Big Sur is nestled on the California Coast and is a hidden gem on the West Coast of the United States. I grew up in California and anytime I met travelers I pointed them in the direction of Highway 1, Big Sur. I would hear back from them later and they would say it was the highlight of their trip. Until recently this section of California was off the beaten path and only a few travelers ventured into its magical forests and beaches. Right now Big Sur is gaining the awareness and popularity it deserves from tourists but there are still places that only a California local can know about. That is what I am here to tell you about. So toss that Lonely Planet book aside and dive into this article to learn about my favorite hidden gems of Big Sur from a California native.
P.S. Make sure to check the road conditions before heading out! Recently this beautiful coastline had some landslides and they are rebuilding many bridges and roads. Before you go it is always good practice to check the road closures to make sure you can see everything on this list. Enjoy!
I am going to write this article assuming you are driving South from San Francisco or Santa Cruz. If you did that, I hope you spent some time in Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium! This is the best aquarium on the west coast of the United States and they do so much towards protecting our oceans and it’s unique wildlife. Please take a bit of your trip to visit this epic place and create a sense of wonder for our incredible ocean.
If you are driving North from LA, just use this guide backward! Highway One is straightforward and you can either go north or south. Easy to follow and understand in any direction! Let’s go!
1. Andrew Molera State Park
This is one of the first State Parks you see on your way south. It is beautiful, pristine, and usually uncrowded. I love this spot because you can choose your own adventure. If you are in the mood for a hike and amazing views they have a loop trail that is about 6 miles long. This trail goes into the forest and up on a bluff with ocean views, then down onto the beach. Or if you want to surf and chill at the beach you can hike in a quarter mile to the beach. This is a beautiful point break and horseshoe style cove with an estuary. Bring your surfboards, boogie boards, kayak, picnic supplies and you are set for an amazing day!
2. Henry Miller Library
After hitting the beach you might be in the mood for some evening entertainment or a refreshment. Too many people are in a rush driving through Big Sur and zoom right past this hidden gem. Henry Miller Library is host to some amazing bands, evening events, the Big Sur Short Film Festival, and several workshops. You can stop in for a glass of wine or a snack, listen to some music, or read about the history or the Henry Miller Library Memorial. This spot is super cute and perfect for your off the beaten path adventure.
3. Pfeifer State Park Waterfall
Of course, you have to see the Julia Pfeifer waterfall! If you are reading this article you are probably wondering where you can see the photo at the beginning. Well, you have arrived. This is a must see and must stop spot for every person driving through Big Sur. It is pristine, beautiful, and will fil your head with fantasies of bathing in a waterfall on the white sand. Up until a few years ago you could actually go down to the beach and play int he waters. They closed the beach off because access is dangerous and people were causing too much litter and erosion. So now you can enjoy its beauty from a nice walkway and viewing point built above the waterfall and get your perfect Instagram photo! There are also some great hikes from the parking lot at Pfiefier if you go back into the hills. More waterfalls and fewer people.
4. Limekiln State Park
This is the local’s go-to campground. It has beautiful creeks and rivers running through it. Amazing hikes, waterfalls, trees, ferns, and history. You can camp under the canopy of the forest or you can snag a site near the beach. You have the best of Big Sur all wrapped up into this one State Park. I would recommend camping here and enjoying the beach access, as well as the beautiful hikes! Most tourists drive straight by this gem and you are not going to be one of them!
5. Sand Dollar Beach/ Nacimiento Road
Last but definitely not least, you are almost to the end of your Big Sur Road trip, make sure to stop at Sand Dollar Beach. This is a beautiful crescent beach with white sands and crystal blue waters. At low tide, there is fun tide pooling at the southern end of the beach. It is also one of the best surf beaches in Big Sur! It gets tons of swell during all times of the year and has some fun, powerful waves. Bring your board, your picnic blanket, some music and beer, you are set for a perfect suntanning afternoon! Also across the street from the beach is an old forestry road called Nacimiento Road. This is the local’s spot for watching the sunset. Only if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, can you venture up this dirt road. You will drive for what feels like ages but you will end up at what we call “the top of the world”. This is a viewpoint with 360-degree views of Big Sur and the stunning ocean. Definitely worth it if you are in a vehicle that can make it up the road!
OK! You made it all the way South to San Simeon at this point and had a wonderful Big Sur road-trip. Lucky you, there is still more of California to see! I hope my locals-only knowledge helped you along your adventure and you had a trip to remember. Big Sur is my favorite spot in all of California, it is dear to my heart and truly a gem in such a diverse and beautiful state. Drive safely and treat the environment you are enjoying with respect! Cheers.