2017 marked our third year of Christmas on vacation with Jimmy. In the past, we opted for fancier hotels and relaxation so I wanted to try something new this year. We took a road trip up the California coast and stayed in Monterey, CA for a few days. But the big highlight was Christmas Day: exploring Big Sur!
We just spent one day so I am by no means an expert, but here is everything I learned, everything I loved, and a few things I can’t wait to come back to see:
Make sure you come prepared to visit Big Sur
Sure, you can visit without any plans, but you’re likely to miss out on a lot of really awesome sights if you do. These are my tips for coming prepared for an awesome day-trip:
Make a list before you arrive
Cell service is poor so if you show up without a list of places to visit, you might not be able to do any online research inside Big Sur. I had a general idea of places to see before we arrived. And once inside, I still asked my fellow travelers for some of their favorites as well.
Check for road and trail closures
Unfortunately, the weather has a big impact on how accessible Big Sur is. Part of Highway 1 is often totally closed down, forcing visitors to take very long detours. Or, you might encounter a bunch of trails that are off-limits during your visit. Make sure to check on this info before your visit so you can work around it.
Pack lots of snacks and drinks
Even if you’re staying in Big Sur, you’re likely to do a lot of driving. So make sure you’ve got plenty of food to keep you going on your hikes and walks, especially if you’ve got little ones along for the trip.
Don’t forget your camera
I probably didn’t have to remind you of this one, but better safe than sorry. That also means backup batteries and even external chargers, especially for campers! I ran out of space on my memory card while visiting and forgot another card so I had to quickly delete a bunch of old photos — don’t be me!
My favorite stops in Big Sur
Honestly just driving around is breathtaking — you don’t even have to get out of the car. But, when you do get out of the car, these were some of my favorite sights in Big Sur:
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
This park is easy to access and absolutely stunning. A short hike takes you to an overlook of an oceanside waterfall on a small, secluded beach. There are a few trails in total that can take you either inland or along the coast. If you visit one place, this should be it! Check out the official site here.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
When you tire of the ocean views (I’m kidding, that’s impossible), head to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This inland park just as awesome as its coastal neighbor and it’s especially great for young kids that are ready to explore. There are a bunch of trails to choose from too. Check out the official site here.
Bixby Canyon Bridge
If you’re coming from the north, you’ll drive over Bixby Canyon Bridge on your way into Big Sur. It’s a very convenient stop and definitely worth getting out of the car. We stopped here at sunset and it was beautiful. You can stop on either side of the bridge, but I recommend going to the inland side. There are a few spots where you can hike (or climb, depending on how far you go) down to get much better bridge views away from the crowds. I was pretty surprised to not see more people down there with me.
The Sur House
This isn’t a site, it’s actually a restaurant, but we really loved it. It’s at the luxury resort and campground, Ventana Big Sur. If you eat outside, the views are amazing and they even have a dog-friendly dining area so you can bring the pup too! Check out their site here.
And what I can’t wait to come back for:
Since we couldn’t see everything during our short trip, these are the stops I’m most looking forward to (hopefully during a summer camping trip this year!):
Andrew Molera State Park
This is the largest state park on the Big Sur coast with tons to do. I’m saving this one for when we have more time to explore all the beaches and 20 miles of trails it has to offer.
I was pretty bummed to miss Pfeiffer Beach, but it can actually be tough to get in! The parking lot to access this small, but iconic beach is tiny and so they only let a certain number of cars in at any time. If it’s full, you just have to try again later. The best time to visit is first thing in the morning. Check out the official site here.
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln is a small, but apparently very unique state park. There’s a waterfall, easy beach access, and two trails, making this a quick stop with a lot to see. Check out the official site here.
Big Sur is the kind of place you leave and you’re already planning your next visit. I can’t wait to come back again and spend some more time out on the trails and along the beaches!