Big Sur, Calif., is a place defined by its natural features: 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 upon 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. The energetic traveler can find much to do in Big Sur from hiking, camping, to shopping and great hotels. However, the most charming thing about Big Sur is the laid-back sense of relaxation it imparts.
Take a Drive on Highway One
It's a great drive in both directions, crossing through some of California's most scenic parks and over engineering marvels like the famous Bixby Bridge. But 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. Whichever you choose, those who get motion-sickness might want to sit this drive out.
This beautifully sited lighthouse just north of Big Sur has an interesting history. It sits on a 361-foot rock at the head of the point and was established in 1889. Today, it's the only complete turn-of-the-20th-century lighthouse that the public can visit in the whole state. Volunteer-led walking tours are available on Wednesdays and weekends.
Visit a Secret Purple Sand Beach
It would be very easy to drive right past the road leading to Big Sur's Pfeiffer Beach, but you'll be glad you stopped. This incredible beach is popular with locals and receives just a few tourists. In addition to great sunset views, the beach is famous for its purple sand, created from manganese garnet particles.
Rest and Recharge at a Scenic Spa
While all of the sights and activities mentioned here are enjoyable, why not take some time 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 at night, from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., making it a great way to stargaze, too.
Have Lunch with a View at Nepenthe
There are few better lunch views than Big Sur's Nepenthe. Directly on the coast, this long-running Big Sur restaurant has delighted guests for years with its spectacular views of the coastline. The restaurant is about 30 minutes south of Carmel and doesn't take reservations, so plan your day accordingly. But trust us: It's worth it.
Visit the Henry Miller Library
The home of writer Henry Miller is now an arts center, built by Miller's best friend, Emil White, in the 1960s. Today, the Henry Miller Memorial Library is a non-profit cultural resource center for artists, writers, musicians, and students. While you can visit year-round, the library hosts various events ranging from story-telling to film screenings throughout the summer months.
Hike in the Ventana Wilderness
This section of the Los Padres National Forest has hiking trails that will delight everyone from experienced backpackers to novice hikers. Elevation within the area ranges from 600 feet along the Big Sur River, all the way up to 5,700 feet near the Junipero Serra Peak. The Cone Peak Summit trail is a hikers' favorite: It's just 3.5 miles but has beautiful views of wildflowers in the spring.
Visit One of Many State Parks
Luckily, many of the state parks in the Big Sur area are beaches! Try Partington Cove for tide pools, Jade Cove where beautiful stones are often found, or McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where the falls tumble 80 feet from a cliff to the beach.
Tour Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is among the most famous landmarks in the Big Sur areas and rightfully so. At 90,000-square-feet, this famous castle is European-inspired, with an eclectic blend of architecture, design, and interior decor. Even though it's just 65 miles away from Big Sur, it will take you at least two hours to drive there. Make tour reservations in advance to avoid disappointment.
Run the Big Sur Marathon
You may not want to run 26.2 miles, but if you do, there are few better places to do it than Big Sur. Held each April, this race runs from Big Sur all the way up to Carmel, following the coast along Highway One. (Even if you don't run it, know that this race, held in late April, closes Highway One for almost half a day.)