Things to Do in Big Sur - for a Day or a Weekend

Plan a Weekend Getaway in Big Sur, California

Big Sur Coastline
vgm8383/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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 new 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 can plan your Big Sur weekend getaway using the resources below.

California Highway 1 is once again open to Big Sur, after a bridge replacement project. You can get from Monterey and Carmel to the town of Big Sur, Nepenthe Restaurant and McWay Falls, but the road is still closed 10 miles north of Ragged Point and it will be late summer of 2018 before it re-opens. In the meanwhile, find out how to cope with a road closure on Highway One.

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 an excellent place to get away from it all, popular for relaxing and romantic getaways, and with those who love natural beauty and its unique beaches.

Big Sur is gorgeous but sometimes rustic. Your mobile phone may not work very well. The roads are winding, and traffic can be slow during busy times. Despite all that, I keep wanting to go back to soak up more of that gorgeous scenery.

We polled more than 350 of our readers to find out what they think of Big Sur. 37% of them rated it good or awesome and 55% said it was "Yuck!" Perhaps they expected the town of Big Sur to be on the ocean instead of in the forest, or they were looking for fancy hotels and beaches?

Best Time to Go to Big Sur

Big Sur weather is nicest from spring to fall, but fog may blanket the coast during mid-summer.

13 Great Things to Do in Big Sur

The energetic traveler can find much to do in Big Sur, California from hiking to shopping. However, the most charming thing about Big Sur, California is the laid back sense of relaxation it imparts. 

  • 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: While all of the sights and activities mentioned here are enjoyable, why not take some time just to 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.

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 the 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.
  • Big Sur isn't 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.

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.

Best Bites

A weekend getaway is a very good 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

To find your perfect place to stay:

Getting There

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.