Photo: Chase Dekker/Shutterstock

24 Hours in Big Sur

California Insider Guides
by Kate Aug 8, 2016


Let’s assume you arrive around noon, because it’s difficult to arrive in Big Sur early in the morning. Its isolation on California’s narrow, winding Highway One is part of its appeal.

You’re hungry from the drive. Head to Cafe Kevah, with its great views, for lunch. Needing a beer? The Big Sur Taphouse has a great patio, beer, and good sandwiches. For a quick bite or to pick up something to take with you, the Big Sur Deli satisfies.


Appropriately nourished, it’s time for the beach. Big Sur’s beaches are rugged, and it’s easy to find solitude. At Andrew Molera State Park the ocean is accessible via a mile long path. Pfeiffer Beach and Sand Dollar Beach, the longest beach along the Big Sur Coast, are local favorites.

After paying homage to the Pacific and dipping your feet in, get settled into where you’re going to spend the night. The Fernwood has camping and rustic cabins. For straight-up camping, Andrew Molera State Park is a bit less developed than other campgrounds, but mellow and beautiful. Julia Pfeiffer Burns is another great park with camping. If you’re feeling adventurous, head off with your backpack to spend the night at Sykes Hot Springs, amazing pools deep in the forest. While it’s possible to camp close to the springs, there are also camps before you reach the springs themselves, which are about ten miles in. Want to sleep in a bed? Head to historic Deetjen’s, which is not cheap, but is at least reasonable – accommodations in Big Sur can be quite pricy.


Despite, or perhaps because of, its isolation, there’s a lively music scene in Big Sur. The Fernwood has live music on Saturdays and occasionally other days as well. Many people stay over for the bigger events so it’s a relaxed vibe without worrying about driving too far. The Henry Miller Memorial Library also has music as well as other events in its lush garden. If your 24 hours includes a Sunday afternoon head to the Big Sur River Inn for music on their deck; they feature mostly jazz and related genres.

Most people visit Esalen, a retreat center on the bluffs above the ocean, for courses or extended stays. However, its hot tubs are open to the public from 1 to 3 a.m. The curative powers of these waters have been known and revered for over 6,000 years by the Esselen Indians and others. Make sure to make a reservation for the tubs so you aren’t disappointed!


Wake up, and take a few minutes to realize where you are. Spring out of bed or sleeping bag so you can continue to make the most of your 24 hours. For breakfast, head to Big Sur Bakery.

Next up is a hike on one of the many local trails. The mountains rise so steeply from the ocean here that on many hikes you can clearly see the curvature of the Earth as the Pacific spreads out before you. Stop often to take in the views and to savor the pristine air of isolation. If you don’t have much time, the spectacular McWay Waterfalls is only a little over half a mile hike. Right across the street is the trailhead for the Ewoldsen Trail, about 4.5 mile round trip. Other good choices are the trails at Limekiln State Park or Andrew Molera.

Feel sad to leave, and vow to return.

5 tips for 24 hours in Big Sur

  1. Make reservations for the Esalen hot tubs.
  2. Having a car makes things easier, though you can still get there by bus.
  3. If  you find you forgot some camping essential, the Big Sur Deli has some limited supplies.
  4. Bring some Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur to read while you’re here.
  5. Climb high enough so you can prove to yourself the Earth is round.

Matador articles for Big Sur trip planning

The 6 surf, trail, and camp spots you need to know in Big Sur

Getting around

Most people travel to Big Sur by car, and it is helpful to have your own transportation, especially if you’re limited to 24 hours.

However, it is possible to take Monterey-Salinas Transit Line 22 from Monterey, which has decent service.

If you have many more than 24 hours, consider riding down the coast. You’ll have company as the Canada to Mexico route is a popular one. But that’s a whole different type of trip…

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