Your Ultimate Weekend Guide Out of LA and into Big Sur
Offering enviable views of the gorgeous scenery, Big Sur is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. This is your warning. You will stop at every corner, and you will take pictures. There is something magical about Big Sur. The dramatic rocky coastline plunges into the crisp, blue waves of the Pacific and the contrasting green forested mountains give way to rolling hills with roaming livestock.
Home to the most abrupt elevation change on the Pacific shore, Big Sir houses mountains that rise to 5,000 ft (1524 meters)—while only being two miles away from the ocean!
A range of activities await both outdoor and indoor adventurers, as well as artistic enthusiasts. A great trip for friends, solo-female travelers, awesome families, and adventurous couples, Big Sur is sure to provide an epic getaway.
How To Get There
Big Sur is located on Highway 1 (California-1) between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Your best option is to fly into San Jose International Airport (SJC), and rent a car for your epic California 1 road trip. Drive the 85 miles along the coast to get there.
It is not recommended that you fly into Santa Barbara, the airport is tiny and pretty pricey. If you are not road-tripping up from LA or down from Nor-cal, and end up flying in from out of town, Out of LA recommends renting a car. Taxi’s, Uber and public transportation are not really options here.
Whether you are experiencing Big Sur and it’s breath-taking scenery, as a solo female (or male) on a road trip or you are in the company of friends, all you need is some mellow tunes and this drive will be an unforgettable experience!
Things to Know //
A few tips that you should when you are planning your epic Big Sur – California 1 road-trip. The first is that there is NO cell service in the Big Sur and most of the WiFi there isn’t that reliable. So be prepared and plan ahead! Save maps and phone numbers to your phone before you go. Another important fact is that a lot of the hotels require that you call them for reservations (see OOLA’s Where To Sleep section below for more information).
When To Go //
Peak Season // April – October
Best Weather // September – November
Low Season // December – March
Whale Season In Big Sur //
Gray »» Dec-Feb they go South and Feb – Apr. they go back north
Blue »» June to October
Humpback »» April to early December
What to Do//
Although there are many gorgeous pullover viewpoints, it can be challenging to find public access areas for you to explore on foot in Big Sur. GetOutofLA has provided a delightful mixture of touristy drive-bys and nature explorations that are sure to please all types of travelers.
Visit Pfeiffer State Beach
Located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which is located off Highway 1, lies the majestic purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach. The rocky cliffs conceal the entrance making it a tricky location to find, but you’ll come to learn it’s worth it.
Once your eyes settle upon the crisp waves crashing through the rock holes and against the dramatic cliffside, you’ll experience the otherworldly sensation this location has to offer.
Explore the various tide pools filled with colorful sea creatures and make sure to stay for magnificent sunset. When the sun hits the sand just right, it appears to be purple!
Generally, sand is light due to being dominantly made up of quartz. Pfeiffer Beach has manganese garnet deposits in the sand that come from the surrounding rocks being eroded and washing down to the sand, giving it the pretty purple hue photographers love to capture. The best time to view this purple sand is after a winter storm along the northern part of the beach.
This area is hidden, so it doesn’t get crowded—and don’t forget the fee. Cost: $10 admittance fee.
Go Whale Watching
The coastline of Big Sur offers viewers (especially those with binoculars) the wonderful chance for a whale sighting. With three different species that pass through, patience may be the only requirement in order to catch a glimpse of one of these majestic creatures.
Following their migratory patterns, gray whales can be seen as they pass through. February through April is the best time to sight these whales, because they travel closer to protect their babies.
Blue Whale sightings are more common when there is an abundance of krill.
Lastly, the Humpback whales are the most commonly spotted in this area, even though they are an endangered species with only about 800 individuals left in the central coast population.
Gray – December to February they head South, February to April they head back north
Blue – June to October
Humpback – April to early December
Walk Among the Giant Redwoods
The Giant Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, with some measuring over 350 feet and can live up to 2,000 years.
These tree diameters can be anywhere from 10 to 15 feet. Take a stroll through these insane trees and show your tree-hugging tendencies for a photo opportunity!
Bathe in Esalen’s Natural Hot Springs
The Esalen Institute is a historic healing center that has hosted numerous spiritual seekers, yogis, and open-minded people that come to embark on vision quests or to process pain in their lives.
Esalen means a seat of energy, and this retreat center provides the ideal environment for anyone who seeks awakening and inner peace. Those who may not even believe in the healing powers of energy channeling and meditative therapy may begin to cultivate a deeper relationship with the world in their own sense due to the various levels of understanding and openness Esalen offers.
Travel Tip! It’s super important to make reservations at least 3 days in advance for the Hot Springs. They are only open to the public from 1-3am.
GetOutofLA recommends visiting the cliffside natural hot springs of this institute. The number of guests permitted to enter is limited and clothing is optional. The hot springs offer a warm and familiar nourishment that helps heal the body both in mind and body. These 119° waters have been used as a source of rejuvenation for over 6,000 years, so you don’t want to miss out on this.
Appreciate Local Wildlife
Big Sur is home to many species of animals including condors, monarchs, and elephant seals.
Condors are currently being reintroduced to the central coast by a non-profit organization due to a successful captive breeding and reintroduction program that saved the species from serious endangerment issues.
Monarch butterflies arrive in around October where they are most commonly seen roosting in the Eucalyptus tree.
The best wildlife to see in this area are the elephant seals. These creatures colonize on mainland beaches like Piedras Blancas and are quite the site to see.
Hands down, this is the prettiest hike on Earth. The trail is well-maintained with modest elevation and includes a variety of beautiful scenery.
Walk through towering redwoods, cross some semi-tricky creeks, pass a waterfall, and you can even take a short walk to the coast for a beach scene.
Hike Salmon Creek Trail Falls
Often passed by travelers, the Salmon Creek Falls trail is an excursion you don’t want to miss. Just a few miles north of Ragged Point lies a short trail leading to a picture perfect location for a forest picnic.
There are two separate hikes: one is a direct route to the falls and the other is a challenge to the upper falls. The easier trail is 0.4 miles from Salmon Creek Trail to Salmon Creek Falls and is good for all skill levels. This is the quickest way to see the falls, but the upper falls hike offers a scenic challenge for those who desire a better workout. The upper falls hike is about 5-5.5 miles round trip that includes forest-y areas, criss-crossed with little streams.
View the Mcway Falls
McWay Falls is located in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can visit Pfeiffer Beach. Flowing year-round, the 80ft waterfall is one of two California waterfalls that flows directly into the ocean.
A half-mile walk from the parking lot leads to the Waterfall Outlook of McWay Falls. The best view of the site is from the Overlook, offering a quality view of the Falls and serving as an excellent photo stop. Cost: $10 admittance fee
Cross Bixby Bridge
With a history dating back to 1932, Bixby Bridge is one of the biggest viewpoints of the area. Although this is a frequent sight seeing stop for tourists, the marvelous engineering of the bridge is sure to impress all viewers.
Hey Photographers! You do not want to miss out on this opportunity. The design of the bridge and the gorgeous panoramic surroundings explain why this stop is so often crowded and deserving of a photo.
Be Mesmerized by the Milky Way
Capture amazing photos of the Milky Way by visiting the OutofLA post on How to Take Nebular shots.
Visit the Point Sur Lighthouse
This national historic landmark includes a 360 foot elevation with two stairways of about 40-60 steps each. The Point Sur Lighthouse offers seasonal tours, moonlight tours, and even a Halloween tour!
Economic Explorers $
Fernwood, Big Sur, CA
Fernwood in Big Sur offers Adventure Tents for you to stay in for just $140 a night. This allows for you to be close to nature with the comforts of home. Outside of each tent is a firepit and picnic table, so you can enjoy your meals or refreshments in the sweet outdoors.
Treebones Resort, Big Sur, CA
Treebones Resort is a unique experience where you can stay in a human nest (with a futon mattress!) for only $150/night. Here you bring your own gear and sleeping bags up a ladder and stay in a private, wood-woven nest.
Another option is to glamp (glamorously camp) in one of their 16 yurts. What’s a yurt? A yurt is a circular ten-like structure that is made from wood lattice frames, draped in fabric. These yurts include a queen-sized bed, a heater, lighting, and a sink vanity. Bathrooms and showers can be found just a short walk away from your yurt. Full ocean view yurts are the priciest option, ranging from $299-$347/nightly.
Middle of the Roaders $$
Big Sur Lodge, Big Sur, CA, $300/night
The classic Big Sur Lodge is an ideal middle of the road lodging option. This charming hotel offers standard rooms and even family sized room.
You have the option of paying a bit extra for a kitchenette and/or fireplace room as well to add to your quaint and cozy lodging experience. Overall, this lodge gets you in the right state of mind for your stay by providing a peaceful, pioneer-esque atmosphere.
Deetjens, Big Sur, CA, $125-$270/night
Deetjens rooms range from $125-$270 per night based on room selection and amenities included. This shows there’s something perfect for everyone whether you’re traveling with friends, family, or your significant other.
The rooms were designed to each have their own personality, and were originally built between the 1930s and 60s. This property does not have telephones, television, cell service, or wifi providing the ideal spot to literally disconnect from the stress of life, so you can unwind.
Splendor Seekers $$$
Glen Oaks, Big Sur, CA, $175 – $275/night
Glen Oaks is the perfect combination of rustic-modernism and green sensibility that travelers of all walks of life would agree it’s simply, perfect.
Glen Oaks is the equivalent of a lumbersexual and Danish mid-century design had a baby, in the woods. Choices between single rooms or small cabins are available. No matter which room you decide on this gorgeous little sanctuary offers all modern-charm, coziness and history.
It is conveniently located across the street from the Big Sur Roadhouse, so you’re close to some of the best food and wifi connection in the area. You can see OOLA’s entire blog post on Glen Oaks here.
The Post Ranch Inn, averages $1,200/night, ranging $595 to $2085/night
The Post Ranch Inn is hands down the best place to stay in Big Sur, but it comes with the average going rate of $1,200/night and ranging from $595 to $2085. This is definitely a steep price for a hotel stay, but it’s more than that – it’s an unforgettable experience.
Located on the coastline over Ventana, the Post Inn Ranch offers an included gourmet buffet breakfast, complimentary activities such as guided hikes, stargazing, and daily yoga, as well as access to the infinity swimming pools that overlook the ocean and coastline that surrounds it.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK //
The Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur’s village sells unbeatable pastries and coffee in a surprisingly casual location. This bakery was built in 1936, and it continues the tradition of Big Sur by slowing down the quick-paced lifestyle travelers have and serving up well-prepped ingredients, long-fermented sourdough, and real wood-fired cooked foods.
Open seven days a week at 8am, this bakery can get busy quick! Breakfast is served starting at 9:30, Monday through Friday, and weekend days have brunch served, starting at 10.
The Post Ranch Inn isn’t affordable for most to stay at, but you certainly should consider spending a bit more on lunch to experience the breathtaking views it overlooks. The $50 prix-fixe lunch is available to the public so be sure to take advantage of it!
The Big Sur Roadhouse is across the street from Glen Oaks, and it’s the perfect little spot to get some work done. This location has the best wifi connection for the area. They also offer great food and coffee, with the most peaceful surroundings.
If you need a spot to focus in for a quick work check-in, this is the place to do it!
Local Watering Holes
Nepenthe does serve food, but it’s better for it’s cocktails! If you’re looking for a good sunset view to enjoy with a drink, GetOutofLA suggests stopping here.
Just bring along your travel companions, grab a drink at the bar, and sip it slowly as you unwind around their outdoor hearth.