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Why Go To Big Sur

Big Sur is not just a destination, it's a state of mind. Stretching 90 miles between Monterey Bay and San Simeon on the west coast of central California, Big Sur's remote location, peaceful nature and incomparable beauty entices visitors to change gears, both figuratively and literally. Pacific Coast Highway, which was built less than 100 years ago, is the main road that runs through the region and becomes the most scenic in Big Sur. Sitting high above the surf, the highway clings to the edge of the area's cliffs, providing spectacular views as it weaves in and out of the seemingly endless coastline. Driving conditions aside, Big Sur's calming culture is contagious, and has been known to attract minds of all kinds seeking inspiration, refuge or transformation. It was Jack Kerouac who took off to Big Sur in search of inner peace, as recounted in his novel "Big Sur." Fellow writer Henry Miller called Big Sur the first place he felt at home in America, later penning the memoir "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch." Since then, countless musicians, artists, writers and photographers have chronicled Big Sur's powerful presence in their work, yet travelers say its grandeur remains indescribable.

Today, Big Sur draws millions of visitors every year, but it still hasn't lost its sense of place. Independent art galleries dot the highway, sharing space with wellness retreats and cliffside eateries. But the diverse landscape trumps all of the area's amenities by a landslide, with state parks and beaches reigning supreme as the main attractions. Mountains, beaches, rivers, valleys, creeks, coves, wildflowers and wildlife linger at every turn. That is, if you can find them. Some of Big Sur's natural attractions are intentionally unmarked to preserve the sense of seclusion that the region is so famous for. Some areas, believe it or not, still don't have electricity. Big Sur, however, is meant to be an experience rather than just a typical vacation. So kick back, unwind, and open your eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of Big Sur.

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Big Sur Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Big Sur is from September to November. With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, Big Sur's peak season runs long, from April to October. However, once August passes, crowds start to disperse and high temperatures inland start to drop, leaving more room for visitors to wander on the coast and the mountains. Winter, especially December, is considered the best time to visit Big Sur for those looking to snag a deal on lodging. But these cheaper prices coincide with the rainy season and often even road closures. Spring ushers in cooler temperatures and the bloom of the area's beautiful wildflowers. Summer is the busiest season, offering visitors pleasant temperatures and plenty of activities and programs offered by the region's parks and educational societies. But along with heavy crowds, coastal fog is another downside; it can hang around as late as midday. It's important to note that temperatures in Big Sur vary by geography. Temps on the coast tend to be cooler than the mountains, especially during the summer. With this in mind, it's best to pack a jacket any time of year.

Weather in Big Sur

Switch to Celsius/MM
Average Temperature (°F)
60
43
62
43
63
43
68
44
73
46
76
48
76
50
77
50
77
50
73
48
65
45
60
42
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Average Precipitation (in)
0.36
0.34
0.26
0.12
0.04
0.02
0
0
0.02
0.08
0.19
0.34
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
See details for When to Visit Big Sur

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Beaches are not directly accessible The majority of the beaches in Big Sur require visitors to go through a trail to reach their destination, so make sure to bring appropriate walking shoes.
  • Mind the wind Big Sur's coastal location brings in strong and often bitter winds from the ocean, no matter the time of year.
  • Beware of poison oak Many of the trails in Big Sur, including the maintained state parks, contain poison oak. Know how to identify the plant before you go. 

How to Save Money in Big Sur

  • Camp Big Sur is filled with luxury resorts, but campsites are just as abundant and cost much less than hotels.
  • Take the bus The Monterey-Salinas Transit System's Route 22 bus takes visitors to multiple points of interest in Big Sur, including Andrew Molera State Park, the Big Sur River Inn and Nepenthe Restaurant. You'll still get the quintessential Pacific Coast Highway drive without wasting any of your own gas.
  • Stay in Monterey Monterey Bay is a 45-minute drive north of Big Sur and a must-visit city in its own right. Plus, there are more lodging options available for all types of budgets.

What to Eat

In Big Sur, it's hard to come by a restaurant that doesn't offer spectacular ocean views. With most restaurants perched high atop the area's famous coastal cliffs, the quality of food might be the least of diners' concerns. But in Big Sur, quality remains a central character in its culinary story. Spectacular sights of the Pacific are regularly complemented with fresh, locally sourced fare both from the soils of Big Sur as well as the nearby waters of Monterey Bay. Because in Big Sur, great views and great food aren't mutually exclusive.

Big Sur's eateries vary in style from prix-fixe fine dining menus to cozy cafes with casual cuisine, but many are unified in their pursuit to honor Big Sur and its contagious laid-back lifestyle. The Big Sur Bakery strongly adheres to the pace of the region opting to forgo speediness for quality and urging patrons to "slow down and come to your senses." The bakery serves up a variety of dishes, but it's known for its wood-fired concoctions including the house-made breads, pizzas and pastries.

Comfort food is also in high supply at Deetjen's Restaurant at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. Nestled in the redwoods of Big Sur, Deetjen's serves grass-fed meat and seafood from local Monterey Bay fishermen in a cozy cottage-style setting. Deetjen's is also famous around Monterey County for its hearty breakfast menu, especially its eggs benedict made with chicken-apple sausage.

If ocean views are your only concern, look no further than the family-run Nepenthe Restaurant. Nepenthe features an outdoor terrace with rows of tables directly facing the Pacific Ocean, making sure no visitor's ocean-hungry eyes are left behind. Another restaurant that offers great views from the dinner table is Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. Jutting out from the coastline, the restaurant gives diners the illusion of being suspended above the sea through its wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling windows. Along with an unbeatable location, Sierra Mar offers a variety of fine dining menus inspired by the geography and culture of Big Sur, including the nine-course Taste of Big Sur menu.

After you've gotten your fix of ocean views, head over to the Big Sur River Inn for some R&R on the Big Sur River. The miles-long river runs right along the Inn, and the restaurant allows visitors the unique opportunity to decompress in one of its various oversized lounge chairs sitting in the middle of the running river. Grab a cup of joe, take a seat among the flora and simply unwind.   

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Big Sur
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Of all the state parks in Big Sur, Garrapata is the hardest to find. There is no sign indicating its presence, only turnout points on the highway leading to certain trails. On the upside, it is by far the least crowded.

Ingmar Wesemann/Getty Images

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