Big Sur is arguably one of the most picturesque landscapes in the United States. Running along the wild California coastline between Carmel-By-The-Sea and San Simeon, Big Sur is one of the most exciting places to explore in the state.
In addition to a spectacular coastline, Big Sur has a wealth of awe-inspiring landscapes set just inland. It is one of the least populated areas of California, and as such, is a paradise for intrepid travelers who want to embrace the great outdoors without another soul nearby.
The windy and rugged coast features countless coves, inlets and bays. On a sunny day, the ocean panorama views are simply magnificent. The Pacific Ocean may be dreamy and calm around the tropical Pacific Islands, but when it hits California, it hits hard – relentlessly in fact.
For hikers, nature lovers and adventurous travelers of all kinds, Big Sur is a joy to explore. From log cabins and campsites within the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to the luxury waterside hotels of Carmel-By-The-Sea, there is a hotel for one and for all in Big Sur.
Let’s take a look at where to stay in Big Sur, so you can get planning the adventure of a lifetime.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park covers vast swathes of the inland area from the Big Sur coastal strip. When travelers want to stay at the heart of Big Sur, they opt to stay within the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park itself. It gives travelers a real sense of oneness with nature and access to the best hiking trails in the region.
Being a protected parkland, there is little to no development within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The resorts are small and often boutique in style. There are plenty of log cabins and luxury shacks within the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which gives a sense of authenticity and wildness to a stay within this beautiful space. Being so off the beaten track, many of the hotels and resorts have invested in making their in-house dining options as delectable as can be.
The best time to visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is during the summer months, from April to October.
Good For: Active Travelers, Adventure Travelers, Couples, Families, Groups, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Off-The-Beaten-Track Travelers, Road Trippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 17-Mile Drive, Bixby Creek Bridge McWay Falls, Point Lobos, Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Ridge, Nepenthe Restaurant, Andrew Molera State Park
- – Fernwood Resort is one of the most popular hotel options in Big Sur. Offering forest views from every room, Fernwood Resort allows guests to feel immersed in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There is free parking on site available for all travelers. The accommodation is rustic – some would say basic.
- – Ventana Big Sur, An Alila Resort is a superb hotel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This adults-only resort offers a luxurious stay from start to finish. The hotel boasts two heated swimming pools and a Japanese hot bath. The resort sits within a secluded 160-acre private estate.
- Lotus Blossom Cabin – For travelers who want to have a truly immersive experience, Lotus Blossom Cabin is the best place to stay in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Guests have the whole cabin to themselves, including a double bedroom. There is a kitchen, complete with all the utilities and appliances to make proper meals.
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The tiny beachside city of Carmel-By-The-Sea is one of the most popular places to stay in Big Sur. Although a destination in its own right, Carmel-By-The-Sea stands at the gateway to Big Sur.
Home to a wealth of art galleries and museums, Carmel-By-The-Sea is a little cultural haven. When you add the beautiful scenery into the mix, you are on to a winner. There is a collection of fairytale-like cottages in Carmel-By-The-Sea that are ever so photogenic. This is a city with a heap of history to explore.
The food culture in Carmel-By-The-Sea is next level. California sets the bar high on the food front and Carmel-By-The-Sea does not disappoint. Foodies travel from far and wide to get a table at coveted L’Auberge Carmel and La Balena.
The beaches that surround Carmel-By-The-Sea are gorgeous. Camel River State Beach is a bird sanctuary too.
Good For: Active Travelers, Beach Bums, Culture Vultures, Couples, Families, Foodies, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Roadtrippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Carmel River State Beach, Point Lobos, 17-Mile Drive, Monterey, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Tor House and Hawk Tower, Mission Park Trail, Lone Cypress, Carmel Bay, Carmel Heritage Society, Lovers Point State Marine Reserve, Dawson Cole Fine Art Gallery
- – Pine Inn is a very good hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Offering charming decor and a lovely, welcoming atmosphere, Pine Inn is a home away from home in Big Sur. The hotel features classic design elements with modern amenities like WiFi and flat-screen TVs. There is free parking at Pine Inn.
- – Briarwood Inn is a cozy little bed and breakfast in Carmel-By-The-Sea. It is just a five-minute walk away from Carmel Beach itself. There is a light, complimentary breakfast included in the room rates and guests are invited to join port and sherry tastings in the evenings.
- – Carmel Green Lantern Inn is a popular hotel that is set just a four-minute walk from the beach. As a bed and breakfast, Carmel Green Lantern Inn offers a complimentary breakfast to all guests. It is served in buffet style and adds to the great value for money offered by Carmel Green Lantern Inn.
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Based just south of Carmel-By-The-Sea is the coastal city of Monterey. Having provided inspiration for world-renowned author John Steinbeck, Monterey is a charming city. Cannery Row is the street that iconizes Monterey and sits right on the waterfront. Once the site of a bustling sardine canning factory, Cannery Row has been regenerated into a shopping avenue filled with stores selling California’s finest wines, amongst many other things.
Fisherman’s Wharf should be the first port of call for any food-loving travelers heading to Monterey. As a thriving wholesale fish market until the late 1960’s, Fisherman’s Wharf is now home to clam chowder stalls and many other must-visit gems.
For those interested in finding out more about the history of Monterey, take a visit to Colton Hall. Once a government building, Colton Hall now hosts exhibits on the history of Monterey and the surrounding area. The lawns and gardens of Colton Hall are great for a gentle afternoon stroll.
Good For: Active Travelers, Beach Bums, Budding Historians, Culture Vultures, Couples, Families, Foodies, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Roadtrippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, Colton Hall, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, Dai17 Museum, California’s First Theatre, Lovers Point State Marine Reserve, Museum of Monterey, Monterey Mirror Maze, Asilomar State Beach, Point Pinos Lighthouse, Monterey Museum of Art
- – InterContinental The Clement Monterey is one of the most luxurious hotels in Monterey and is located right on Cannery Row. This allows guests to stay within a two-minute walk of the beach. On-demand movies are available in all rooms and a mini bar too.
- – Jabberwock Bed & Breakfast is a superb hotel in the heart of Monterey. Located just a six-minute walk from the beach and a few blocks from famous Cannery Row, Jabberwock Bed & Breakfast is a great place to stay. There are large Victorian beds in all the rooms and some feature a hot tub.
- – Monterey Bay Inn is a fabulous hotel on Cannery Row. All rooms feature a balcony that offers views either of Cannery Row itself or gorgeous Monterey Bay. There is a coffee machine, cable TV and laptop safe in each and every room. The continental breakfast spread at Monterey Bay Inn is impressive.
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Near King City, California
King City is an off the beaten track location to stay near Big Sur. Set inland from the rugged coast, it is the ideal place to stay for budget-conscious road trippers or backpackers. King City has a lot of history but is a rather sleepy kind of town. There are just 12,000 people living here, and the town has been designed to suit their needs.
King City Shopping Centre is home to all the high street stores and is a great place to stock up on food for the rest of the road trip. San Antonio Park is a great place for a morning run or an afternoon workout. The King City Golf Course is open for non-members. It is a great course that has been landscaped around San Lorenzo Creek.
Set across three buildings, a restored barn, school, and blacksmith shop is the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum – a must-visit when in King City.
Good For: Budget Travelers, Off-The-Beaten Track Travelers, Like a Local Travelers, Road Trippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, King City Golf Course, King City Shopping Centre, Starbucks, San Lorenzo Park, San Antonio Park
- – The Days Inn by Wyndham offers an outdoor swimming pool and sun deck. The hotel has both suites and double rooms available. Each suite comes with a kitchenette that can be used to prepare basic meals. Days Inn by Wyndham offers a complimentary continental breakfast every day.
- – Keefers Inn is a cheap and cheerful hotel option in King City. Offering premium amenities like an outdoor swimming pool and a jacuzzi, Keefers Inn is great value for money. There is a 24-hour reception and free parking is available. All rooms feature a coffee machine and a work desk.
- – Super 8 by Wyndham can be found on Broadway Circle. An unfussy but well-equipped hotel, Super 8 by Wyndham offers spacious rooms for great rates. There is an outdoor swimming pool with sun terrace and a gas BBQ for guests to use. There is free WiFi and free parking.
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Cambria sits to the south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and is one of the most picturesque villages along the Big Sur coast. There are dozens of quirky things to do in Cambria that make for a memorable stay.
The Nitt Witt Ridge, for example, is a hillside house that sits on a 2.5-acre plot. Although there is no cultural or historical significance to Nitt Witt Ridge, it is an enjoyable place to explore. Guided tours generally leave every hour on the hour and visitors are taken on a tour of the house and grounds. There is a wonderful collection of hand carvings and all sorts of other mix-match artwork made from locally sourced materials.
Aside from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Cambria is the gateway to Hearst San Simeon State Park. Both a nature preserve and a cultural heritage site, this is a great place to reconnect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors.
Good For: Active Travelers, Beach Bums, Culture Vultures, Couples, Families, Foodies, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Off-The-Beaten Track Travelers, Road Trippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Nitt Witt Ridge, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria Historical Museum, Moonstone Beach Park, Artefacts Gallery, Leffingwell Landing State Park, Vault Gallery, Harmony Headlands State Park, Harmony Glass Works, Shamel Park
- – Fogcatcher Inn is just a two-minute walk from Moonstone Beach Park. This fabulous hotel is one of the most popular hotels in all of Big Sur. The hotel offers guests use of the outdoor swimming pool and hot tub. The rooms are all inspired by Big Sur and feature a fireplace.
- – Fireside Inn on Moonstone Beach is a gorgeous hotel that overlooks the ocean. There is a heated outdoor swimming pool and a luxurious hot tub. All rooms feature a fireplace and flat-screen TV. The ensuite bathrooms boast soft bathrobes. There are complimentary cookies upon check-in.
- – Little Sur Inn is a superb hotel on Moonstone Beach Drive. The spacious and modern rooms feature a seating area, gas fireplace and a coffee machine. Many rooms offer ocean views and there are complimentary binoculars in these rooms. The breakfast at Little Sur Inn is a great start to the day.
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San Simeon Bay
San Simeon is the southernmost town along the Big Sur coastline. Some may say that San Simeon saves the best until last, and it is a fair statement. One of the most popular things to do in San Simeon is to go elephant seal watching. The village is home to the only elephant seal rookery in the world. This amazing little sanctuary is free to enter every day of the year and sightings are almost guaranteed.
Hearst Castle is a man-made, must-visit spot in San Simeon. Built with the vision of George Hearst, a wealthy miner, Hearst Castle is open for tours daily. Visitors can explore the grand rooms, the cottages and kitchen, as well as the gardens. The evening tour is one of the most popular options as the twilight makes the castle look even more beautiful.
Piedras Blancas Light Station is an off the beaten track destination in San Simeon and is not to be missed.
Good For: Active Travelers, Beach Bums, Budding Historians, Culture Vultures, Couples, Families, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Off-The-Beaten Track Travelers, Road Trippers
Neighborhood Highlights: San Simeon Elephant Seal Sanctuary, Hearst Castle, Neptune Pool, William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach, Piedras Blancas Light Station, Arroyo Laguna State Beach
- – San Simeon Lodge is a good hotel on Castillo Drive. Offering guests use of the heated outdoor swimming pool and sun terrace with deck chairs, San Simeon Lodge is great value for money. All rooms have a coffee machine, fridge and a TV with cable channels. Parking is available.
- – Cavalier Oceanfront Resort is a well-equipped hotel that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Guests have all the facilities they could ask for and more. They can work out in the fitness room or take a dip in one of two swimming pools. Each room features a minibar and a gourmet coffee machine.
- – The Morgan at San Simeon can be found on Hearst Drive and is a boutique hotel, ideal for couples. All the must-visit attractions in San Simeon are close by and the staff are happy to help with travel plans. There is an outdoor swimming pool and sun terrace at The Morgan.