When most people think of the California coastline, they only imagine the sun-drenched sandy beaches of L.A. and San Diego. But there’s so much more to see further north. Big Sur is a wild, rugged stretch of the central coast, with world-class beauty that’s been featured everywhere from postcards to blockbuster movies. There’s hiking trails with marvelous Pacific Ocean views, restaurants with a delicious variety of food and drinks, and unique places to stay amid the coast and redwood forest. Try stopping by some of these highlights the next time you’re driving up the Pacific Coast Highway.
1. McWay Falls (Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park)
No words could truly describe how enchanting McWay Falls is – especially after you get to see it in person. This heaven-sent waterfall drops a whopping 80 feet onto a pristine beach, in a remote cove on California’s central coastline. Plus, you don’t even need to hike far to see it. The walk down to the overlook only stretches for about 0.6 of a mile, round-trip!
You can actually get on to the McWay Falls Overlook Trail two different ways. Either, you can park on Highway One and walk the short distance down to the overlook. Or if you’re looking to explore, you can pull into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (there is an entrance fee) and hike other trails in the area as well.
The trail winds along a cliff for a short ways, eventually leading to the overlook. From here, you can stop and marvel at the coastal waterfall and get some of the best photo opportunities. There is a beach below, but visitors aren’t allowed to go down where the water lands so the area can stay naturally lovely. And if you are seen trying to go down there, there is a big fine!
2. Big Sur Bakery
The fresh-from-the-oven pastries aren’t the only reason you should stop at this bakery off the Pacific Coast Highway. Hidden in an old-style ranch house just off the road, this cafe also whips up some seriously amazing wood-fired pizzas, along with a wide variety of savory breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner options.
Get a taste of their strawberry rhubarb pie, lemon cream pie, or the flourless brownies topped with hot fudge, candied walnuts, and walnut ice cream. Ooh yeah – this is the stuff you’ll be dreaming about for weeks.
3. Bixby Creek Bridge
The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of Big Sur’s most photographed features, and a famous icon of the Pacific Coast Highway. The design is marvelous, and the oceanside views from the bridge could blow anyone away. It’s been seen in car commercials, logos, and a digital illustration of the bridge was even used on stamps.
Most drivers will pull off into a small area on the west side of the highway, north of the bridge to get their perfect shot for Instagram. But you can also turn up Old Coast Road, a dirt route on the north side of the bridge, for another great angle.
4. Point Sur Lighthouse
Point Sur Lighthouse sits perched on top of a 361-foot-tall volcanic rock, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. The historic light station was first established way back in 1889, and is now the main focus of Point Sur State Historic Park. They have 3-hour guided tours you can take to get an ever closer look in and around the lighthouse. From the top you’ll get stunning views of the coastline, and inside you can marvel at the workshop and fully furnished, 1950s-style lighthouse keepers home that almost looks frozen in time.
5. Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach has it all: tide pools, Pacific waves, and even a massive rock that sits off-shore with a natural hole in its base, known as Keyhole Arch. During the day, you can lay back and watch the ocean waves come crashing through the base. And by sunset, red, orange, and purple hues light up the sky, and paint the scene into a nightly masterpiece. The northern stretch of the beach is also known for its uniquely-colored purple sand, which is due to manganese garnet rocks in the surrounding cliffs. It’s one of the most unique beaches in California.
6. Post Ranch Inn
Post Ranch Inn combines rustic lodging with stunning front-row Pacific views. They make it easier to unplug from the world – which is why there are no TVs or alarm clocks in the bedrooms. Rather, guests can unwind with complimentary activities (like yoga, guided nature hikes, stargazing), or lay back in their beautiful swimming pools (as seen above). They do have free WiFi you can connect to if needed, and guests are all welcome to fill up at their daily gourmet breakfast buffet.
7. Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park isn’t like most parks you’ve probably been to. Sure, there’s miles of hiking trails through redwood forest, a beach, campsites, and even the gorgeous 100-foot Limekiln Falls. But this unique state park also has four enormous lime kilns that remain from an 1887–1890 lime-smelting operation, and they’re all surprisingly still mostly intact.
8. Treebones Resort
Treebones Resort takes oceanside camping to a whole new level. They have cliffside yurts you can stay in overnight, as well as campsites for tents & RVers. Guests can pick up any necessities from their general store, and grab a bite to eat from their farm-to-table Wild Coast Restaurant & Sushi Bar.
Or, if you’re looking for an even wilder Big Sur camping experience, try spending a night in their “Human Nest”. No, we’re serious – check it out:
The nest is made of woven wood-art, with a full-sized futon mattress perched inside and wood ladder access. It’s not rain-proof, though, so if it starts pouring, be prepared to set up tent for the night instead. And in order for you to get completely comfortable, you’ll want to bring a sleeping bag along, as well as some extra pillows.
Ready to hit the road? Where are some of your favorite stops near Big Sur?