Sure, we all know the best places for a spa-tastic weekend getaway in Big Sur (the Esalen Institute) and where to get the best pastries while you’re down there (Big Sur Bakery). But while you’re at it, don’t forget to hit up at least a bit of all the spectacular natural beauty Big Sur has to offer.
Starting in Carmel and heading south will take you along some of the most beautiful stretches of Highway 1 you can find. From the 250-year-old Lone Cypress to the Bixby Bridge, you’ll pass the most iconic landmarks this spot has to offer. Don’t miss the Big Sur River Inn Restaurant for a quick break from the car, where you can sip a drink while you sit in Adirondack chairs in the river. Learn more.
Insider Tip: About 20 miles south of Carmel, keep an eye out for the Garrapata Creek Bridge. Park and follow the trail down to the unmarked, not-even-the-slightest-bit-crowded beach, where Calla lilies bloom in the spring.
Prewitt Ridge might be an officially dedicated campground within Los Padres National Forest, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that you have to reserve it months ahead of time. On the contrary, this is “dispersed camping” — no reservations, no toilets, and no running water. But once you’re up on the ridge above the fog with views over the coast and the Pacific, none of that will matter. Learn more.
Insider Tip: There’s no running water, and the drive up to Prewitt Ridge is a long, steep, switchbacking dirt fire road. Bring more than enough water, because you won’t want to drive back down until you leave.
This is a great, short hike during the summer when the temperature starts creeping up. At the Big Sur River Gorge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park; park in the day use lot and look for the trailhead between campsites 111 and 112. From here, all it takes is a half-mile hike — which includes some easy climbing over rocks and a couple shallow river crossings — to arrive at a series of swimming holes perfect for jumping into. Learn more.
Insider Tip: Sure, the river crossing points are shallow, but it’s still better to do this whole hike in a bathing suit.
Three natural hot springs next to the Big Sur River? Where do we sign? Starting from the trailhead at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you’ll hike 10 miles in along the Pine Ridge Trail to get to the hot springs, which makes for a great short backpacking trip or a day-long out-and-back if you’re moving fast. If you’re staying overnight, choose from three campsites along the trail: Terrace Creek (about five miles in), Barlow Flat (three miles in), and Sykes Campground right next to the springs. Learn more.
Insider Tip: The hot springs themselves hold about four or five people comfortably. Come in the off-season (AKA not summer) to make sure you get a spot.
If you want to check out one of Big Sur’s most iconic spots, head to McWay Falls. Named after Christopher McWay, an early settler from New York, you can see McWay Falls from Highway 1. Even better? Park along the road, look for signs for the Waterfall Trail, and wander less than a mile down to see the falls up close and personal. Learn more.
Insider Tip: You’ll definitely want to bring your camera — or at least your phone — for this one.