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15 Big Sur Activities You Didn't Know You Needed to Do

15 Big Sur Activities You Didn't Know You Needed to Do

You’ll find more than enough activities in Big Sur to keep you entertained on a long weekend getaway.


6 min read

June 14, 2021

All roads lead to Big Sur: the spectacular stretch of coastline that’s one of California’s most scenic. Graceful cascades, towering peaks, photogenic sunset spots, and the country’s oldest redwood groves ignite your inner nature lover, inviting you to explore the unmapped wilderness. All you have to do is follow the wind and let it take you to a magical world full of hidden gems. 

But, if you think that this is all that the coastline’s known for—you’re in for a Big Sur-prise. You’ll find more than enough activities in Big Sur to keep you entertained on a long weekend getaway. Leave a piece of your heart in every corner; you know you’ll be coming back for more. 

The Top Things to Do in Big Sur 

When it was completed, the Bixby Creek Bridge was the highest single-span arch bridge in the world and it remains one of the tallest.

1. Snap a Pic at Bixby Creek Bridge 

One of the coolest Instagram spots in the Golden State, Bixby Creek Bridge offers unparalleled views of the dramatic Pacific coastline. Fun fact: the bridge was actually built by prisoners earning “good time” off their sentences. Taking a photo here is like having a private backdrop along with the best natural lighting. With mighty mountains on one side and the relentless ocean on the other, capturing Bixby Creek Bridge in all its glory is one of the best things to do in Big Sur. 

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2. Stop for a Meal at Nepenthe 

Fancy dining at Orson Welles’and Rita Hayworth’s former vacation home? If so, head over to Nepenthe to feel like Hollywood royalty. Perched high atop the coast and packed with must-see views, this restaurant saves the best slice of the Big Sur experience just for you. The gorgeous eatery boasts a diverse menu and al fresco dining—the famous Ambrosiaburger is to die for.  

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Central Coast famous for Keyhole Rock, a popular photography subject.

3. Visit Pfeiffer Beach

Slightly off the beaten path, the narrow two-mile pathway to reach Pfeiffer Beach is not too far off from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s entrance. It’s impossible to get here with an RV or a trailer—all you have to do is follow a short trail leading you from the parking lot to the roaring ocean. The rough waves of Pfeiffer Beach add a hypnotic feel to your Central Coast getaway, with rock arches and purple sands enhancing your experience.

Ragged Point is where the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, with jaw-dropping views around every twist and turn.

4. Unwind at Ragged Point 

If your Big Sur road trip leaves you craving coffee, an inexpensive meal, or a hike in between stops, there’s no better place to turn to than Ragged Point. Located 15 miles from the iconic Hearst Castle, the area’s full of photo ops—stretching your legs has never been this scenic. Put your feet up and enjoy the unfolding vistas at Ragged Point. 

5. Get Lost in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Known as the “Crown Jewel” of California’s State Park System, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a rustic oasis that effortlessly lures you in. Getting lost here is honestly a dream—poppy-filled paths whisk you away from the bustling city. Marvel at the turquoise-blue water from the park’s dramatic limestone tip point and look for sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions while you’re at it. Look further out to sea, and—if you’re lucky—you might even spot an orca.

This scenic 80-foot tide fall that drops directly onto a beach cove is guarded by gulls, seals, sea lions, whales, and sea otters.

6. Marvel at Mcway Falls 

Picture-postcard-perfect Mcway Falls—cascading over 80 feet into the ocean—is a must-see in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Take the short yet scenic one-mile hike to the tide fall showstopper and soak up every moment of this beautiful adventure. Make your adventure extra special and visit there solo. 

7. Camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Golden State redwoods meet their southernmost home along the Big Sur coast in this gem of a park. Travel 26 miles south of Carmel and admire the beauty of these towering giants in one of the best camping destinations. The large campground inside the park can accommodate hikers, bikers, and even RV campers. Reservations tend to fill up pretty fast (usually six months in advance), so make sure to plan ahead.

The Best Hikes in Big Sur 

Salmon Creek Falls is located on the boundary of the Silver Peak Wilderness, and the trail leading you here is accessed via Highway 1.

8. Hike to Salmon Creek Falls via Salmon Creek Trail

Wander deep into the Silver Peak Wilderness via Salmon Creek Trail to view yet another waterfall in Big Sur. As one of the best backpacking trips you’ll ever take in the state, this hike is proof that good things come for those who wait. Once you start trekking 3.6 miles north of Ragged Point—the most common trailhead for the hike—you’ll notice that all the roaring buzz from Highway 1 fading away. From there on out, follow the path and you’ll end up at the foot of a powerful cascade pouring down from the Santa Lucia Mountains.

9. Meander through the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail

This flat, 1.6-mile breathtaking loop trail starts a few miles north of Gorda, boasting panoramic beach views and unique plant life. Lots of in-season wildflowers dot your way starting from the Pacific Valley Ranger Station—it’s one of the most beautiful places to see them bloom. This trail is also conveniently located along Highway 1, and at 50 feet of elevation change, the views are worth the effort.

The Tanbark Trail starts through redwood and oak forests on the side of a creek and takes you to the Tin House.

10. See an Abandoned Tin House via the Tanbark Trail

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park boasts a series of stunning flower-filled meadows that lead you to one of Big Sur’s hidden gems—an abandoned tin house. Overlooking the bay from atop a mountain, this deserted house has a 70-year history that’s now covered in graffiti artwork. Trek the six-mile trail to find this treasure and take your time exploring the premises.

11. Take the Ragged Point Cliffside Waterfall Hike 

If you find yourself driving between San Simeon and Ragged Point on your PCH road trip, make a detour to go on a magnificent and rewarding hike. This is where you’ll find breathtaking vistas, with backdrops provided by the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains and the roaring ocean. One of the must-see things here is the cascading Black Swift Falls. This 300-foot waterfall is accessed by the 0.8-mile Ragged Point Cliffside Trail, so lace up!

Horseback Riding in Big Sur 

All you need is love and a horse, because there’s no better adventure than riding a stallion by the beach.

12. Ride a Stallion on Pebble Beach

Fancy riding a horse into the sunset? With more than 27 miles of designated equestrian trails, Pebble Beach Equestrian Center offers a horseback riding experience like no other. While Pebble Beach isn’t technically a part of Big Sur, driving the extra 15 miles on your road trip is no problemo. Take your pick from a variety of daily tours led by friendly and experienced guides and venture out on the pristine beach.

13. Explore Garland Ranch Regional Park on Horseback

Known as Carmel Valley’s main spot for hiking, Garland Ranch Regional Park invites you to giddy up. Traverse the willow-covered banks of the Carmel River and ride through cottonwood-sycamore stands. As the trail ascends steeply through the park, the northern crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains graces you with oak savannas and spectacular vistas—it’s an unforgettable experience.

Big Sur Bike Rentals 

The enchanting Old Coast Road takes you through the beautiful stretches of the huge tree-lined paths which come continually in Big Sur.

14. Cycle The Old Coast Road 

The Old Coast Road used to be the main route from Big Sur to Carmel before Bixby Creek Bridge was built in 1932. Nowadays, the road is left almost entirely for cyclists. Start your ride from Andrew Molera State Park and enjoy the quick descent with sensational views right off the bat. For an unforgettable backcountry e-biking experience, book a spot on the Old Coast Road Tour offered by Big Sur Adventures.

15. Cruise down Nacimiento-Fergusson Road 

Between Cambria and Monterey lies this hidden gem, snaking up the rugged hillside until it reaches Big Sur. The seaside panorama makes this 6.5-mile ride a much-needed detour for when you’re riding along the coast. Mesmerizing vistas of the crashing waves and the undulating Pacific horizon make cycling on this road one of the best things to do near Big Sur. Rent a bike from Coastal eBike Connection and cruise inland, ascending through redwood and cedar groves.  

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