We love taking trips to Big Sur. Although we usually drive there to document engagement sessions or elopements, Big Sur is also our go-to spot for when we need to take one or two days off. I don’t mean to sound super cliché, but it truly has it all! Coastal views, lots of state parks, hiking trails, forests, beaches, I can go on and on. Not to mention Monterey and Carmel are two of the cutest cities in California, and they’re both under 1-hour drive away from Big Sur! As you can probably tell, I really love that place, and that’s why I decided to create a guide for you! Check out our favorite things to do in Big Sur:
#1 JUST DRIVE
Take a drive down Highway 1. It’s breathtaking. Throughout the whole drive, there are tons of pullouts where you can park and enjoy the views. It is free and easy sightseeing, which is exactly what we need sometimes! After you’ve driven up and down the highway, you should definitely stick around for sunset. We love to catch the sunset by Bixby Bridge or by McWay Falls!
#2 VISIT THE STATE PARKS
There is no shortage of State Parks in Big Sur, and once you’ve paid the entrance fee for one of them (it costs $10 per vehicle), you’re covered for the day, and you can visit as many as you want and have the energy to! Our favorites are Point Lobos, Garrapata, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park!
#3 VISIT PFEIFFER BEACH
This beach is off the beaten path, but it’s worth the drive. It can be hard to find the turn while you’re driving, so definitely put it on your Google Maps and turn the volume up to hear your phone telling you to TURN! It’s a 2-mile drive down a very narrow and windy road, but I promise, it’s worth it. It’s a great spot for a picnic, or to just relax. Note that this beach has a small parking lot and it can be very crowded, so it’s always best to try to go on a weekday or very early in the morning!
By far, the best (and cheapest) way to enjoy Big Sur is by camping there. All campsites require reservations, and some are harder to get a spot than others, so you just have to do a little bit of research. You can check out a list of the Big Sur Campsites here.
I’ll be honest here and say that Stephan and I usually don’t camp, because of our photography gear. Even if we don’t go to Big Sur for work, Stephan always brings his cameras and tripod, so he can take landscape shots. He’s an amazing landscape photographer – check out his PRINT SHOP for more amazing pictures from California!
#5 VISIT MONTEREY AND CARMEL
If we stay overnight, we usually stay around Monterey. It’s often more affordable and it isn’t a far drive from Big Sur anyways. Monterey and Carmel are literally 15 minutes’ drive from each other, so it’s worth spending a day exploring them!
We love walking around Lover’s Point during the day (in Monterey) and then catching the sunset at Carmel Beach. While Stephan photographs, I get to watch a lot of dogs playing in the ocean. It’s the best of both worlds.
If craft beer and good coffee is your thing, Monterey and Carmel also have amazing local breweries and coffee shops, here are our favorites:
Things to Note:
- Big Sur is a big tourist destination, therefore, it can be pretty crowded in the summer. Winter and Fall are our favorite times to go because it’s always so empty, even on weekends!
- There are a few restaurants around Big Sur, but we prefer to make sandwiches and pack a cooler with snacks, that way we don’t have to plan our day around our meals, we just eat wherever we are, whenever we’re hungry.
- Phone service in Big Sur is almost non-existent. Download the map of the area before you go so you don’t have to worry about missing the entrance to a state park because you suddenly have no service. We use an app called mapsme!
- Please practice LEAVE NO TRACE. I can’t say this enough. If you’re having a picnic at the beach, collect your trash after you’re done. If you decide to eat a power bar during a hike, put that wrapper back in your backpack, you get the idea. Don’t remove anything from nature and always stay on the path. If we want to continue to enjoy these beautiful places our world has to offer, we need to respect it and do what we can to protect it.
I hope this has helped you plan a trip to one of my favorite places in California! If you’ve been thinking about having your engagement photos there, check out this Big Sur Engagement Session and get inspired! And please contact us if you have any questions, or just need help planning your engagement session, elopement, or Big Sur wedding!