Ever since my first trip to Big Sur in 2008 or 2009, I’ve made an effort to visit yearly. I mean, come on! Redwood forest meet the Pacific Ocean. This little part of the world is as magical as they come.
The spread of Hwy 1 may feel vast, but the amount of businesses and happenings in Big Sur stays small. Once you spend a long weekend up there, you get a grasp of it’s layout. And sure, of course nothing stays the same, but year to year, not that much in Big Sur changes. All the more comforting to return to, again and again.
There are LOTS of great campgrounds in Big Sur. You kinda can’t go wrong. It’s difficult to find a place where you won’t be sleeping under redwoods. Andrew Molera State Park is quiet in the off-season and is a short walk to the ocean. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground is huge, which is a reliable Plan B if you’re heading up last minute on a Friday afternoon and the campsite you had your eye on is taken. I still have yet to camp at Limekiln’s spots overlooking the water– one of these days! Some of my favorite nights camping in Big Sur were on public land; free, unofficial, service-less, sites.
I’m someone who likes to do my grocery shopping before hitting the road. I’d prefer to only bring what we need, and not buy full sized packages of food we won’t eat before they spoil. If I’m driving up from LA, I’ll shop & prep before leaving home. If I’m driving down from SF, I’ll stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea at Cornucopia and the other shops nearby (hello liquor store!) before reaching Big Sur. There are some general stores in Big Sur, but you won’t find a full-fledged grocery market or super healthy offerings.
Sprinkled between campgrounds and the highway are cabins, which I have yet to stay in, but have heard pleasant things from those who don’t fancy themselves “outdoorsy”. Most, if not all, don’t allow dogs. Womp womp.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more there are wonderful Airstream trailer rentals hidden throughout the area. The Big Sur community as a whole do their best to keep major consumerism out of their space, which forces those who’ve been rejected neighborhood approval to take their rentals offline. So you may not find these “glamping” style rentals on Airbnb, but if you jump down an Internet rabbit hole, you’ll find them (or email me).
My Big Sur favorites:
Eat & Drink:
Big Sur Bakery - There’s a bunch of hype surrounding BSB, specifically their weekend brunch. And in my handful of experiences, it’s lived up to it! The pancake, the breakfast pizza, the lattes, the fresh squeezed juice, even just the bread & butter– I’m down.
Drinks @ Big Sur River Inn - Spend an afternoon here sitting in adirondack chairs in the water with a drink in your hand, watching the sun fall behind the trees.
Nepenthe - Don’t bother eating here, you’ll be disappointed. How can a restaurant stay in business by serving such mediocre food? Once you experience the view, you’ll understand how. Come here for a drink & the vista.
Late night hot spring bathing @ Esalen Institute - This is a special one. Or an odd one, depending on who you are and how you feel about smells & nudity.
In the middle of the night the private Esalen Institute opens up their bath house to a small number of guests. The multi-floored bathhouse is home to many many tubs filled with (sulfur smelling) hot spring mineral water. And we’re talking 1-3am. It’s $30/person and you can only make day-of reservations (but now they do take reservations online- we’re living in the future!). Wear your swimsuit or your birthday suit, it’s your choice, and either way you won’t be the only one. There are bigger group tubs, individual bath tubs, a silent room, drinking water, and clean showers. There’s the sound of the waves crashing on the cliff below you, and the twinkling stars in the bright night sky above you. And the smell of sulfur. More information here.
Dog beaching @ Garrapata State Park - This isn’t a sanctioned “dog beach”, but it is a beach where dogs are allowed and it’s vast. Take your dog here to run, run, run, since they’re not allowed on most of the hiking trails throughout Big Sur. Bring a picnic, bring some wine. Pfeiffer Beach is beautiful and unique… but small. I’d rather spend an afternoon here.
Concert @ the Henry Miller Memorial Library - The tiny free-spirited bookstore is one of those places that some people LOVE, and one I may be too cynical to “get”. I’m a fan of Henry Miller’s writing and ideology, but I look around at the stacks of books & art inside the little house and think “Uh, okay…?” BUT, if you’re in town while they host a concert out on the lawn, GO! Their intimate backyard shows, under the stars is a special experience. Find future events here.
Nearby in Carmel-By-The-Sea:
As beautiful, and rooted in nature as Big Sur is… it’s not the most dog-friendly of places. They’re not allowed on most hiking trails, or in lots of the lodging options. Nearby Carmel-By-The-Sea is VERY dog-friendly! If staying overnight in Big Sur doesn’t work for you, commuting from a hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea isn’t such a bad idea. My favorite is Tradewinds Inn. Gosh, I love that place. Stop by Little Swiss Cafe for breakfast on your way South.
Road closures & campground openings change depending on fires/mudslides/rain/etc. So always remember to look online before you leave home.
And be prepared to have little to no cell phone reception anywhere in Big Sur. Hashtag Off The Grid Y’all!