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Best Things To Do in Big Sur

With more than 90 miles of jagged Pacific coastline to the west and the St. Lucia Mountain range to the east, Big Sur is truly nirvana for nature lovers. While you're here, hike the 3,379-foot-tall Manuel Peak at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, excavate jade at Sand Dollar Beach, wander through some of Monterey County's oldest redwood groves at Limekiln State Park, or watch McWay Falls gracefully cascade directly into the ocean at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Andrew Molera State Park and Garrapata State Park offer treks that take visitors to the edge of the coastline, while the Keyhole Arch Rock at Pfeiffer Beach is considered to be one of the most photogenic sunset spots on the central coast. With so many awe-inspiring attractions to choose from, there is no such thing as boredom in Big Sur. 

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Big Sur

Named after one of Big Sur's most beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a favorite among both locals and tourists. A feast for the eyes, the park features seven marked trails that take travelers to tucked away coves, up to waterfalls, along miles-long creeks, through redwood-clad forests and more. Not to mention, it is one of the few areas in Big Sur where scuba diving is allowed. 

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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Named after one of Big Sur's most beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a favorite among both locals and tourists. A feast for the eyes, the park features seven marked trails that take travelers to tucked away coves, up to waterfalls, along miles-long creeks, through redwood-clad forests and more. Not to mention, it is one of the few areas in Big Sur where scuba diving is allowed. 

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#2

#2 in Big Sur

This 4,800-acre park is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast and offers multiple activities and attractions, not to mention several hiking trails. Named after the man who brought the artichoke to California, Andrew Molera Park's natural wonders include secluded beaches, redwood groves, meadows and the Big Sur River along its 20 miles of hiking trails. Because of the park's flatter geography, visitors are allowed to bike and can take horseback rides throughout the park. The beach is also safe to surf, and is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur.

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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Andrew Molera State Park

This 4,800-acre park is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast and offers multiple activities and attractions, not to mention several hiking trails. Named after the man who brought the artichoke to California, Andrew Molera Park's natural wonders include secluded beaches, redwood groves, meadows and the Big Sur River along its 20 miles of hiking trails. Because of the park's flatter geography, visitors are allowed to bike and can take horseback rides throughout the park. The beach is also safe to surf, and is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur.

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#3

#3 in Big Sur

If you're on a tight itinerary and don't have time to traverse any state park trails, head to Pfeiffer Beach. Located about 7 miles south of Andrew Molera State Park next to Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Beach is secluded in feel, offering expansive shorelines covered by towering, vegetation-heavy bluffs and striking rock formations. The beach's most famous rock formation, however, is located a few feet out into the ocean. The Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock is hard to miss thanks to its distinguishable arch. It's also considered the most-photographed attraction in Big Sur after Bixby Bridge. At low tide, visitors are able to wade through the water and take a Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock look at the surrounding tide pools. But the best time to see the rock is at sunset when the sun shines brightly through the keyhole, creating a spectacular photo op.

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Beaches Type
Pfeiffer Beach

If you're on a tight itinerary and don't have time to traverse any state park trails, head to Pfeiffer Beach. Located about 7 miles south of Andrew Molera State Park next to Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Beach is secluded in feel, offering expansive shorelines covered by towering, vegetation-heavy bluffs and striking rock formations. The beach's most famous rock formation, however, is located a few feet out into the ocean. The Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock is hard to miss thanks to its distinguishable arch. It's also considered the most-photographed attraction in Big Sur after Bixby Bridge. At low tide, visitors are able to wade through the water and take a Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock look at the surrounding tide pools. But the best time to see the rock is at sunset when the sun shines brightly through the keyhole, creating a spectacular photo op.

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#4

#4 in Big Sur

Not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and covers 1,600 acres on the western slope of the St. Lucia Mountains. Like most state parks in this region, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features redwood groves, open meadows and waterfalls, but what sets this park apart is its location. Unlike Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Garrapata, which all offer treks along the edge of the coast, this park is further inland and doesn't offer many ocean views. Instead, the main water source is the Big Sur River, which runs through the entire park and is a feature hikers will see while traversing some of the park's trails.

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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Not to be confused with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest and covers 1,600 acres on the western slope of the St. Lucia Mountains. Like most state parks in this region, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features redwood groves, open meadows and waterfalls, but what sets this park apart is its location. Unlike Andrew Molera State Park, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Garrapata, which all offer treks along the edge of the coast, this park is further inland and doesn't offer many ocean views. Instead, the main water source is the Big Sur River, which runs through the entire park and is a feature hikers will see while traversing some of the park's trails.

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#5

#5 in Big Sur

Free

Situated between the base of the St. Lucia Mountains and the rugged Pacific coastline, this 3,000-acre state park is overflowing with trails highlighting the park's diverse landscape. From coastal headlands to redwood canyons and a valley lined with calla lilies, there is terrain to appease every type of traveler. Garrapata has five main marked trails, four of which are grouped together in a loop going up into the St. Lucia mountain range.

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Beaches Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Garrapata State Park

Situated between the base of the St. Lucia Mountains and the rugged Pacific coastline, this 3,000-acre state park is overflowing with trails highlighting the park's diverse landscape. From coastal headlands to redwood canyons and a valley lined with calla lilies, there is terrain to appease every type of traveler. Garrapata has five main marked trails, four of which are grouped together in a loop going up into the St. Lucia mountain range.

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#6

#6 in Big Sur

A great option for those who don't want to work up a sweat on the trails but want to experience Big Sur's beauty from outside the car is Sand Dollar Beach. Located about 7 miles south of Limekiln State Park, Sand Dollar Beach is the largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur. Along with the beach at Andrew Molera State Park, this crescent-shaped shoreline is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur, and is also a hot spot for fishing. The most popular activity, however, is beachcombing. This shoreline gets its name for a reason, as its often graced with washed-up sand dollars. There are also a plethora of rocks located at the southern end of the beach, which are known to contain minerals like serpentine and jade.

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Beaches Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Sand Dollar Beach

A great option for those who don't want to work up a sweat on the trails but want to experience Big Sur's beauty from outside the car is Sand Dollar Beach. Located about 7 miles south of Limekiln State Park, Sand Dollar Beach is the largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur. Along with the beach at Andrew Molera State Park, this crescent-shaped shoreline is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur, and is also a hot spot for fishing. The most popular activity, however, is beachcombing. This shoreline gets its name for a reason, as its often graced with washed-up sand dollars. There are also a plethora of rocks located at the southern end of the beach, which are known to contain minerals like serpentine and jade.

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#7

#7 in Big Sur

Located about 7 miles north of Sand Dollar Beach, Limekiln State Park is one of the smallest state parks in Big Sur, but it packs some serious history. The 716-acre park is named after the limestone business that once thrived here. In the late 17th century, the Rockland Lime and Lumber Company would quarry limestone then smelt it in a series of wood-fired kilns located in the park. This process produced powdered lime, which is an important ingredient in making cement. The beach at the park acted as a harbor to ship out the powdered lime to other regions. Today, many buildings in both Monterey and San Francisco contain lime that was created in Limekiln State Park.

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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Limekiln State Park

Located about 7 miles north of Sand Dollar Beach, Limekiln State Park is one of the smallest state parks in Big Sur, but it packs some serious history. The 716-acre park is named after the limestone business that once thrived here. In the late 17th century, the Rockland Lime and Lumber Company would quarry limestone then smelt it in a series of wood-fired kilns located in the park. This process produced powdered lime, which is an important ingredient in making cement. The beach at the park acted as a harbor to ship out the powdered lime to other regions. Today, many buildings in both Monterey and San Francisco contain lime that was created in Limekiln State Park.

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