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Big Sur, Monterey County Travel Guide

Big Sur Summary


  • Beautiful scenery -- coastal cliffs set against redwood forests
  • Jaw-dropping ocean vistas from Highway 1
  • Tons of hiking, biking, and horseback riding paths
  • Very relaxing -- natural springs and spas give the area a zen vibe
  • Several gourmet restaurants, high-end shops, and art galleries
  • Interesting literary history: Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson lived and wrote here
  • Some of the California's best luxury hotels


  • Water often too cold for swimming
  • Highway 1 occasionally closed during rainy season

What It's Like

Big Sur is one of the most stunning places in the world, defined by its redwood forests and craggly cliffs plummeting into the Pacific Ocean. When the area was first settled in the late 1800s, Big Sur was only a place for the uber-adventurous (electricity wasn't common until the 1950s and some remote areas still don't have it today). These days it's more for the zen, artsy types: writers such as Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller have called Big Sur home, and it's also the birthplace of the Human Potential Movement. With beautiful landscapes and natural thermal springs, Big Sur is a place that encourages soul searching, and there are numerous hippie camps, spas, and spiritual retreats in the area.

But Big Sur is not just for sitting back and putting your feet up. In fact, it's an active person's dream: Most of the area is composed of parks with over 237 miles of hiking trails along the coast. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a popular spot, especially during the summer, with an 80-foot waterfall and numerous coastal hikes. Certified scuba divers can even explore the massive underwater nature preserve, but Big Sur isn't much of a beach destination -- the waters are frigid and the cliffs don't allow for easy access to the beaches. There are a handful of accessible beaches with sand, however, including the popular Pfeiffer Beach.

Big Sur's economy is based on tourism, and therefore there are numerous shops, galleries, and restaurants in the area. Getting around is mostly done along Highway 1, arguably the most scenic route in California, but occasional mudslides can close it down.

Where To Stay

The hotels in Big Sur range from small cabins to cheap motels to extremely expensive luxury spa hotels. There are no chain hotels in the area, and though tourism is big, there aren't a ton of options, so rooms book up quickly.

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