3 miles S of Carmel-by-the-Sea; 123 miles S of San Francisco; 87 miles N of Hearst Castle
Big Sur is more than a drive along one of the most dramatic coastlines on Earth or a peaceful repose amid a forest of California redwoods. It's a stretch of wilderness so overwhelmingly beautiful -- especially when the fog glows in the moonlight -- that it enchants everyone who visits. It's one of the most romantic, relaxing places in California. There's little more to do than explore the mountains and beaches, and take in the sea air -- but spend a few days here and you won't need to do much else.
Although there is an actual town of Big Sur located 25 miles south of Carmel (and it's more a pit stop for snacks than a town), "Big Sur" generally refers to the entire 90-mile stretch of coastline between Carmel and San Simeon. Just about everything there is to see and explore in Big Sur is right off of Highway 1, which runs its entire length, hugging the coastline the whole way. Be sure to arrive with full tank of gas, because stations here are few and far between (and expensive).
The entire stretch of Big Sur consists of the Santa Lucia Range to the east and the rocky Pacific coast to the West. Heading south from Carmel you'll encounter numerous places to pull over and pull out the camera: Point Lobos State Reserve, Bixby Bridge (one of the world's highest single-span concrete bridges), Point Sur Lighthouse, Pfeiffer Beach, Sand Dollar Beach, and Jade Cove are just a few of the Kodak moments that Big Sur provides.
Eating & Drinking
The restaurants and hotels of Big Sur are easy to spot -- most are situated directly on or just off the highway. A must-stop along the way is at Nepenthe to admire the view (but not the price -- walk over to Café Kevah instead). Everyone loves the down-home Big Sur River Inn, which has something for all tastes. For romance, nothing tops the view at Sierra Mar restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn. Better yet, create your own ocean-view dining experience courtesy of the Big Sur Center Deli and Big Sur's numerous picnic spots.
Big Sur's tranquility and natural beauty are ideal for hiking, picnicking, camping, fishing, and beachcombing at the four state parks that border Highway 1. Garrapata State Park offers 4 miles of rugged coastline to explore. The 4,800-acre Andrew Molera State Park is the largest state park in Big Sur coast, with miles of trails meandering through meadows, beaches and bluffs. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the most popular park in Big Sur and offers the best photo opportunities, including 80-foot-high McWay Waterfall dropping into the ocean. Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park is popular with campers, with 218 camping sites along the Big Sur River, as well as picnicking, fishing, and hiking.