If you’re planning a coastal Central California vacation and wondering where to stay in Big Sur, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’ve planned a weekend getaway, a day trip, or a two-week road trip adventure, Big Sur hotels range from luxury resorts, cabin rentals, inns, and campsites along the Big Sur coastline.
Displaying rugged scenery, unique wildlife, and an adventurous spirit, the Big Sur region is located between San Simeon to the south and Carmel to the north. Monterey Bay and Pebble Beach are just north of Carmel.
With 276 miles of shoreline, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary comprises 5,322 square miles of ocean that can be viewed along the drive. Travel through the Big Sur region via State Route 1 or the Pacific Highway. This 90-mile-long roadway is backed by the Santa Lucia Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
The road runs along the Pacific Coast and features narrow lanes, hairpin turns, and misty ocean views of some of the most breathtaking scenery. You’ll want to watch for California condors, whales, sea lions, other Pacific Coast wildlife, and ocean views.
Check out the Big Sur River, crashing waves, historic lighthouses, and a wide array of parks and nature preserves. Take some time to enjoy the drive and pencil in some of our ideas for accommodations and the best areas in Big Sur.
Show Table of Contents
- Best Areas to Stay in Big Sur
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Garrapata State Park
- Calla Lily Valley
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Little Sur River Beach
- Point Sur State Historic Park
- Andrew Molera State Park
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Henry Miller Memorial Library
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- Partington Cove
- Slates Hot Springs
- Limekiln State Park
- Ragged Point
- Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
- San Simeon
- Safety Tips for Camping in Big Sur, California
Best Areas to Stay in Big Sur
If you’re coming from the north to explore Big Sur, consider anchoring in Carmel. Located on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is famous for the quaint cottages and galleries in the main village of Carmel by the Sea.
Check out art galleries, restaurants, cafes, scenic overlooks, and Carmel Beach. Be sure to visit the historic Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, or simply Carmel Mission as locals know it. Built-in 1770 and fully restored in the 1940s, it’s part of the chain of 21 California Missions.
Saint Junipero Serro founded nine of the missions, including this one. He’s buried in a sepulcher under the sanctuary. It’s an active parish, and mass is held regularly.
There are original paintings, statues, and tools as well as cobblestone pathways, courtyards, and gardens. Enjoy Spanish architecture, art, and culture. Food festivals and car show events are held throughout the year.
Places to Stay near Carmel
The European-inspired Hofsas House boutique hotel has a heated pool and continental breakfast. It is pet-friendly, so bring your four-legged travel buddies along.
Local attractions include Old Fisherman’s Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Carmel River State Beach.
Best Western Carmel’s Town House Lodge
Best Western Carmel’s Town House Lodge, in downtown Carmel by the Sea, has an outdoor pool with sun loungers, a coffeemaker, free wifi in all rooms, and a business center with fax and computer. It’s near the golf courses of Pebble Beach for those adding tee time to their Big Sur excursions.
Carmel Garden Inn
The Carmel Garden Inn is a 10-room bed and breakfast in a lovely garden setting. There are mini-suites with private patios and kitchenettes. It’s near the beach and the unique architecture of Carmel by the Sea, making it one of the best Big Sur hotels on the north end of the coast.
La Playa Carmel
La Playa Carmel is a luxury boutique hotel within walking distance to the beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea. There’s a restaurant, a pool, an elegant lobby, and beautiful gardens filled with fountains, flowers, and lush greenery. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is nearby.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a terrific spot for hiking, watching wildlife, and diving. It’s part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, so take advantage of your SCUBA skills and go beneath the surface. If you’re into birdwatching, bring binoculars to find soaring cormorants, scrub jays, red-tailed hawks, and more.
From December through April, you can see migrating gray whales. Whalers Cove, Sand Hill Cove, and Cypress Cove are popular places to view sea otters.
History buffs will want to visit the 1800s Whalers Cabin Museum for a history lesson on the region’s shore whaling industry.
Places to Stay near Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Carmel Mission Inn
Carmel Mission Inn, located about two miles from Point Lobos in Carmel by the Sea, has an outdoor swimming pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, and a fireplace.
There is also an EV charging station for travelers visiting Big Sur via electricity. Modern guest rooms have free wifi, a mini-fridge, coffeemakers, and a table and chair.
Quail Lodge & Golf Club
Quail Lodge & Golf Club is about six miles from Point Lobos. There’s an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, a restaurant, a bar, a top-rated golf course, a fitness center, a sauna, and a business center.
This Big Sur hotel is an excellent vantage point to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and the tiny beachside city of Carmel by the Sea.
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Garrapata State Park
The 2,939-acre Garrapata State Park offers two miles of beach, hiking trails, the Soberanes Canyon, and stunning views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, and California gray whales can be seen. There is a dog-friendly beach located at Gate 19 at the south end. They must be on a leash.
The park is a photographer’s dream destination for sunsets, coastal views, soaring cliffs, and springtime wildflowers. Doud Creek flows down the creek to the beach. The water at the beach is too dangerous for swimming, so enjoy the scenery and relax.
Places to Stay near Garrapata State Park
Carmel River Inn
Carmel River Inn has rooms or cottages with a balcony or a patio. Located approximately six miles from Garrapata, there’s an outdoor pool, gardens, and fountains.
Calla Lily Valley
Calla Lily Valley is located at the south end of Garrapata State Park. The area is filled with gorgeous white calla lilies from late January through April. You won’t want to forget your camera for this view. The trail leads to the beach and suits all hiking skill levels.
Bixby Creek Bridge
The architecturally impressive Bixby Creek Bridge is Big Sur’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge. Built in the ‘30s, the 280-foot-tall concrete arch bridge towers over Big Creek Canyon. There are plenty of places to pull over, snap a shot, or take a selfie.
Places to Stay near Bixby Creek Bridge
Hyatt Carmel Highlands Hotel
The luxury Hyatt Carmel Highlands Hotel is about nine miles away from Bixby Creek Bridge. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it has a heated outdoor pool, three restaurants, a lounge, and a fitness center.
Guests can use complimentary mountain bikes to traverse the area. It’s one of the best Big Sur hotels for a luxurious experience and stunning views. The hotel is not pet-friendly.
Located near Notleys Landing, this secluded cabin rental is tucked in among oaks and redwoods with Pacific Ocean views. Rustic cabins have an outdoor covered tub, a wood-fired sauna, one bedroom, one bathroom, and convertible beds to sleep up to five guests.
Little Sur River Beach
Backed by mountains, Little Sur River Beach has a sandy beachfront with dunes and a lagoon near the mouth of the river. A unique rock arch formation makes a nice photo to add to your Insta feed. This beach is not accessible, but it’s a terrific spot to take a pic and check out the scenery on your way to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Big Sur hotels along the coastline.
Point Sur State Historic Park
Visit the 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse at Point Sur State Historic Park. In continuous operation since its opening, it towers 361 feet over the Pacific Ocean. Guided tours are offered on weekends. The park is near the Point Sur Naval Facility (NAVFAC), and tours can also be taken there.
King City is a good choice if you’re interested in taking an excursion inland from the coast. Located in the Salinas Valley, King City is the gateway to Pinnacles National Park.
King City, well-known for ranching and agriculture, was featured in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Visit the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum in King City. This area is not to be confused with the King City Golf Course in King City, Oregon.
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Places to Stay near Point Sur State Historic Park
Fernwood Resort is about 6.5 miles from Point Sur. This is one of the best motels in Big Sur to get away from it all. There are no TVs or phones in rooms, which are rustic and feature forest views.
On the other hand, if you want to get in on some action, there’s live music on weekends, a restaurant, a bar, and a gift shop. Try your hand at table tennis on the back deck.
Tent cabins, a step up from your typical canvas tent, are available. They have a wooden frame covered with heavy canvas fabric. Fernwood also offers tent camping, RV campsites, and forest cabins.
Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera State Park, the largest in Big Sur, is undeveloped and natural for hiking, biking, and relaxing on secluded beaches. The trail to the beach is about a mile. The park is also less visited than other parks, resulting in fewer crowds.
Trails wind past meadows, hills, and scenic overlooks. The 3.5-mile Bluffs Trail or the two-mile round-trip Creamery Meadow Trail are considered easy. The 2.6-mile Panorama and 6.5-mile Ridge trails are for the more advanced hiker.
Places to Stay near Andrew Molera State Park
Andrew Molera Trail Camp is a hike-in camping area near the Big Sur River. There are 22 tent sites. Campers must park in the day-use parking lot. It’s about a ¼ mile hike to the campsite.
Each site has a fire pit, a picnic table, and storage containers for food. Reservations are recommended as sites often fill up six months in advance.
Glen Oaks Big Sur
Glen Oaks Big Sur is a laid-back vintage-inspired hotel with rustic rooms and modern amenities. Dine at the Big Sur Roadhouse restaurant, cozy up by the fire pit, or hike past the redwood forests of Big Sur.
Cottages, cabins, and lodge rooms have gas fireplaces, private decks, and elegant furnishings. The secluded setting of Glen Oaks makes a romantic getaway or honeymoon retreat. There is free parking.
See Related: How to Pack for a Camping Trip
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
At 1,000 acres in size, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is known as “Little Yosemite” for its abundance of redwood, maple, and sycamore trees.
Hike or fish along the Big Sur River and the Big Sur River Gorge, or visit the 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Overlook, where you can see Big Sur Valley, Andrew Molera State Park, and Point Sur.
Watch for deer, birds, and bobcats. There is no beach access in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Places to Stay near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Big Sur Lodge
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in Big Sur, this is your chance. In the heart of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur Lodge has a pool, a bar, a small market with grocery items, and a restaurant with a la carte breakfast.
Big Sur Lodge guest rooms have coffeemakers and a table and chairs. Some rooms have fireplaces, seating areas with sofas, and kitchenettes to prepare basic meals.
Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground has over 150 campsites for tents and RVs along the river. Reservations are highly recommended and should be made far in advance.
Campsites in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park have parking for one car, firepits, and a picnic table. You’ll find fresh water, hot showers, and toilets throughout the park.
Contrary to the name, Pfeiffer Beach is not part of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The entrance is south of the park. There is a separate entrance fee. It’s famous for its exotic purple sand and Keyhole Rock.
Places to Stay near Pfeiffer
Big Sur River Inn
Located about 10 minutes from the beach, Big Sur River Inn is one of the best Big Sur hotels. It has a swimming pool and a restaurant in a natural setting. It is one of the best Big Sur hotels to explore the coast and beach.
Henry Miller Memorial Library
The Henry Miller Memorial Library was established by writer and painter Emil White. It’s the world’s second-largest collection of Henry Miller works and memorabilia. Unique pieces include the first draft of Tropic of Cancer.
Browse the collection or visit the bookstore. Musical shows and lectures are held throughout the year. You can also visit the Hawthorne Gallery, located nearby, while you’re there. It has a garden, water sculptures, and beautiful architecture. Buy paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and more.
Places to Stay near Henry Miller Memorial Library
Alila Ventana Big Sur
Alila Ventana Big Sur, a Hyatt hotel, is an adults-only luxury hotel within 160 acres of secluded forest. One of the best Big Sur hotels, rooms have private balconies or patios.
Some rooms have a hot tub on the sun deck. There are two heated swimming pools, a Japanese hot bath, a fitness center, complimentary yoga, a spa, and an on-site art gallery.
Sur House restaurant sits high above the Pacific Ocean. Dine on world-class gourmet cuisine sourced from the local region and the hotel’s gardens. This is one of the best Big Sur hotels for views, dining, and accommodations,
Camp or glamp among the redwood trees at Ventana Campground. This campground is for tents only. It has three modern bathhouses. Sites have fire rings and picnic tables. Showers, freshwater, and restaurants are nearby
Glampsites have safari-style canvas tents beneath the redwoods, full amenities, and access to Alila Ventana Big Sur luxury resort. These tent cabins are a terrific choice for travelers who want to ease their way into the camping lifestyle.
Post Ranch Inn
The luxurious Post Ranch Inn sits cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Big Sur coast.
Amenities include two heated infinity pools, a heated outdoor swimming pool, a spa, a fitness center, a gift shop, and the award-winning Sierra Mar Restaurant, where guests can enjoy a complimentary breakfast.
Complimentary activities such as yoga, guided nature walks, garden tours, and art walks are offered to guests. Falconry lessons are available for an additional fee. How fun is that!
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is filled with hiking trails through forests of redwoods and Pacific madrone trees. McWay Falls, the park highlight, drops over 80 feet into the ocean (about a half-mile walk from the parking lot).
This Big Sur state park is about four square miles and named for pioneer Julia Burns.
Places to Stay near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Two Environmental Campsites (in an undisturbed and natural setting) are located south of McWay Cove.
This is some of the most secluded and beautiful camping in Big Sur. Campers must hike in. Reservations are required and usually fill up six months in advance. This is the only camping allowed in the park. Dogs are not allowed.
Located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the secluded Partington Cove features a scenic trail leading to a rocky beach of sapphire blue water. A one-mile round-trip hike goes through a 60-foot tunnel constructed in the 1880s and named for John Partington.
Slates Hot Springs
Featuring mineral-rich oceanfront hot springs, the New Age retreat’s baths are on several levels leading down to the beach. There’s an outdoor massage deck as well as indoor baths.
Public night bathing used to be allowed, but the hot springs are currently only available to Esalen guests. The campus offers all-inclusive workshop retreats. There’s an organic farm, garden, art barn, and bookstore. This resort retreat setting is clothing-optional.
Limekiln State Park
LimekilnState Park has over 700 acres of towering redwoods for hiking, camping, and relaxing on the beach.
Places to Stay near Limekiln State Park
Kirk Creek Campground
The oceanside Kirk Creek Campground has 40 tent and RV sites in Big Sur with campfire rings, grills, and tables. Vault toilets are located throughout the campground.
You can walk from the campground to Sand Dollar Beach, the largest sandy beach in Big Sur, CA. Fish, swim, or surf at this Big Sur beach. Dogs are allowed as long as they’re leashed.
Treebones Resort is about 10.5 miles from Limekiln State Park. If you’re wondering where to stay in Big Sur for a unique experience, Treebones Resort is your best bet.
It offers oceanfront yurts, tent camping, and twig hut campsites. Enjoy the luxury of a spa, the garden-to-table Wild Coast Restaurant, and The Sushi Bar.
Lucia Lodge has ten cozy cabins and guest rooms 300 feet above the Pacific Ocean. If you prefer mountain views, request a room facing the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Some cabins date to the original opening in the 1930s. From Lucia Lodge, you can visit Sand Dollar Beach, hike Prewitt Loop Trail, or check out Jade Beach, famous for its Big Sur jade formations.
The southernmost entrance to Big Sur, Ragged Point, has coastal cliffs, gardens, and easy-to-challenging hiking trails. There’s a black sand beach and views of the 300-foot-tall Black Swift Falls at Youngs Creek Bridge. Watch for elephant seals and sea otters.
Places to Stay near Ragged Point
Ragged Point Inn
Ragged Point Inn is in San Simeon, about three miles from Hearst Castle along the Big Sur coast. There’s a restaurant, a bar, a coffee house, a private beach area, an outdoor patio and fireplace, a garden, and stunning coastal views.
All the rooms have breathtaking views of Big Sur scenery, making this one of the best hotels in the region. This is one of the best hotels to start, or end, your Big Sur vacation.
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery Part of the California Coastal National Monument, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is a refuge for thousands of northern elephant seals.
They go there to rest and mate. Mothers nurse and tcare forthe young until they’re old enough to be on their own.
Wooden walkways lead to an overlook where you can watch them sleep, bellow, and do what elephant seals do. You’ll see the majority of them in late January, early May, and late October. Elephant seal viewing is completely free.
Piedras Blancas Light Station is just north of the elephant seal rookery.
Places to Stay near Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
The Cavalier Oceanfront Resort is approximately three miles from Hearst Castle and just a quick walk to the beach.
There are two outdoor heated swimming pools, a hot tub, a fitness room, and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Private rooms have free wifi, a minibar, a refrigerator, and a coffeemaker.
If you’re concentrating on the southern Big Sur coast while visiting Big Sur, you may want to spend time in San Simeon. Located in San Luis Obispo County, San Simeon offers history, architecture, and unique wildlife.
Be sure to visit nearby Hearst Castle, the former home of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. It features 127 acres of gardens, pools, terraces, Moorish architecture, Spanish antiques, and Italian art.
Castle construction started in 1919 and finished in 1947; his family gave it to the state of California after his death. The extravagant home is known as the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. You can take guided tours in the day or evening.
Nearby attractions include Moonstone Beach Park, William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, the zebras of Hearst Ranch, and the natural beauty of Harmony Headlands State Park and the Los Padres National Forest.
See Related: Best Breweries in Northern California
Places to Stay near San Simeon
Spacious rooms have refrigerators, microwaves, and a private bathroom. Amenities include an outdoor heated swimming pool, a hot tub, a fire pit, complimentary breakfast, and free parking.
Little Sur Inn
Little Sur Inn is near Moonstone Beach on the southern end of Big Sur. Guest rooms have a sitting room, a gas fireplace, a microwave, a refrigerator, and a coffeemaker.
This is one of the best Big Sur hotels for its elegant yet straightforward decor, stunning scenery, and convenient access to Big Sur attractions.
Safety Tips for Camping in Big Sur, California
Big Sur is very popular and, thus, very crowded and busy. Make reservations for camping in state parks and other areas (tent camping or in an RV). The timeframe from May to September is the most popular. October to April is the low season. Crowds and prices have both decreased by this time.
This is nature, folks. There is a lot of poison oak. Watch for the triple leaves and shiny surface. The leaves can look red in the summer and fall. Camping along the roadside of Highway 1 is not only dangerous but it also is not allowed—only camp in designated areas.
Not every campground has fresh water. Pack plenty of your bottled water. Be like Smoky. Only you can prevent forest fires in Big Sur. Do not throw cigarette butts out the window of your vehicle.
Stay in control of your campfire. Campfires are only allowed in designated areas. Be aware of weather conditions, like if it has been windy and dry. Find out how big of a fire you’re allowed to have. Gigantic bonfires are probably not a good idea (nor necessary in a public forested area). Always completely extinguish your fire before leaving.
Some parks allow free camping along the forest service roads as long as you follow common-sense guidelines. Don’t litter. This isn’t a safety issue. It’s common courtesy (to both the environment and others). Leave the area looking just as beautiful as when you arrived.
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Sandy is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia. Her specialties range from hotels, dining, beaches, and yacht charters to theme parks, urban settings, mountain getaways, and other fun spots. In addition to Via Travelers, her work appears at AFAR, PierShare, Cozymeal, and more.