Aaaa. Big Sur (deep breath in). 90 miles of scenic, winding coastline supported by the mighty Santa Lucia Mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific, abounding with soaring birds, golden-watercolored sunsets and an air that blankets everything with a sense of endless adventure, unparalleled peace and an undeniable feeling of gratitude for all things simple and good.
Noted as a sparsely populated region along the Central Coast of California, Big Sur’s stunning topography offers its guests some of the most incredible terrain found anywhere IN THE WORLD. So how do you make an already extraordinary place EVEN MORE unforgettable?! We’ll help show you how:
1. Give yourself TIME.
The last thing you want to do when you finally get to this slice of heaven on earth is rush. We gave ourselves 5 full days to travel from North to South, starting in Monterey Bay driving down to the Elephant Seals in San Simeon. If you want to visit Hearst Castle toss another day in there, and if time is on your side we feel 8 days would be ideal. Between the world-class beaches, rolling surf, hiking trails, hammock-friendly trees, fresh air and endless moments of enjoyment, the more time you have to spare, the more memories you’ll have to revel in for years to come.
2. Starting in Monterey Bay, be sure to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, voted the best aquarium in the world!:
Vibrant jellies, hungry sea otters, clumsy penguins and an aquarium that’s larger than life, we can promise that you will never forget your experience at this seaside gem.
Be sure to watch our 2 minute clip featuring the most stunning moments from our visit:
3. Watch the surfers, the waves and simply enjoy the ambiance offered at Lover’s Point:
4. Bike the best parts of the famous 17-Mile Drive:
If you want to avoid riding on some serious roads that lack any form of bike lanes, start near Cannery Row and ride down Ocean View Boulevard towards Pebble Beach, where you can enjoy a picnic lunch from the Pebble Beach Market before looping back from here. Trust us, unless you’re on a Roadie and like the adrenaline rush of biking next to cars, turn around here (maybe even before). Along our recommended trail you will see sites such as the Restless Sea, Seal Rock, Fanshell Overlook and our fave, the Lone Cypress:
5. Stop in Carmel-by-the-Sea (popular amongst the “newly wed and nearly dead”) for a quick photo op in one of the historic Monterey Cypress Trees right on the beach. This beauty below is located at the very end of Ocean Ave (map):
6. Before diving into the heart of Big Sur, one MUST visit and experience the beauty that is Point Lobos:
Recommended by one of our dearest friend couples, we meandered along the flowing hiking trails that lined the coast only to discover that the views and opportunities for romance were absolutely endless.
Tips: Park for free right outside the park, 5-6 hours is ideal, bring a picnic, the park closes at sundown.
7. Pull off right before crossing the famous Bixby Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world and the most photographed bridge along the PCH, for a scene you’ve likely only ever seen in car commercials:
Fun Fact: It was built entirely by prisoners!
Tip: Stand on the rock for an even better view and don’t forget to look down:
8. Stop to admire the Point Sur Lighthouse (tours on weekends), built in 1889!
9. Hike one of our favorites, the 8.8-mile Andrew Molera Loop (4-5 hours total).
The trailhead is located on the Western edge of the parking lot, where you will cross a small river. The Creamery Meadow Trail then guides you towards the beach (very flat), followed by a steep incline up the Ridge Trail where you will eventually be treated to a lush canopy of trees.
Before you know it you will come to a clearing and VOILA, the best view in the entire park awaits:
Drew brushing off his shoulder, feeling quite accomplished at this point:
After taking a moment’s rest, or perhaps enjoying a light picnic, you will pick the trail back up and follow along the Panorama Trail (no shade), eventually this trail will merge with the Bluffs trail, which offers sweeping ocean views, and finally you’ll be headed back along the good ole’ Creamery Meadow Trail.
10. Refuel (you and your vehicle) at the adorable vintage bus + gas station at The Big Sur River Inn:
One of the most interesting aspects of Big Sur is that, due to its dedicated residents, it has been spared the rising tides of modern development. With billboards and ALL other visual distractions on Highway 1 entirely BANNED, this rugged gem has adopted one of the most stringent land use plans in the Nation, prohibiting any new construction within sight of the highway. This little gas station is the most “modern” thing you’ll find around.
11. Share a romantic sunset at McWay Falls:
This famed 80-foot waterfall flows year-round and is one of only two in the region that are close enough to the ocean to be referred to as a “tidefall.”
12. Go public night bathing in the Esalen hot springs from 1-3am, seriously DO IT.
Definitely one for the open-minded and adventurous, Esalen’s hot springs are heated by the molten core of the earth and possess deeply rejuvenating properties providing a place of refuge, reverence, healing, and contemplation for visitors. Reservations for night bathing must be made day-of between 9am and noon, it’s $30 per person (worth every penny), clothing is optional, silence is encouraged and photos are prohibited. Think crashing waves, shooting stars and warm, soothing waters all around.
13. Stay at Treebones.
Note: There is only one “Nest,” which books out way in advance, so plan ahead if you can see yourself curling up with your favorite book in here:
14. Observe and admire the San Simeon Elephant Seals:
As you can see in the photo above, they were everywhere, sun bathing, napping, snuggling, fighting, swimming, barking, throwing sand on themselves, scratching their bellies and seriously looking cute. Just look at that little face:
15. Last but not least, plan not to plan.
Embrace the freedom to stop wherever your heart desires. Whether it’s a sunset, a beach, an art gallery, a campground, a rock to climb, a park to explore, or one of the many pull-offs with awe-inspiring, priceless views. Allow yourself the gift of following your intuition, travel slow and ENJOY BEING PRESENT.
Big Sur, afterall, is more of a state of mind than a place on the map, and that is something you definitely don’t want to miss.