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Big Sur Travel Guide

Big Sur Travel Guide

Big Sur is hands-down one of the most breathtaking places I have ever visited. We’ve now been twice, the first on a Northern California road trip with a stop in Napa Valley before driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. Then we visited again when we flew out to California for the College Football National Championship. With both those trips, I’m pretty confident in creating this Big Sur travel guide. I have suggestions for places to stay, things to do, restaurants, hikes and a packing list in this guide to Big Sur.

Cristin and Zach Cooper in Big Sur

Getting There

Big Sur views

Both times we have visited Big Sur we flew into San Francisco. Depending on how much time you have here are a few options for what to do before or after your trip down the PCH. The drive from San Francisco directly to Big Sur down Highway 1 takes a little over 4 hours. 

If you leave San Francisco in the morning, I would recommend lunch at Half Moon Brewery which has great food and a great outdoor seating area. 

You could break up the drive by staying at The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay or at the very least stopping for drinks (and nachos) out by the fire. It’s breathtaking and I highly recommend timing this up to stop around sunset. 

Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

Another great spot on your trek to Big Sur, especially for golf fans, is stopping at Pebble Beach. We had pizza and margaritas at The Bench and watched people play in on the 18th hole. There are also plenty of boutiques to shop if you’re not a watching golfers kind of gal. Carmel is also just a really cute town for walking around and is only 40 minutes north of Big Sur. I highly recommend visiting the Carmel Mission Inn and brunch at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch is a must.

Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach Big Sur

Where to Stay in Big Sur

Where to stay in Big Sur, the Ventana Inn

When we first visited Big Sur we stayed at the Ventana Inn and I highly recommend it! The grounds are beautiful and the rooms are so posh and cozy. The hotel smells like a heavenly mixture of wood and sea salt and the rooms have all of the modern amenities, complete with balconies to soak in the fresh air. Their restaurants were some of our favorites from the trip and we loved the pool and hot tubs, too! To date, this is one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in. There are plenty of walking trails and fire pits and the service was top-notch!

Ventana Inn, where to stay Big Sur
Ventana Inn gardens
Ventana Inn pool
Ventana Inn, Glamping in Big Sur

If you’re headed to Big Sur, you could also look into the uber-chic (read so freaking expensive) Post Ranch Inn or glamping at Treebones Resort. Since we’ve visited Big Sur, the Ventana now offers glamping tents as well. The second time we went to the Big Sur area it was only on a day trip. We stayed at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and it was wonderful! Our rooms had a wood-burning fireplace with a beautiful view of the ocean and the common areas had plenty of room to relax and hang out with our friends.

Big Sur Restaurants

We thoroughly enjoyed The Restaurant at Ventana and visited on both of our Big Sur trips. I would also recommend drinks or dinner at the Post Ranch Inn during sunset because the view is breathtaking! Other restaurants worth a stop include Nepenthe and Big Sur Bakery. If you visit Carmel, La Bicyclette is a MUST, and we really enjoyed lunch at Folktale Winery. Also, brunch at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch is a must. Literally, a must. They don’t take reservations so get there about 20 minutes before they open!

Big Sur Bakery, where to eat Big Sur
The Bench, at Pebble Beach
Breakfast in Big Sur

Things to Do and See

The Ventana Inn is so amazing you could stay there and relax the entire time and it would be a trip well spent. 

Things to Do in Big Sur

However, if you’re going to make the trip to Big Sur, you can’t miss out on the scenic overlooks on the PCH. I would recommend a cruise down Highway 1 and stop at McWay Falls and Bixby Creek Bridge for pics! Look up the map before you go because cell reception is lacking. 

Big Sur beaches

You could also go on a hike and you should definitely do the McWayWaterfall Trail. I’ve also heard the Limekiln Trail through the redwoods is great. We went to see the pink sand at Pfieffer Beach one morning. I’ve also heard Sand Dollar Beach and Point Sur Lighthouse are beautiful Big Sur spots!

Big Sur hiking
Big Sur beaches

What to Pack

A SELFIE STICK // There is no way you’re getting good shots of yourself and the views without one.

AN EXTERNAL CHARGER // The service is lacking and will destroy your phone.

A PACKABLE RAINCOAT // The weather is unpredictable and you’re going to want a good raincoat in the event a storm rolls in. And don’t forget that sweatshirt even in the summer. The fog is no joke.

HIKING BOOTS // If you plan on stopping and hiking make sure you have good tread on your shoes or a pair of boots in the car, especially if conditions are wet.

A KILLER PLAYLIST // Some good tunes, windows down and these views are guaranteed to be a mood brightener!

SNACKS & DRINKS // If you’re going to make a day of exploring then definitely pack a cooler. There aren’t any QTs or Chick-Fil-As on these roads!

MAP OF THE AREA // Big Sur is pretty remote. Stop and get a map for when your cell phone is out of coverage.

DRAMAMINE // If you get carsick then I would come prepared and make sure you sit on the side of the car nearest the ocean.

BINOCULARS // We didn’t see any whales but they are out there along with plenty of sea life!

We’ve loved both our visits to Big Sur and both trips have been well worth the drive. There’s so much to see and do both in Big Sur and nearby, I highly suggest you add it to your travel bucket list.

Cristin and Zach Cooper in Big Sur
Big Sur views
Big Sur views

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  1. MIchele says:

    Love this!!! Can’t wait to use this guide for a staycation! As a Napa Valley native, I’m sad to say that I’ve actually never visited Big Sur…eeek.

  2. Susan says:

    My cousin lives in Carmel Highlands and has a house in Big Sur. We have never stayed at a hotel in Big Sur but the Ventana Inn looks amazing. Next time we visit, it would be fun to take a couple of days and stay there (we’ve usually stayed in Carmel). The drive down the PCH to Big Sur is hair raising!