Landmarks & Destinations

Some say the best part of visiting Big Sur is the option to do nothing at all. Others come here precisely to expand their horizons. With endless opportunities for adventure, art, nature and culture, it’s impossible to be bored in Big Sur.


Carmel Mission Basilica

The Carmel Mission was founded by Father Junipero Serra on August 24, 1771. When Serra died in 1784, the Mission was still a humble adobe structure. Father Fermin Lasuen, Serra’s successor, completed the construction of the buildings you see there today. With the labor of the Rumsien, the local Costanoan tribe, and the guidance of Manuel Ruiz, a master Mexican stonemason, Father Lasuen built what is considered to be the most beautiful of California’s mission chapels. The structure is open for observation seven days per week.

Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9:30am–5:00pm; Sunday, 10:30am–5:00pm
Directions From Ventana:, drive north on Highway One. After you cross the Carmel River Bridge, turn west on Rio Road, and drive 0.7 mile to the corner of Lasuen Drive.
Info: 831.624.3600; www.carmelmission.org

Point Lobos State Reserve

Called “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by landscape artist Francis McComas, Point Lobos has long attracted artists, writers and nature lovers with its sheltered coves, shallow tide pools and wind-sculpted Monterey pine and old-growth cypress trees. The park’s 1,250 acres encompass 700 underwater acres and 550 acres of forest and shoreline. Sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions frolic in the kelp beds and sun themselves on sandy beaches. Point Lobos has also played a significant role for Native Americans, Chinese fisherman, Japanese abalone harvesters and Portuguese whalers. Point Lobos is a great place to dive or snorkel; however, diving is restricted to Bluefish Cove and Whalers Cove. You can otherwise stroll down any of the park’s 14 trails, soak in nature, take photos, paint or picnic in designated areas. For additional trail information, see Hiking Trails.

Hours: 8:00am until 30 minutes after sunset
Directions From Ventana drive north on Highway One for 26 miles. Clearly marked, the entrance is on the west side of the highway. Bicycles are restricted to paved roads.
Info: 831.624.4909; www.pointlobos.org


Garrapata State Park

Garrapata is one of Big Sur’s hidden treasures. While the park is not really hidden (everyone driving down Highway One goes through the park), Garrapata, situated on 2,879 coastal acres, has no official entrance but many gates with understated signs noting trailheads on both sides of the highway. From steep, mountainous slopes to redwood-shaded creek crossings to gentle paths winding along coastal bluffs, Garrapata offers something for everyone. For additional trail information, see Hiking Trails.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 19 miles. The park is located on the west side of the highway. There is no official entrance. Use any of the turnouts to park and access trails. To access Garrapata State Beach, use gates 17–19. To access Soberanes Point, use gates 8–10. The park gets crowded quickly during the day, so it’s best to arrive early. Bicycles are allowed only on Rocky Ridge Trail.
Info: 831.624.4909; www.parks.ca.gov

Point Sur Light Station

The Point Sur Light Station was built in 1889 to provide light warning to ships navigating the Big Sur coast. The lighthouse rises 270 feet above a volcanic rock located at the mouth of the Little Sur River. During the 1960s, the U.S. Coast Guard began automating light houses. Just a short time later, in 1974, the last keeper left the Point Sur Light Station.

Hours: Except for guided tours, the park is closed to the public. Three-hour tours take place on Saturdays at 10:00am and 2:00pm and on Sundays at 10:00am. From April through October, tours are added on Wednesdays at 10:00am and 2:00pm. During July and August, additional tours take place on Thursdays at 10:00am. A few select Moonlight Tours are available (consult website for dates). Tickets are first come, first served, so be sure to arrive early.
Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 10 miles. The Point Sur State Historic Park is located on the west side of the highway.
Info: 831.625.4419; www.pointsur.org


Andrew Molera State Park

With an area of 4,766 acres, Andrew Molera is Big Sur’s largest state park. Originally part of a Mexican land grant known as Rancho El Sur, this park was the property of Juan Bautista Alvarado. Andrew Molera was the grandson of Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper, a Monterey sea captain and merchant who bought the land from Alvarado. In 1965, Molera’s daughter donated the land to the park system in his name. The park boasts a walk-in campground and 20 miles of trails that give hikers access to the Big Sur River mouth and estuary, the driftwood-strewn Molera Beach, and spectacular views from wind-swept coastal bluffs and inland mountain slopes. The Ventana Wilderness Society operates The Big Sur Ornithology Lab there, a research, habitat restoration and education center focusing on California condors, bald eagles and migratory songbirds. And Molera Horseback Tours offers guided trail rides—contact them at 831.625.5486 or visit www.molerahorsebacktours.com. For more specific information about trails, see Hiking Trails.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 7 miles. The entrance is at the junction of the highway and Old Coast Road on the west side. Biking is permitted on Ridge, Beach, Trail Camp and Creamery Meadow trails.
Info: 831.667.2315; www.parks.ca.gov

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Big Sur’s oldest, most developed and most popular state park, Pfeiffer Big Sur stretches more than a mile inland, often providing an escape from coastal summer fog. This is an excellent place for an easy redwood forest hike, a demanding climb up Mount Manuel, a couples’ picnic, or a dip in the Carmel River or one of Big Sur’s natural swimming holes. For additional trail information, see Hiking Trails.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 2.3 miles. The entrance is on the east side of the highway.
Info: 831.667.2315; www.parks.ca.gov


Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most picturesque and most easily accessible beaches in Big Sur. Just one mile away from Ventana, it’s the perfect spur-of-the-moment sunset experience. The stretch of purple sand is partly shielded from the ocean by rocks and sea stacks. A cave through one of the largest rock formations offers a spectacular way to see the golden reflection of sunset light in contrast with the blue Pacific Ocean. Pfeiffer Beach is part of Los Padres National Forest.

Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 1.1 miles. Turn off at Sycamore Canyon Road (west side of the highway) to access the beach.

Nepenthe

Nepenthe Big Sur

Few travelers along Highway One can resist stopping at this legendary landmark, perched on a cliff 800 feet above the surf. A social hub for the Big Sur community since the late 1940s, Nepenthe boasts a history as colorful as its beautifully landscaped terraces and mesmerizing ocean views. Visitors can eat at the full-service restaurant, enjoy a beverage at the outdoor café, or shop for suvenirs at one of the best gift shops in the area. For additional information, see Galleries & Shops and Dining.

Hours: Restaurant – 11:30am–10:00pm / Café Keva – 9:00am–5:00pm / Phoenix Gift Shop - 10:30am–7:00pm
Directions From Ventana: drive north on Highway One for 1 mile. The entrance is on the west side of the highway.
Info: 831.667.2345; www.nepenthebigsur.com


Henry Miller Library

Fleeing war-ridden France, Henry Miller arrived in Big Sur in 1944 and moved into a home on Partington Ridge. It was there that he wrote many books that were responsible for attracting a whole generation of Beatnik writers and poets to the area. Built in 1966 as an homage to Miller by his personal secretary, Emil White, the library does not actually lend books. Rather, it stores and sells Miller’s writings as well as other local writers’ books. “Why is it called a library if it doesn’t lend books?” It’s a great question to ask the library’s friendly staff. The library also serves as a community center, art gallery and outdoor venue for a remarkable array of performances, lectures and concerts—many of which take place in the summer. If you want to tap into some Big Sur culture, inquire about the current events. The library’s annual short film festival held each summer is also not to be missed.

Hours: 11:00am – 6:00pm (Closed Tuesdays)
Directions From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 1 mile. The library is on the east side of the highway.
info: 831.667.2574; henrymiller.orgwww.henrymiller.org

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

For a variety of hikes with breathtaking views as a reward, Julia Pfeiffer would highly recommend this park—a place she frequented herself. The Pfeiffers, who arrived here in 1869 with one-year-old Julia, were among the first white settlers in Big Sur. This state park combines a dramatic coastline with steep forested mountainsides, all within just 3.75 square miles. The banks of McWay Creek provide a perfect picnic spot. The wheelchair accessible Waterfall Trail offers a viewpoint overlooking spectacular McWay Falls. For additional trail information, see Hiking Trails.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Directions From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 8.8 miles. The entrance is on the east of the highway.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Info: 831.667.2315; www.parks.ca.gov


Esalen Institute

Perhaps no other place is more quintessentially Big Sur than Esalen. Founded by Mike Murphy and Dick Price in the early 1960s, Esalen was a retreat center dedicated to the exploration of “Human Potential,” a phrase coined by Aldous Huxley who once taught there. The institute has long been a leader in alternative and experiential education, and the list of renowned figures who have taught seminars here includes Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Fritz Perls, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, Timothy Leary, Gregory Bateson and even Boris Yeltsin. The institute offers seminars and workshops on everything from art, economics, dance, yoga, religion, and psychology, to Gestalt therapy, energy work, acupressure, quantum physics, UFOs, and couples therapy. Esalen is also famous for its hot mineral baths, perched dramatically at the edge of a cliff above the ocean. These clothing-optional pools are available for use only by registered guests and spa day-visitors—except between 1am and 3am, when Esalen opens them up to anyone looking for a late-night, moonlit skinny-dip. (Reservations required.)

Directions From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 12 miles. Esalen’s entrance is on the west side of the highway.
Info: 831.667.3000; www.esalen.org
Night Baths: 831.667.3047
Spa Appointments: 831.667.3002

Limekiln State Park

Pull off the highway and experience the essence of Big Sur at Limekiln, where you can easily access a rocky Pacific beach and an epic waterfall. It is easy to overlook this 716-acre park off Highway One, but Limekiln is the perfect place to stretch your legs on a long drive down the coast.

Hours: Daily, 9am–7pm; Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10am–5pm.
Directions From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 24 miles. The entrance is located on the east side of the highway.
Info: 831.667.2403; www.parks.ca.gov

 


Sand Dollar Beach & Jade Cove

Sand Dollar Beach is the longest easily accessible beach along the Big Sur Coast. Surfing, exploring and fishing are within walking distance at Plaskett Creek campground. The beach is also a designated hang-glider site and features a picnic area and bathrooms. Follow the nearby path on Highway One to Jade Cove, where you can rock-hound in search of “stones of heaven,” as the Chinese call them, which range in color from light turquoise to deep emerald green.

Directions From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 31.1 miles. The beach entrance is on the west side of the highway.

 

Hearst Castle & Hearst Memorial State Beach

Built by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle, or La Casa Grande as Hearst called it, boasts 115 lavish rooms—yet it remains unfinished after 30 years of construction starting in 1919. Hearst Castle is open for tours daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Four daytime tours and one evening tour are available. The first tour starts at 8:20am and the last daytime tour starts at 3:20pm. The evening tour starting time varies according to the time of sunset. Directly across from Hearst Castle on the west side of Highway One is the entrance to Hearst Memorial State Beach, a sandy cove once used as the ocean-front playground for Hearst, his family and friends.

Hours: Tour hours vary. Reservations are required to guarantee the tour date and time desired.
Direction From Ventana: drive south on Highway One for 70 miles. Hearst Castle sits on a hill on the east side of the highway, and the beach entrance is on the west side of the highway.
Info: 800.444.4445; www.hearstcastle.org


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