Little Black Book

The 9 Best Places to Visit in Big Sur

by Team Fathom
McWay McWay Falls. Photo by Michael Depetris.

Head to one of the world's most unforgettable stretches of coastline with our handy list of Big Sur favorites, including gems like our top spot for breakfast, the most scenic hike, and the best deserted beach.

BIG SUR, California - South of Monterey, along California’s central coast, sits one of the most stunning and wild stretches of land in the U.S. A haven for artists of all generations, including literary greats like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, Big Sur is both isolated and rugged, with astonishing natural beauty. If it’s unadulterated nature you’re after, you will not be dissappointed. Cell phone service is sparse, so it’s best to plan your trip in advance – leaving plenty of room for improvisation. Here are nine Big Sur essentials that should be on every visitor's to-do list.

1. Bixby Bridge

Arguably the most identifiable point in Big Sur and a favorite spot for selfies and car commercials, the bridge is a spectacular site to behold. Go early for unobstructed views and easy roadside parking.

2. Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

One of Big Sur's oldest hotels has incredibly cozy and relatively affordable cabins draped in wisteria and rose bushes, and equipped with fireplaces and wood stoves. The real draw is breakfast, which is open to even those just passing through the area. Classic American fare with a California twist is served from a maze of small rooms decorated in dark wood, knick knacks, and mismatched blue and white china.

3. Esalen Institute Hot Springs

The hippie mecca and cliffside hot springs were the first tourist destination in the area, so reservations are a must for the late-night, nudity-encouraged bathing slot (open to the public, 1-3 a.m.). You can book over the phone starting at 9 a.m. each day. The Esalen Institute also offers massages with access to the baths for those who prefer to visit during daylight hours.

Big Sur Roadhouse

Big Sur Roadhouse. Photo by Berit Baugher.
Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge. Photo by Michael Haslim / Unsplash.

4. Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant

A long-time favorite since opening as the area's first hotel in 1932, the casual hotel and restaurant has the best watering hole in town. Literally. Enjoy a post-hike beer from one of the Adirondack chairs placed in the Big Sur River.

5. McWay Falls

At 80-feet high, McWay Falls was one of the few waterfalls in the world that empties into the ocean, before a fire and landslide in the '80s altered the topography of the cove. Today it meets the ocean when the tide is high and makes for an especially spectacular photograph.

6. Andrew Molera State Park Beach Trail

If you're lucky enough to visit during the spring and summer, there will be a small bridge set-up to cross the stream of running mountain water. In the off season, you’ll have to wade through the icy water until you reach the beach trail, where you’ll encounter a world of greenery and can listen to waves crash faintly in the distance. Your hard work will be rewarded once you reach the beach, a surprisingly unpopulated stretch overlooking the Pacific.

Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant
Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant. Photo by Berit Baugher

7. Nepenthe Restaurant

The iconic family-owned cliffside restaurant has prime views of the sparkling Pacific. It’s crowded and touristy (for a reason), so go early and order the famous Ambrosia Burger.

8. Point Sur State Historic Park and Lighthouse

A 128-year-old lighthouse on a 362-foot-tall volcanic rock. If you can time your trip to match the schedule, the three-hour tour will be a highlight of your stay in Big Sur. You may even hear rumors about occasional ghost sightings.

9. Big Sur Roadhouse

The restaurant at Glen Oaks Big Sur is one of the best and most stylish spots to grab a bit to eat. Breakfast is especially great. Don't be a fool: Order the homemade donuts.

Keep Exploring Big Sur

Keep Your Head Above the Clouds in Big Sur

An Otherworldly Escape On California's Central Coast

Big Sur: The Time to Go Is Now

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.