Big Sur, California, is a place defined by its natural features - mountains and water. Here at the edge of the continent, mountains plunge into the sea with little regard for the tiny ribbon of highway that clings tenuously to the slopes or the thousands of tourists clustered at every turn, taking photographs and chattering about the views.
Looking up on a clear, Big Sur night, it seems that someone imported extra stars and scattered them across the sky until Orion almost disappears, wrapped in a twinkling blanket. In the day, the ocean is the star of the show, with crashing waves and sweeping vistas that end only at the horizon.
You most likely saw news coverage of the Big Sur wildfires in 2008, but thanks to the efforts of the firefighters, the scenic areas along the coast were spared, and the most you will see during a drive along Hwy 1 is a few fire-blackened hillsides.
You can plan your Big Sur weekend getaway in a jiffy using the resources below.
Scenes from Big Sur
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Big Sur Photo Tour
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Big Sur?
Big Sur is a good place to get away from it all, popular for relaxing and romantic getaways, and with those who love natural beauty and its unique beaches.
POLL: How do you rate Big Sur as a vacation destination?
Best Time to Go to Big Sur
Big Sur weather is best spring to fall, but the coast may be shrouded in fog during mid-summer.
5 Great Things to Do in Big Sur
- Take a drive on Highway One: It's great in both directions: south toward Hearst Castle or north toward Monterey. Just be careful you don't get so lost in the view that you have an accident.
- Point Sur Lighthouse: This beautifully sited lighthouse just north of Big Sur has an interesting history.
- Pfeiffer Beach: It would be very easy to drive right past the road leading to this beach, but you'll be glad we told you about this unspoiled spot with its unique purple sand.
- Rest and Relax: If you're looking for relaxation, try the spa at Ventana Inn, or Post Ranch Inn. Or spend the weekend relaxing with a workshop at the Esalen Institute. Esalen Hot Springs' relaxing, natural waters are also open to the general public (reservation only, 831-667-3047) from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.
- Lunch at Nepenthe: This charming spot is a great spot to linger over lunch and enjoy the view.
Isn't It Romantic?
Big Sur's ocean views and sunsets are enough to bring out the romantic in most of us, but if you or your honey need another nudge, try Deetjen's Big Sur Inn for cozy cottages or Ventana Inn for woodsy rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and private decks. For a big splurge, you can't beat the Post Ranch Inn.
Annual Events You Should Know About
The Big Sur Marathon: You may not want to run 26 miles, but you do need to know that this race, held in late April, closes Highway One for almost half a day.
Tips for Visiting Big Sur
- If you are only driving one direction through Big Sur and you have flexibility to choose which one, try to do it from south to north. The skies will appear clearer and you'll be on the inside of the curves.
- If you or anyone in your vehicle is prone to motion sickness, bring your favorite remedies or let them drive.
- This is not a place to try to find a hotel room as you go. Reserve ahead or you end up like I did once, unable to find a place to stay.
A weekend getaway is a great time to enjoy a leisurely brunch. If you're headed north on your way home, try the Sunday brunch at Mission Ranch in Carmel. With live jazz music playing and pastoral views, this place could get you so relaxed that you won't be able to leave.
Where to Stay
Big Sur is 140 miles from San Francisco, 100 miles from San Jose, 218 miles from Sacramento, 310 miles from Los Angeles, 212 miles from Bakersfield. Find out how far Big Sur is from other California places.
From time to time, winter rains precipitate mudslides that can close California Hwy 1 near Big Sur. Use this guide to find out how to check conditions and find detours.