Map of Big Sur

Big Sur

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When Spanish settlers first laid eyes on this 90-mile stretch of rugged coastline between Carmel and San Simeon, they deemed it El País Grande del Sur, or “the big country to the south” (that is, south of their colony at Monterey). Proving that there’s nothing the English language can’t butcher for the sake of brevity, El Sur Grande eventually mutated into Big Sur, an appellation that still does little to convey the unbelievable beauty bestowed on the land by Madre Nature.

Popular Destinations

Mist-shrouded forests, plunging cliffs, cobalt seas, and nary a Starbucks or Taco Bell account for one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the country, if not the world. In fact, the region is so captivating that some folks favor giving it national park status; others, however, recoil in horror at the thought of involving the federal government in the preservation of this untamed land and have coined the expression “Don’t Yosemitecate Big Sur.”

The handful of families who own most of the land south of Carmel have endeavored to keep this rugged region as indigenous and unpopulated as possible (in fact, Big Sur sustained a larger population at the turn of the century than it does today).

Despite Big Sur’s popularity—summer weekends are unkind to the two-lane highway—the area has remained sparsely populated. Most visitors are day trippers vacationing in the Monterey area, who come to see what all the fuss is about. The rest, aka those in the know, journey here for a few days of camping, backpacking, or luxuriating in the elegant (and exorbitantly priced) resorts.

If you’re only visiting for the day, here’s a few words of advice: start early, fill your tank, take a camera and binoculars, bring a jacket, wear comfortable shoes, drive slow, take a hike, then turn around at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and do it all over again.

So much to see and do

Point Lobos
Bixby Bridge
Point Sur Lighthouse
Andrew Molera State Park
Old Coast Road
Big Sur Hiking Trials
Big Sur's Pfeiffer Beach
Coast Gallery & Henry Miller Library
Partington Canyon

At the southern end of the Big Sur area is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. With 3,580 acres to roam—and a less-crowded feel to it than the region’s other parks—you’ll find some excellent day hikes here. If you just want to get out of the car and stretch your legs, take the 1/4-mile Waterfall Trail to the 80-foot-high McWay Waterfall, one of the few falls in California that plunges directly into the sea. Keep an eye open the for sea otters that play in McWay Cove; (831)667-2315(831)667-2315.