Big Sur’s Best-Kept Secrets

Big Sur’s Best-Kept Secrets

You know it’s there, and you know you’ve been wanting to go, yet when’s the last time you’ve taken a weekend getaway to Big Sur? That’s what I thought. So to help entice you to do the right thing for your body and soul, I’ve put together an insider’s list of my favorite (and little-known) secret spots in Big Sur.

Whether you live in California, or are in town for a visit, you are within driving distance of one of the prettiest places on the planet, so grab the opportunity. Find a free weekend, book a room at one our favorite hotels near Big Sur such as the Getaway or the Hideaway in Carmel, or Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa in Monterey and make this happen.

Featured Photo: Joel Protasio

Point Lobos State Reserve

Humpback and gray whales appear off the coast of Big Sur, California, with water spouts visible against a backdrop of forested hills and cliffs. The serene scene captures their presence in the blue ocean waters under a clear sky.
Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Bianchetta

Whether you’re in the Big Sur area for a day or for a week, set aside time to spend in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, home to one of the only two naturally growing stands of Monterey cypress trees remaining on earth. More than a dozen trails offer the chance to spy sea otters, harbor seals, California sea lions, large colonies of seabirds, and between December and May, migrating California gray whales. 

Bixby Bridge Photo Scoop

View of Bixby Creek Bridge on California's Big Sur coast. The concrete arch bridge spans across rugged cliffs, with a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Blue sky with wispy clouds adds to the scenic landscape. Brush and rocky terrain in the foreground hint at Big Sur secrets waiting to be discovered.
Photo: Courtesy of Visit California

Spanning 714 feet in length the Bixby Bridge is one of the world’s tallest single-span concrete bridges and a favorite stop for camera-wielding tourists. Photo tip: For the best shooting angle, drive a few hundred yards up Old Coast Road, the dirt road at the north end of the bridge.  

A Mini-Adventure on Old Coast Road

A dirt road with patches of dried grass on either side winds through a mountainous landscape under a clear blue sky. Telephone poles with cables run along the right side of the road, hinting at Big Sur secrets. In the background, green hills and a partially clouded sky are visible.
Photo: Old Coast Road courtesy of Thomson200

If you are feeling adventurous, you can keep going on Old Coast Road. The well-maintained (though bumpy) dirt road passes through 10 miles of dense redwood groves and chaparral-covered ridges — with spectacular views of the coast — before exiting back onto Highway 1 near Andrew Molera State Park. A four-wheel drive vehicle isn’t necessary for the hour-long mini-adventure, but this isn’t for the faint hearted, either. 

Take a Lighthouse Tour

A stone lighthouse with a weathered appearance stands on the edge of a coastal cliff, overlooking a vast expanse of blue ocean under a partly cloudy sky. The lighthouse has a red conical roof and a gallery deck surrounded by a metal railing.
Photo: Point Sur Lighthouse

As you make your way along Highway 1, about 15 minutes south of the Bixby Bridge, you’ll see the Point Sur Lighthouse perched 360 feet above the surf on a giant volcanic rock promontory. It was built in 1889, when only a horse trail provided access to this part of the world. Tours, which last about three hours and involve a steep half-mile hike each way, are scheduled on Saturdays at 10am and Wednesdays at 1pm. Tours are first come, first served and limited to 40 people.

Pfeiffer Beach

A large, rugged boulder sits on a rocky shoreline, its dark, craggy surface featuring a narrow vertical fissure. The overcast sky and distant ocean provide a muted, serene backdrop, contrasting with the boulder's rough texture—a hidden gem among Big Sur secrets.

Most folks drive right by the unmarked turn-off to this beach, not realizing what they are missing. Sycamore Canyon Road is located along Highway 1, about a mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park’s entrance. (Pfeiffer Beach is not a California State Park and charges a separate $12 entrance fee.) Even if the sun’s a no-show, it’s still worth a trip to marvel at the white-and-mauve sands, enormous sea caves, and pounding surf. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Poking Your Head Into Post Ranch Inn

Two wooden cabins with green rooftops blend into the lush vegetation on a hillside overlooking a calm, expansive ocean under a clear sky. The scene, reminiscent of Big Sur secrets, is peaceful and serene with an emphasis on nature and tranquility.

I’ve been reviewing hotels for 20 years and I still haven’t stayed anywhere that’s come close to the Post Ranch Inn experience. Perched on 100 acres of seaside ridges high above the Pacific Ocean, it’s one of the most beautiful hotel settings in the world. There simply aren’t words in the English language to properly describe that ocean view. If you can afford to stay here, adopt me. If you can’t, you need to check it out anyway, and having lunch at the resort’s cliff-side Sierra Mar restaurant is a great excuse to wallow in romantic splendor of Post Ranch Inn. Reservations are strongly recommended for lunch and required for dinner.

Cafe Kevah and Big Sur Bakery

Exterior view of a quaint bakery and restaurant named "Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant". This gem of Big Sur Secrets is surrounded by lush greenery, with a rustic wooden pergola at the entrance, outdoor seating area, and a large tree in the background.

If your idea of communing with nature is a comfy chair in the shade, a leafy salad, and a view of the rugged coast, then grab a seat on the deck of the Cafe Kevah, located one flight of stairs below the fabled Nepenthe Restaurant. The food wonderful (think Eggs Benedict, Cobb Salad and sandwiches including a Caprese baguette) and a bit less expensive than its always popular neighbor. The clincher, though, is the location: perched 800 feet above the glimmering Pacific, the cafe’s deck has a phenomenal view of the Big Sur coastline.

I also highly recommend the Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Highway 1, just past the post office and a mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It offers friendly service and fare the likes of yogurt parfaits, wood-fired pizzas and chicory Caesar salad. The pastries and breads are baked on the premises.

Big Sur’s Secret Cove

A small stream flows between rocky cliffs, cascading gently over stones and heading towards the ocean. The scene, reminiscent of Northern California getaways, includes large and small boulders, a few patches of greenery, and the blue sea meeting the clear sky in the background.
Photo: Courtesy of Mistyty via Wikimedia Commons

If you only have the time or energy for one short hike while touring Big Sur, head for the secret cove at Partington Canyon. It’s tricky to find on a map. Park at the 37.85 mile marker on the ocean side of Highway 1, (Two miles north of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.) and walk down the canyon toward the Pacific where a tunnel leads to a dazzling hidden cove. The story goes that John Partington built the tunnel in the late 1800s for his tanoak logging and shipping operation. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park / McWay Falls

A scenic view of McWay Falls in Big Sur, part of the Central Coast California. The waterfall cascades from a cliff onto a sandy beach, with rugged rocks and turquoise waves in the ocean. Tall trees and lush greenery frame the coastline under a clear blue sky.

At the southern end of the Big Sur area is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, home to one of my favorite hikes, McWay Falls. Take the trail from the parking area under the highway to a bluff overlooking the 80-foot-high McWay Falls, one of the few falls in California that plunges directly into the sea (it’s an easy trek). Keep an eye open for sea otters playing in McWay Cove.  

Treebones Resort

If you want to stay in Big Sur but can’t afford it, consider glamping in a yurt at Treebones Resort. Half-tent, half-cabin, the resort’s yurts are spacious and furnished with polished pine wood floors, king beds, electric lighting, sink with running hot and cold water and gas-burning fireplaces, and decks with coastal views. The yurts don’t have bathrooms, but shower and restroom facilities are within a short stroll. Along with a pool and hot tub, in-yurt massage treatments are also available. All stays include free self-serve buffet breakfast.

Ventana Campground

A tranquil forest scene with tall redwood trees bathed in soft sunlight, echoing Big Sur secrets. On the forest floor, there's a wooden picnic table and a nearby fire pit, surrounded by lush green foliage and a carpet of dry leaves.

Of the numerous campgrounds in Big Sur, this one’s my favorite. Located 30 miles south of Carmel in a 40-acre redwood canyon, Ventana Campground offers tent camping sites with a picnic table and fire ring. There are two bath houses for campers. (No RVs, motor homes, travel trailers, pop-up tent trailers or any camper vans are permitted.) Be sure to reserve a campsite as far in advance as possible.

Want more travel inspiration and tips from locals?
 Follow us on Instagram @localgetaways!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top