big Sur and jaw-...Read more

  13. Coast Gallery Big Sur

    # 13 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 97 times in trip plans
    Coast Gallery Big Sur

    Tags: Educational Site, Arts And Crafts, Exhibition

    Address: 49901 Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, CA93920

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    Visit the largest gallery of American Crafts in the United States. The gallery first started as a platform to offer opportunities to the new artists of Big Sur. At present, the gallery has become so p...Read more

  14. Partington Cove

    # 14 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 88 times in trip plans
    Partington Cove

    Tags: Outdoors, Trail, Park, Hiking Trail

    Address: Cabrillo Highway, Big Sur, CA 93920

    Timings: 05:00 am - 06:00 pm Details

    Just behind the entrance gate of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, there is a rugged lane that leads to this rocky cove named Partington Cove. Moving further to the lane, it gets split into two trails....Read more

  15. Plaskett Creek Big Sur

    # 15 of 59 Things To Do in Big Sur | Added 73 times in trip plans
    Plaskett Creek Big Sur

    Tags: Outdoors, Entertainment, Adventure

    Address: CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, United States

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    It is one of the popular camping grounds with beautiful location in the west- central of California. People from Big Sur often head off to this camping site to spend their weekend. The site provides e...Read more

Find Your Big Sur Attractions on Map

Find more places to see in Big Sur

  • Pacific Biological Laboratories

    800 Cannery Row

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Larkin House

    464 Calle Principal

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Old Customhouse

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • First Brick House, Monterey State Historic Park

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Robinson Jeffers House

    Historic and Protected Sites
  • Sea Otter Watching-by MBA

    Historic and Protected Sites
View On Map
  • Lake El Estero

    Del Monte Blvd

  • Los Padres Dam & Reservoir

  • Del Monte Lake

View On Map
  • Museum of Monterey

    5 Custom House Plz

  • Monterey Museum of Art

    720 Via Mirada

  • Monterey Museum of Art

    559 Pacific St

  • Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

    165 Forest Ave

  • Jameson Classic Motorcycle Museum

    305 Forest Ave

  • MY Museum

    425 Washington St

View On Map
  • Monterey Mirror Maze

    751 Cannery Row

    Amusement Parks Arcades
  • Jag-Amusement Games & Vending

    35 Laguna Grande Ct

    Amusement Parks Arcades
  • Noaa Wcr2

    99 Pacific St

    Amusement Parks
  • Jag-Amusement Games & Vending

    506 Airport Way

    Amusement Parks
View On Map
  • Nepenthe

    48510 Highway 1

    American Bars Barbecue
  • London Bridge Pub

    256 Figueroa St

    Bars American Seafood
  • Abalonetti Seafood Trattoria

    57 Fishermans Wharf

    Seafood Italian Bars
  • Chili's Grill & Bar

    1349 Canyon Del Rey Blvd

    American Bars
  • Shadow Box

    1904 Fremont Blvd

    Bars Burgers Mexican
  • Papa Chano's

    915 Playa Ave

    Mexican Fast Food Bars
View On Map
  • Point Lobos State Reserve

    62 Highway 1

    Natural Parks
  • Fort Ord National Monument Badger Hills Trail Head

    Bordered by Hwy 68 and Gen Jim Moore and Reservation Rds, Monterey, California, USA

    Natural Parks
View On Map
  • Garland Ranch Regional Park

    700 W Carmel Valley Rd

    Dog Parks
  • Del Rey Oaks Dog Park

    650 Canyon Del Rey Blvd

    Dog Parks
  • City of Monterey Dog Park

    777 Pearl St

    Dog Parks
  • George Washington Park

    890 Pine Ave

    Dog Parks
  • Rip Van Winkle Open Space

    1072 Congress Ave

    Dog Parks
  • Fun in the Sun

    Dog Parks
View On Map
  • Partington Cove

    Highway 1

  • Pfeiffer Beach

    Sycamore Canyon Rd

  • McWay Falls

  • Jade Cove Beach

  • McAbee Beach

    Cannery Row

  • Monastery Beach

    27686-27746 Cabrillo Highway

View On Map
  • Creamery Meadows Trail, Bluff Trail

  • Palo Corona Regional Park

  • Scenic Road Walkway

    Scenic Rd

    Hiking Landmarks
  • Sea Lion point Trail

  • Intersection Of Saddle And Eastridge Trails

  • Rip Van Winkle Open Space Park

View On Map
  • Carmel Valley Vineyards

    26 Trampa Cyn

    Hunting and Fishing
  • Forestry Resources

    17105 Cachagua Rd

    Hunting and Fishing
  • Global Fruition Inc.

    307 Fountain Ave

    Hunting and Fishing
  • Marinus Vineyards

    18190 Cachagua Rd

    Hunting and Fishing
  • Global Fruition Inc.

    307 Fountain Ave

    Hunting and Fishing
  • Larson Carl D Environmentalist

    200 Glenwood Cir

    Hunting and Fishing
View On Map
Show More