Big Sur: California's Wildest Coastline

Green hills and coastline next to water
Photo: Henrique Pinto [CC by 1.0]/Flickr

No trip along California's central coast feels complete without stopping at Big Sur. Big Sur is filled with nature reserves, beaches and a marine protected area off shore so visitors have an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Click through this gallery to see the sights, activities, and wildlife that you'll enjoy while visiting this beautiful and beloved stretch of California coastline.

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A calendar full of activities


In Big Sur, there is something happening every month of the year, whether it's wildflower blooms, elephant seal pupping, whale watching, Monarch butterfly migrations or simply the usual fun activities like hiking, camping and kayaking.

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Spectacular shorelines

Ed Coyle/Flickr.

Big Sur is known for the spectacular coastline, with views of rocky, wild cliffs and deep blue water tipped with white caps. Not only are the views of the shoreline enjoyed, but visitors can spot pods of whales offshore as several species, including gray whales and humpbacks, make their annual migrations.

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Marvelous mountains and lakes

Jeremy Raff-Reynolds/Flickr.

The ocean isn't the only water worth visiting in Big Sur. There are 237 miles of trails in the Ventana Wilderness of the Santa Lucia Mountains, along which hikers will find creeks and small lakes like this. There are even hot springs that are open to the public.

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Chill out by the creek

Chris Wesselman Photography/Flickr.

Creeks are a wonderful getaway in the Ventana Wilderness, so pull up a chair and stay awhile.

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Camp out


The fun doesn't end when the sun goes down. There are many options for camping in the Big Sur area, including tent camping, RV camping and backcountry camping.

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Luxury roughing it

LorE Denizen/Flickr.

If you aren't excited about camping, you can still hike all day and then enjoy the luxury of a cabin or inn. There are many options for those who want to sleep indoors after spending the day enjoying the outdoors.

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More than just hiking

Terry Morse/Flickr.

Hiking isn't the only activity available in the Big Sur area. Cycling, Kayaking, wildlife watching, campfire programs and more happen year round.

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Civilized wildlife


Wildlife abounds along the Big Sur coast, and many species, like this sea lion sunning on someone's boat, are perfectly at home among the visitors and locals.

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Hiking companions

Matt Anderson/Flickr.

Along the trails, you are likely to spot many common species including deer, bobcats and coyotes, rabbits and many bird species.

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Cute critters

Mike Baird/Flickr.

The mountains and shores of Big Sur are also home to several endangered species, including sea otters. You can find rafts of sea otters in kelp beds in the water, and keep an eye on the sky for California condors, which are making a comeback thanks to intense conservation efforts.

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Flourishing flora

Allie Caulfield/Flickr.

Along with wildlife, there is a great diversity of plant life to enjoy, especially in the spring and early summer when the wildflowers are at peak bloom.

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Plentiful photography possibilities

Ed Coyle/Flickr.

If there is one "must do" for Big Sur, it's bring a camera. The views are one of California's major bragging points and you won't want to miss an opportunity to take photographs.

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A different kind of beach

Allie Caulfield/Flickr.

Of course, a visit to one of the many small beaches is also a must. The beaches of Big Sur are not the wide stretches of soft sand as are found farther south. Instead, these require a short (or long) hike and are often cool or blanketed in fog. They are a place to wear warm clothing as you revel in the views and power of the crashing surf.

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Even for just a quick stop

Allie Caulfield/Flickr.

Whether driving through as part of a road trip, or staying for awhile to hike the backcountry, Big Sur has something to offer everyone who wants to be amazed by California's wild spaces, from ocean to mountains. Be sure to put Big Sur down on your "to-see" list.