The BIG Guide to Big Sur | Seeking Venture Photo

The BIG Guide to Big Sur 2021

Big Sur is consistently ranked among the most beautiful places in the world. The clash of jagged cliffs and wild seas; perfect weather; sky-high redwood trees; enormous mountains and the remote location make it an incredible place to get lost. Scattered along the winding highway are lots of gorgeous places to stop for a look, resupply on snacks and fuel or to spend a night (or several) by a river or in a 5-star private cottage. There’s a lot to discover in this special place. It takes years to explore every hill and side trail. Even after all that time, there are always unexpected surprises.

Table of Contents

Things to Consider:

Highway 1 Status

Highway 1 will be completely reopened on April 30th, 2021. Due to a landslide that occurred during a large rainstorm that January, Highway 1 was closed between mile markers 32 and 28. The only alternate route from Cambria to Monterey was Highway 101. Businesses are all open. Use the USDA website to check for Highway 1 closure alerts.

Driving Tips

The speed limit along the highway is 55mph, unless otherwise posted. Also, the road can be narrow, windy and unpredictable. Please exercise caution! Fog can roll in at any time and the margin for error in some places is very slim with sheer drops into the ocean just feet from the edge of the road. If you are going to be driving extra-slow, pull into the next turnout and let the people behind you pass. It’s not only courteous, but it’s the right thing to do.

Sunrays bathe Highway 1 in a beautiful golden glow in Big Sur.

Lastly, although roadside camping is prohibited, you are allowed to pull over and take a nap if you are too tired to continue on. Fatigued driving leads to accidents and Highway 1 is an unforgiving cliffside highway that can easily kill you if you’re not careful and alert.

Covid-19

Markers denote where patrons can stand safely and socially distanced when ordering from a cafe window.

Businesses in Big Sur are all practicing common sense precautions to stop the spread of Covid-19. Social distancing, masks, and proper sanitation are required when entering local businesses. Restaurants are not currently serving anyone indoors because of state Covid regulations. With limited resources or hospital access, locals have made a great effort to keep the virus from spreading within their community and guests are asked to do their part. Hang in there! Now that vaccinations are picking up momentum, we should only be stuck in this nightmare for a few more months. Minor inconveniences now add up to a lot less heartache later as well as a speedier economic recovery. The sooner the virus is under control, the sooner we can go back to normal.

Cell Service/GPS/Mile Markers

There is no cell service in most of Big Sur. The remoteness is part of the charm! You can find reception near the Post Ranch Inn, Point Sur Lighthouse and further south in Gorda, but it’s not reliable. Make sure you plan ahead and have an emergency backup plan as well. Download your maps to your phone so you can use them offline. Also, make note of which mile marker you will be near as you plan; emergency services coordinate based on these markers and also it’s a helpful way to navigate around the area via Highway 1. Click here for a detailed list of each mile marker and what landmarks they correspond to. This guide is also written in marker order.

Climate

Big Sur has beautiful weather year-round with a short wet season between November and February. Temperatures generally average between 50-70 for the year. Winter rainstorms do happen and this is usually the only time of year where weather can interfere with plans because mudslides can occur during heavy rainfalls. The best time to plan a visit is in the summer, but any time between March and October will make for pleasant weather. Wildfires–although uncommon–do occur as well. Be sure to check on the status of area fires as well before heading up Highway 1.

Poison Oak

Poison Oak is plentiful along the hillsides and trails of Big Sur. This image shows the 3-leave clusters along vines near the sea.

Poison Oak is common along hiking trails and in the mountains of Big Sur. The leaves are grouped in threes–like poison ivy–and can have a shine to them as well as a reddish tint. It’s easy to brush up against it and not realize until a week later when your skin breaks out in a rash that is insanely itchy and won’t go away.

A close-up view of Poison Oak and the way it presents itself along trails in Garrapata State Park and in Big Sur.

Your best defense is to wear long sleeves and long pants and then have clothes to change into once you get back to your vehicle. If you do encounter the plant, much of the reactive substance can be removed by immediate washing with cool water and soap.

Keep your dog on a leash!

Big Sur is a dog-friendly area for sure, but it’s best to exercise your discretion and keep them on a leash as much as possible. The area has a fragile environment and although unintentional, your furry friends can do a lot of damage. There is also always the potential to bump into a bear or a lion up in the mountains; they do exist in the space as well. The locals will appreciate it too; animal waste is an issue for them, especially along hiking trails.

Leave No Trace

As we have already mentioned, Big Sur is an extremely fragile environment that’s been grappling with the consequences of heavy tourism and the advent of social media. Please treat this beautiful place with respect so that future generations can enjoy it as well and so the locals don’t have to watch their homes get destroyed. Familiarize yourself with the LNT principles and follow them religiously; Big Sur and the Earth need as much help as they can get! For example: one issue in particular is tourists going to the bathroom everywhere. All State Parks have public restroom facilities and do not charge day use fees to use them. What if you’re out in the wilderness? We recommend WAG bags, especially if you will be hiking in high-traffic areas. They are inexpensive and work perfectly. Packing out everything you pack in is key to preserving Big Sur for the future!

A sign thanking tourists for respecting and caring for the environment during their visit, the key goal of Leave No Trace.

Campfire Permits

A California Campfire Permit is required to build a campfire outside of a designated Campfire Use Site. California Campfire Permits are available for free download from the Forest Service website. Only use designated fire pits, only start the fire if there are no high winds and if there’s adequate water to drown it nearby. Keep your fire small and make sure it’s fully put out when you’re done– the coals should be cool to the touch!

Parks and Landmarks

Garrapata State Park [Mile Marker 67-63]

The rocky coastline of Garrapata State Park being battered by blue seas under a blue sky

Garrapata is the first of the major state parks as you enter Big Sur from the north. There are lots of cool trails along the bluffs and the ocean that you can spend exploring for hours. There is also a popular hiking trail that heads inland to a Redwood forest. The Soberanes Canyon trail is a moderate, 4-mile out-and-back in a shady redwood canyon. It used to connect to Rocky Ridge above, but the Soberanes fire damaged the trail a few years back and has since been closed. No lodging, accommodations or restaurants in the park.

Bixby Creek Bridge [Mile Marker 60]

The Bixby Creek Bridge illuminated by the setting sun with spring flowers in the foreground.

A few minutes south of Garrapata State Park, you’ll come across one of the most famous landmarks in California: the Bixby Creek Bridge. Featured in TV shows, books and movies like “Big Little Lies” and Jack Karouac’s “Big Sur,” it spans 300 feet across the Bixby Canyon. By the way–the traffic and parking situation at this spot during the summer/weekends/holidays is chaotic at best. It might be worth skipping over during those times.

If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can turn inland here and drive 10 miles on Old Coast Road. You’ll eventually be returned to Highway 1 near Andrew Molera State Park to the south. Of course, be sure to respect the locals and not trespass on private property along the road. You’ll be greeted by groves of redwoods and mountain views along the way! Otherwise, you can cross the bridge and continue south on Highway 1.

Point Sur Lighthouse [Mile Marker 54]

A 128-year-old lighthouse that does weekend tours and is supposedly haunted! Word on the street is they are also doing moonlight tours, which would allow you to see the lighthouse in action and maybe catch some ghosts floating around. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the fog rolling in over the Little Sur River and the ocean too.

Andrew Molera State Park [Mile Marker 51]

Andrew Molera is located a few miles south of the Point Sur lighthouse and features a beach, coastal hiking trails with ocean views, and a long hike inland up a mountain. There is also a discovery center about the California Condor–a large bird (the largest in North America!) that inhabits the Big Sur area.

A view of the turquoise waters and mountains near Andrew Molera State Park from the Point Sur Light Station

No lodging or restaurants in the park but there are restrooms in the parking area and campsites in the park. One could also access Old Coast Road and travel north from here to the Bixby Creek Bridge.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park [Mile Marker 47]

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has miles of hiking trails that feature Redwood trees, mountain views and the Little Sur River. There are also cabins, an awesome gift shop and a restaurant. The Riverside Campground & Cabins, Big Sur River Inn/restaurant, The Fernwood Resort/restaurant, a Valero Station, The Ripplewood and Glen Oaks are all located along Highway 1 near the park limits. Inside the park, the Redwood deck is super cool and the Buzzard’s Roost trail will definitely get your heart pumping!

Pfeiffer Beach [Mile Marker 46]

Sunlight pouring through the keyhole of the keyhole arch at Pfeiffer Beach.

Pfeiffer Beach is a hidden gem located at the bottom of Sycamore Canyon Road. Finding the road is challenging itself since there is no sign. As you head south, you have to make a sharp right turn on a road with a yellow reflector nailed to the rocks at the intersection just after Big Sur Station. Drive to the end of the road for the beach. For a $10 fee, you can park in the day use parking lot and enjoy a walk on the purple sand beach or check out the keyhole arch. There is a restroom, but no food or accommodations.

Sycamore Canyon Road is narrow, bumpy and crosses a wash that is sometimes 6-10 inches deep with water. If the water level gets too high, the parking lot will close and people will be turned around in their vehicles at the entry point for Sycamore Canyon Road. Be prepared to navigate this when you drive in. No pedestrians or parking are allowed on the road, either. The parking lot for the beach is small, so get here early because it fills up fast, especially in the summer.

A young couple stand together at the Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur after their wedding day.

Pfeiffer Beach can also be a wonderful spot in Big Sur to have an adventure elopement or your intimate wedding. Weddings aren’t allowed between March 15 and October 15 due to peak season, so keep this in mind. There are lots of ways to utilize the area for photos, as there are rocks, open beach and hills to climb nearby. The crowds are usually manageable as well because of the limited parking. It can get extremely windy there, so keep that in mind for your hair’s sake! We know a couple of great photographers to recommend, us! Learn more on how to start planning your Big Sur Wedding.

Ventana Wilderness [Mile Markers 46-36]

Along the southern border of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the Ventana Wilderness and it’s accommodations. Aside from miles of pristine hiking trails, one can find luxury accommodations at the Ventana Resort or Post Ranch Inn. Ventana also has a high-end Camp/Glampground. Dine at the Sur House, Big Sur Bakery, Big Sur Smokehouse, Big Sur Taphouse, Big Sur Deli or local favorite Nepenthe. Don’t forget to check out the Henry Miller Library or the Hawthorne Gallery. We recently stopped in at the Henry Miller Library and picked up a couple of books ourselves!

Another interesting fact: the Ventana Wildlife Society is currently running a Condor Recovery Program. The massive California Condors have a nearly 10-foot wingspan and are a real site to see when they fly. They were nearly extinct at one point, with only 22 living animals in the wild. The Wildlife society has been doing their part to slowly reintroduce the animals back to nature and now their numbers are much higher.

McWay Falls/Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park [Mile Marker 36]

Some of the most beautiful places in the region are located in this park, including McWay Falls and Partington Cove. There are restrooms in the day use parking lot and a small campground, but the park itself does not host any kind of accommodations. Coast Big Sur has a gift shop, cafe and art gallery along the way on Highway 1.

A trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park leads through a small grove of coastal redwoods in Partington Cove, a short hike in Big Sur.

The Ewoldsen Trail is one of the nicest in Big Sur, but unfortunately it is closed for now due to damage from the Dolan fire. The Tanbark/Tin House trail is another good day hike, but is a bit more challenging as it gains 2000 feet of elevation in a short distance. The park should be able to resume normal operations sometime in 2021, but for now most of it remains shut down.

Los Padres National Forest [Mile Markers 34-12]

The setting sun soaks the hills above Big Sur in golden light at the end of the day. This is the view from a forestry road high above the Los Padres National Forest.

The Los Padres National Forest is a wide-open mountainous area along Highway 1 that features several campgrounds and backcountry dirt roads (see: Dispersed Camping/Forestry Roads) with unobstructed views of the ocean. One could stay at the Treebones or Gorda Spring resorts if they want to be indoors; Kirk Creek or Plaskett Creek Campgrounds if they prefer to be outside. Salmon Creek Falls is a 5 minute walk from the road in the southern part of the Forest near Gorda and Lucia.

Limekiln State Park [Mile Marker 21]

Although most of the park is currently closed due to the Dolan Fire and the Covid pandemic, it will once again feature miles of beautiful hiking trails, bathrooms and a campground. There’s a beautiful waterfall, too–Limekiln Falls is definitely worth a look once the park reopens later in the year.

Sand Dollar Beach [Mile Marker 14]

Waves crashing in evenly spaced intervals at Sand Dollar Beach

A large, crescent-shaped beach with a wooden stairway down to the ocean. It is close to Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek campgrounds as well as hiking trails and Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

The well-groomed path down to Sand Dollar Beach in southern Big Sur.

Salmon Creek Falls [Mile Marker 2]

A quick quarter-mile walk from Highway 1 and you’ll be standing before a beautiful 90-foot waterfall that is busy at work cutting away at the rocks beneath it.

Beautiful green ferns grow by the lower pool of Salmon Creek Falls in Big Sur

Lodging and Venues

Hipcamp, AirBnB and VRBO

Many private residences and campsites are available through these popular websites. AirBnb and VRBO are geared towards people looking for more of a traditional, indoor stay while Hipcamp is meant for those looking to pitch a tent outside or stay in a bunkhouse. Click our link for Hipcamp and you’ll receive $10 off of your stay! There are many places available and some are exclusive to the site because they’re on private land.

Big Sur River Inn – $$$ – [Mile Marker 49]

The Inn features 20 guestrooms along the Big Sur River with a general store, restaurant and gas station nearby. Elopement packages start at $2000 with many services including 2 nights at a riverside cabin. Larger weddings and events start at $70/person. The Village is a gift shop, snack bar and yoga studio next to the general store that is currently closed because of Covid restrictions, but is planning to open in the spring of 2021.

The Big Sur Health Center [Mile Marker 49]

A small, urgent care clinic near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. While their focus is caring for community members, anyone in Big Sur – tourists, visitors, family friends – are able to use the Big Sur Health Center in an emergency. If the emergency is life threatening, it is best to call 911 and get the local ambulance that resides in Big Sur. There is some reception available near Post Ranch Inn and Point Sur as well as further south near Gorda.

Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is the nearest hospital/level 2 trauma center to Big Sur. It is located approximately 30 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

AAA can be reached at (800) 400-4222 and the Big Sur Ranger Station can be reached at (831) 667-2315 for non-life threatening, vehicular emergencies.

Big Sur Campground & Cabins – $$ – [Mile Marker 49]

The sign that you see for Big Sur Campground and Cabins while driving south on Highway 1.

Features 81 campsites and cabins–mostly with full kitchens–in a redwood grove along the Big Sur River. There are hookups for campers as well as tent camping. Cabins have kitchens and start in the low hundreds per night. All cabins have private bathrooms.

Wind and Sea Big Sur – $$$$ – [Mile Marker 49]

A beautiful private wedding and elopement venue with gorgeous views of the ocean, a 3000 square foot private estate, a dry sauna and more. $6868 flat rate with venue feet and 2 nights of accommodations for up to 10 people. Off-season, weekday elopement packages start at $3000.

The Big Sur Lodge – $$$ – [Mile Marker 49]

Cabin-based accommodation inside of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The lodge office also has a general store with lots of cool stuff if you’re looking for a souvenir or two. The shop also has the largest selection of Big Sur apparel, if that is what you’re looking for! The lodge handles weddings and events, beginning at $60 per person for guests. Check their event website for details.

Riverside Campground & Cabins – $$ – [Mile Marker 49]

Dog-friendly tent camping and 12 cabins along the Big Sur River. Hiking and beach access as well as seasonal catch-and-release fishing in the river.

Fernwood Resort – $$$ – [Mile Marker 48]

The roadside sign and restaurant portion of the Fernwood Resort in Big Sur, CA.

Campground and cabins with immediate access to hiking trails near Pfeiffer Big Sur state park. There is also a general store and gas station across the street. Pets are allowed in the tent sites only. Cabins start around $300/night.

The exterior of the cabins that are available for rent at the Fernwood Resort in Big Sur.

Big Sur Grange – $$ – [Mile Marker 48]

Small, private hall in a forest available for events such as weddings and gatherings. We know a couple of great photographers for your Big Sur Elopement! 😉

Ripplewood Resort – $$ – [Mile Marker 48]

17 modest cabins with fireplaces and partial kitchens, some of which overlook the Big Sur River. Has a gas station and general store attached. The cafe serves breakfast and lunch and you can take sandwiches to go.

Glen Oaks – $$$$ – [Mile Marker 48]

Roadside signage for the Glen Oaks Motor Lodge in Big Sur, CA.

Stand-alone luxury cabins as well as townhouse-style dwellings for rent in the forest near Pfeiffer Big Sur State park. Low to mid-hundreds pricing in a beautiful resort and area. Weddings and elopements are hosted on the property, contact the resort for details.

The Post Ranch Inn – $$$$$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Roadside sculpture of 3 cascading faces and the sign that denotes the long driveway of the Post Ranch Inn.

High-end luxury resort with ocean-view cabins and the Sierra Mar restaurant which is currently serving guests only. Gated property with security. Expect to pay $1,000+ per night. Packages for elopements, tiny weddings and full parties are available starting at $3900.

Their gift shop–Post Ranch Mercantile–has lots of things for the home and apparel that is worth a look as well.

Ventana Resort – $$$$$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Upscale resort/glampground just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and across Highway 1 from the Post Ranch Inn. Expect to pay in the high-hundreds to thousands of dollars per night. The campground is only for tents, no RVs allowed. Tent spaces start at $80 per night and the glampground starts at $240.

The restaurant on site–The Sur House–provides food for guests only. There is a Tesla charging station on site as well as a BBQ restaurant that serves guests and the public. The Ventana Glass House is a cool gift shop with a stunning view; it can also be reserved for private dining for $2300 + $500 per person. Two-person elopement packages start at $5300, with options for small weddings and full-size events as well.

Loma Vista Gardens – $$$$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Roadsign signage for the Loma Vista Gardens wedding and elopement venue in Big Sur

Full-service wedding venue “at the center of Big Sur” that has beautiful grounds, spectacular mountain views and many complimentary services that take the stress away for couples in the planning process. Small weddings up to 25 guests start at $5200, full-day packages for larger parties up to 100 guests start at $10,400.

Henry Miller Library – $ – [Mile Marker 45]

Dedicated to the late author Henry Miller, this ultra-cool bookstore/venue sits in a gully between two redwood-lined ridges on an inland bend in the highway. Many major artists have had intimate concerts there and it’s a Big Sur Icon/must see! They have this really cool system of displaying their books, where they hang them individually in sealed bags. Elopements start at $1200, events up to 100 guests are $5000. Over 100 guests costs $6000.

A contemporary art gallery exhibiting artwork by the Hawthorne family and several other individual artists. The building itself is a stunning work of architecture and is worth a look on it’s own. The artwork is also gorgeous, but pricey.

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn – $$$ – [Mile Marker 43]

A Big Sur mainstay with a cozy set of cottages and a restaurant . The property is tucked away in a valley full of redwoods near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Rooms start in the mid-hundreds per night. They proudly let you know that there is no internet access or cell reception on the property, which for most is a feature and not an issue.

Wild Bird Big Sur – $$$$$ – [~Mile Marker 42]

The view that motorists have of Wild Bird, a private residence for rent near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.

Subjectively, this is the most beautiful private property in Big Sur. An architectural masterpiece designed by Nathaniel Owings in 1958, it sits 600 feet above the ocean on the edge of a mountain. The views are magnificent in every direction and the house itself is an absolute work of art. Rates are $9,000 – $12,000 per night for up to 8 guests. Do yourself a favor and check out the pictures of the interior.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns Environmental Camp – $ – [Mile Marker 36]

One of the coolest campsites ever, just a few dozen yards away from McWay Falls. There are only 2 spots to claim; you have to reserve months in advance or else you will miss out.

Esalen Institute – $$$ – [Mile Marker 32]

Set to reopen in March 2021, the institute is known for nightly, clothing-optional outdoor baths, retreats and self-help seminars where one can go to learn about themselves in an open, spiritual environment. Reservations are required to visit. Among the institute’s draws are the onsite organic farm, where produce is served 400 steps from where it is grown. 

Lucia Lodge – $$$ – [Mile Marker 23]

The roadside sign that welcomes visitors to the Lucia Lodge in Big Sur, CA.

Featured in the Netflix Series “Ratched,” this tiny motel offers stunning ocean views in the low-mid hundreds per night in the Lucia area. No, there isn’t a giant creepy mental hospital up the road. It is, however, close to the Los Padres National Forest and Limekiln State Park. There is an attached restaurant and general store as well. Make sure to not trespass, the road leading down to the rooms is for registered guests only. They may not call the police but it is best to respect the wishes of these local businesses.

A view of the Lucia Lodge as it sits high about the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, CA.

New Camaldoli Hermitage – $$ – [Mile Marker 23]

Come visit the monks and explore their book store and gift shop which features many local artists. Minimum 2-night stay at rooms that start in the low-hundreds per night. Beautiful views and quiet neighbors. Guests can observe the monks (hermitage = monastery) during their prayers and walk the beautiful grounds to take in the view of the southern part of Big Sur. They’ll even cook you dinner! Don’t expect anything lavish, as it is a religious institution. But, if simplicity is what you’re looking for, this is a great place to find it.

Limekiln State Park Campground – $ – [Mile Marker 21]

Camp right on the beach or in the redwood canyon of your choice with 33 campsites. Hot showers, hiking trails to waterfalls and historic lime kilns as well as mountain trails into the National Forest.

Kirk Creek Campground – $ – [Mile Marker 19]

At the base of Nacemiento-Furgusson road, this 34-site campground has a beautiful ocean and mountain view. Sand Dollar Beach is a few short miles away, as is Limekiln State Park. There are lots of places to grab a bite nearby and also there is a gas station to the south in Gorda.

Big Sur Stone House – $$$$ – [Mile Marker 16]

A 1500 square foot private venue available for weddings, elopements, events, and private retreats. As the name suggests, its a house made of stone with pretty ocean views and updated, modern interior features. It has 3 bedrooms and sleeps up to 6 guests.

Plaskett Creek Campground – $ – [Mile Marker 14]

44 campsites at the base of the mountains, a few miles South from Kirk Creek campground. Managed by the U.S. Forest service.

Treebones Resort – $$$$ – [Mile Marker 11]

Luxury resort/glampground with eclectic, free-standing oceanview yurts including a giant nest made of tree branches and several other treehouses. Mid to high-hundreds per night with on-site restaurant and a sushi bar. One of the more interesting places to stay in all of Big Sur!

Gorda Springs Resort – $$$ – [Mile Marker 10]

Oceanview cottages in the southern part of the Big Sur region. Close to Ragged point, Los Padres National Forest and the Silver Creek Wilderness. This stop also has gas, the Whale Watchers Cafe, Market & Deli.

Ragged Point Inn – $$$ – [Mile Marker -2]

A look through the "Portal to Big Sur" sculpture that is on display on the northern side of the Ragged Point Inn's property.

On the southern end of the region, the Ragged Point Inn has well-appointed oceanview rooms starting in the low hundreds, a snack bar, gift shop, gas station and restaurant. The view is gorgeous and you are not far from Limekiln State Park to the North and the Elephant Seal beaches/Hearst Castle to the south. You can also walk a nature trail that takes you down a cliffside closer to the beach below. Weddings and events can be hosted on their grounds, get in touch with the hotel for pricing and details. If you travel 10 miles south, you can see a beach full of Elephant Seals–the supermodels of the sea!

Elephant seals on a beach making strange noises, flinging sand in each others faces and looking ugly.

Dispersed Camping and Forestry Roads

There is a network of unpaved forestry roads and campgrounds that connect along the ridges in the Los Padres National Forest. They make their way thousands of feet up over the clouds to the tops of the mountains. They’ll take you as far north as the Ventana Resort and all the way down to Ragged Point. Most of them are currently closed and impassable due to damage from the Dolan Fire, but some of the best views and campsites in the entire world are hidden up in those hilltops.

A rough map of the forestry roads that cover the Los Padres National Forest in Big Sur.

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road [Mile Marker 19 on Hwy. 1] travels east-west and is the only one that can be navigated with a regular car. You can drive it all the way through the Santa Lucia mountains to Highway 101 through Fort Hunter Liggett. Coast Ridge Road, Prewitt Ridge Road, and Willow Creek Road [Mile Marker 12 on Hwy. 1] all require 4WD and off-road/recovery skills. If it’s been raining, these are pretty much impassable, even with a big truck. They’re all currently closed. You can check the status of the roads and campgrounds on the US Forest service website.

A view from a mountaintop in the Los Padres National Forest that can only be accessed by driving the forestry roads.

Along these roads, one used to be able to spend the night at the Prewitt Ridge Campground, Nacimiento Campground, Ponderosa Campground, Alder Creek Campground, Los Burros Camp and many others. A few of these campsites were free and could be used for up to 14 days at a time. Unfortunately–according to our friends at the Ventana Wilderness Alliance–these campsites may be closed permanently because of people’s bad behavior. Campsites were being left trashed, unauthorized parties were being thrown and the general disregard for the area has resulted in everyone being punished for the misgivings of a few idiots.

Restaurants

Rocky Point Restaurant – [Mile Marker 62] – CLOSED

The roadside sign that greets motorists as they round the corner near the Rocky Point Restaurant on Highway 1.

Due to the unfortunate circumstances of 2020 and the Coronavirus pandemic, the Rocky Point Restaurant was forced to close it’s doors permanently. The property is currently for sale for eight million dollars and hopefully will reopen it’s doors to the public soon.

A view of the jagged coastline from the pulloff near the Rocky Point Restaurant.

Big Sur River Inn/Gas – $ – [Mile Marker 49]

An outdoor patio table set up in the sunlight for patrons of the Big Sur River Inn's restaurant.

Burgers, fries, meatballs and mac-n-cheese. A great pitstop for the road or if you’re staying in their cabins. They also make an insanely good apple pie. Also has a Valero station in case you need gas.

Big Sur Roadhouse – $ – [Mile Marker 48]

An old grey pickup truck sits outside the Big Sur Roadhouse restaurant as a decoration for passing motorists to see.

Featuring Tacos, sandwiches, wraps and breakfast scrambles. Good place for a quick pitstop and a beer, nothing over-the-top or formal. There’s a beautiful patio and view of the Big Sur River in the back, it’s best to sit outside and listen to the sounds of nature as you eat.

Fernwood Tavern/General Store/Gas – $$$ – [Mile Marker 48]

Just north of the entrance to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The prices are expensive but the atmosphere was artsy and on-brand for the Big Sur experience.

Big Sur Taphouse – $$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Great selection of beer, lots of local microbrews as well as big brands. Good music and a cool atmosphere inside and on the patio. They serve you a mountain of nachos and everything else on the menu is very good too.

The Big Sur Deli – $ – [Mile marker 45]

The front entrance to the Big Sur deli, just off of Highway 1 in Big Sur, CA.

Killer sandwiches to stay or to go, as well as tacos and a catering menu. Right next to the taphouse and the Big Sur Bakery as well as a Shell station, an art gallery, and Loma Vista Gardens.

Big Sur Bakery – $$ – [Mile Marker 45]

A lovely little gem tucked away up the hilly driveway from the Big Sur Center, next to the Shell station. We loved the Salmon toast and the peaceful picnic patio. The bakery has a solid wine list as well as baked goods that you can take on the road with you.

A view of the outside patio at the Big Sur Bakery where patrols can eat in a socially distance environment.

Sierra Mar – $$$$$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Fine dining in a luxury atmosphere at the Post Ranch Inn. Currently serving guests only due to Covid-19.

Sur House – $$$$$ – [Mile Marker 45]

The Sur House is only serving guests of the Ventana Resort because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Small and pricey fine-dining menu made with locally-sourced ingredients and an extensive wine list.

Big Sur Smokehouse – $$ – [Mile Marker 45]

Exterior view of the Big Sur Smokehouse, part of the Ventana Resort.

The Smokehouse is a part of the Ventana Resort but it’s serving the general public. It’s a great place to stop and have ribs and a beer! Just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur state park and close to Pfeiffer Beach. Reasonably priced and unpretentious. Excellent BBQ and local brews.

Nepenthe, Phoenix Shop & Cafe Kevah – $$$ – [Mile Marker 44]

First opening in 1949, Nepenthe is a large bar/grill type restaurant with one of the nicest views of any restaurant in the world. They have a large selection at the bar and make great cocktails! Sip on those drinks slowly while you watch the sun set over the ocean. Bonus fact: The nightclub scene from the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls was filmed in the restaurant.

If you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter, check out the middle level patio of the building for the Cafe, where you can order sandwiches and lunch-size meals instead of a full dinner. Either way, you’ll have one of the best views from any restaurant while you eat. The Phoenix Shop is a large, 2-story gift shop on the bottom floor featuring work from local artists and creators that has something for everybody.

A frontal view of the Phoenix Shop and Cafe Kevah that make up a few of the places to stop at Nepenthe in Big Sur

The restaurant became a social hub for artists, poets, actors and other creative individuals on the coast, attracting people like artists Man Ray, Harry Dick Ross, and Janko Varda; author Anais Nin; writer Ernest Hemingway; poet Eric Barker; actor Clint Eastwood; and scientist Giles Healey. If it wasn’t cool enough, Nepenthe is also known for donating 10% of their profits to local organizations.

Beautiful view of cascading mountains falling into the sea from the deck of Nepenthe.

Coast Big Sur – $ – [Mile Marker 41]

The sign for Coast Big Sur, a stop that offers a cafe, gallery, wine bar and ice cream. All of those things are great!
Exterior view of the Coast Big Sur Gallery; the building was made out of repurposed water tanks back in the 1960s.

One of the coolest stops in the area and a personal favorite of ours! It is a combination of art gallery, gift shop and cafe all in one. Coast also offers a private space for special events. They have ice cream, sandwiches, beer and wine as well as a to-go counter that you can enjoy on their rooftop, oceanview terrace. The building itself is a repurposed set of water tanks that was constructed in the 1960s.

A view of Coast Big Sur from its central courtyard.

The different sections of the building contain the gift shop and the gallery. You can walk through each one before stopping for a quick snack on the way up to the rooftop as you should save the best for last!

Lucia Lodge Restaurant – $$ – [Mile Marker 23]

Attached to the Lucia Lodge, the ocean-view restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Their sauces are all made from fresh local ingredients in-house. Rumors have it, their fish and chips are some of the best in the country!

Wild Coast Restaurant and Sushi Bar – $$$ – [Mile Marker 11]

The in-house dining option for guests of the Treebones Resort. You can enjoy reasonably priced lunch and dinner options with local ingredients as well as local wine and beer.

Whale Watcher’s Cafe/Gas – $$ – [Mile Marker 10]

Near the south end of the region in a town called Gorda, you can find the Whale Watchers Cafe just next to a gas station and general store.

Ragged Point Restaurant/Grill/Gas – $$ – [Mile Marker -2]

A good selection of quick bites, try the ceviche or their sandwiches because they’re perfectly sized dishes for a quick stop on your road trip. They have a large outdoor seating area and park benches with great ocean views scattered around the property.

The Big Sur Pledge

Similar to the Leave No Trace principles, the Big Sur Pledge aims to reduce the environmental burden imposed by overtourism in the Big Sur region. Simple, common-sense actions that people can take when visiting the area that will have a positive long term effect and keep the area in good shape for future generations.

Great example: one of the tenets of the pledge is “be vigilant and fire safe.” The Dolan fire destroyed nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed dozens of structures, injured several firefighters and killed hundreds of animals including 9 endangered California Condors. The Soberanes for a few years before had a similar impact and was started by an unauthorized campfire. Had people been following the suggested rules, none of these hardships would have happened.

Feeling inspired?

If there is anything that this guide can’t help clarify, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask. We spend as much of our free time in Big Sur as we can scouting out new spots and there’s a good chance that if it’s not listed here, we can still help. We are adventure elopement & small wedding photographers by profession, so if you are thinking about Big Sur as a destination for your event, check out our main page and reach out! If you like the images you’ve seen on this blog, many of them are available for sale on our fine art gallery page!

A view of the beautiful blue ocean water and the Big Creek Bridge from a roadside stop along Highway 1 in Big Sur.

There are lots of great organizations that work to keep the area pristine. Feel free to visit their websites and donate or maybe even consider volunteering. We are big fans of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, Big Sur Fire and the Big Sur Land Trust. Enjoy your time in this unique place, we hope you leave with an appreciation for how beautiful the world can be.


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  1. Hannah says:

    So much good information about Big Sur! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Stacie Struble says:

    Wow! This is extensive! You should make a little guide book to Big Sur, honestly! Love all the effort that went in to this. Thank you!

  3. Nicole R Thomson says:

    Wow, this resource is AMAZING for the Big Sur area! You knocked it out of the park!

  4. Wow! I’m so impressed by this guide! What a great resource for your couples and others who want to check out the area!

  5. I am so excited for our trip to Big Sur next summer! Your guide is incredibly helpful!

  6. These are all fantastic tips! So thorough and helpful. Thank you for putting this together!

  7. Dionne Kraus says:

    Woah. Such great information all in one place! Seriously impressed with your detailed descriptions and info. Great resource for anyone looking.

  8. Jessica says:

    Omgosh the images you have of Big Sur are stunning! I especially love the one of Los Padres. This is such a comprehensive guide to Big Sur – I’ll definitely come back if I can ever make it down there one day!

  9. Kaitlynn Forsberg says:

    This info is absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for your hard work! Definitely going to plan a trip there soon.

  10. Jayme Peters says:

    Such a helpful guide! Big Sur is such a big place.

  11. Afton says:

    Holy moly definitely bookmarking this guide for my next road trip down to California! SO much info!

  12. This blog has literally just answered every question I’ve ever had about Big Sur, I’m also so happy you included covid information about business’s, as someone who is very covis conscience, this is very helpful for me as I prepare to travel.

  13. Saving this! This is such a great resource for anyone visiting the area. Thank you for putting the time and effort to put everything all in one place 🙂

  14. Sienna says:

    As someone who grew up in California/the central coast, you can’t spell “California elopement” without Big Sur! It’s such a magical place; thank you for so many helpful tips and comprehensive information for couples planning!

  15. Havilah Heger says:

    Whoa this is beautiful!!!!! Makes me want to visit so bad!

  16. Oh my gosh, definitely saving this for my next trip to Big Sur! This is SO thorough and helpful, amazing post!!

  17. Claire Hunt says:

    You have poured your heart into this resource! WOW! I am heading to California in a month and this is going to help me so much with planning. How could I ever thank you enough for this?!

  18. […] Looking for another awesome west coast locations? Check out our in-depth blog on Big Sur! […]

  19. Sydney says:

    LOVE THIS GUIDE! You did an amazing job putting this all together – I can’t wait to visit Big Sur now with all this info!

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