Where to Stay in Big Sur

SD › Best Places to Stay in Big Sur
Updated: November 18, 2022
By Santorini Dave

Our Favorite Hotels

• 5-Star Hotel: Ventana Big Sur
• Midrange Hotel: J Patrick House & Inn
• Cheap Hotel: Quality Inn near Hearst Castle
• Boutique Hotel: El Colibri Hotel & Spa
• Family Hotel: Carmel Valley Ranch
• Best Camping: Limekiln State Park Campground
• Best Glamping: Treebones Resort

Coastal view from Bixby Creek Bridge at the north end of Big Sur.

The iconic view from the Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1 at the northern end of Big Sur.

Best Areas to Stay in Big Sur

Big Sur is known for its spectacular, undeveloped coastline, dense redwood forests, and rich marine life from sea lion colonies to sea otters. Though it’s not an official region, Big Sur is the de facto name for the sensational 90 miles of Californian Pacific coast between San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle, and Carmel on the Monterey Peninsula. Thinly populated and hemmed in by the rugged Santa Lucia Mountain Range, the coastline is accessed by just one, awe-inspiring, road – Hwy-1, completed in 1937. The region is often affected by wildfires – some parks are still recovering from the devastating Soberanes Fire of 2016.

There is a smattering of intriguing places to stay in Big Sur. Accommodation options primarily include cabins, historic motels, campgrounds, and high-end resorts – beds are limited, so always book in advance.

Big Sur Village lies at the heart of the region and offers good access to the most famous state parks, while neighboring Loma Vista and Posts provide similar services. The wild and remote southern section of Big Sur has few places to stay or services, with the tiny community of Gorda the one exception. This survey also includes San Simeon at the far southern end of Big Sur, primarily famous for being the gateway to Hearst Castle, and also Cambria, a seaside resort with a huge range of accommodations.

• Note that forest fires and landslides often close Hwy-1 for weeks at a time. In 2021 the road was closed for several months for 44.6 miles from Ragged Point to just south of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn after heavy rains washed away a portion of the highway.

The Best Places to Stay in Big Sur

Luxury hotel on Big Sur.

The Ragged Point Inn & Resort in Southern Big Sur.

Best Areas in Big Sur for…

View of the Milky Way over t

Big Sur is the best place on America’s west coast for stargazing. The Milky Way, seen here, is most visible between the small community, Posts, and Point Piedras Blancas near San Simeon.

  • Best Place to Stay for First Timers: Big Sur Village
    The central section of Big Sur around Big Sur Village is the most enticing for first-time visitors with a few services (including a couple of gas stations) and a small but varied range of atmospheric hotels, cabins, and campgrounds. It’s also close to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the region’s best hiking hub, and Pfeiffer Beach, one of its most accessible and scenic stretches of sand. There are decent places to eat here, too, and it’s only a short drive to Nepenthe, the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and the Esalen Institute.
  • Most Romantic Neighborhood: Posts
    The whole Big Sur region makes for a romantic getaway, with long stretches of unspoiled, rugged coastline, trails through the forests, and isolated beaches. But for some extra-special couples’ pampering, it’s hard to beat the two high-end resorts in the Posts neighborhood. Ventana Big Sur boasts two outdoor swimming pools, Japanese baths for two, in-room dining, spa treatments, and excellent restaurants. Post Ranch Inn offers spectacular views, two heated infinity spa pools right on the cliffs, a heated swimming pool, and a bevy of couples’ spa treatments.
  • Best Place for Food and Restaurants: Cambria and Carmel
    Big Sur is really an outdoorsy destination, not generally a foodie hotspot – if eating out is a priority it’s best to be based in Carmel at the northern end of the region or in Cambria at the southern end. In Cambria we like the Sea Chest Oyster Bar right on the oceanfront, Cambria Coffee Roasting Company for breakfast, Black Hand Cellars for wine tasting, Madeline’s for fine dining, Boni’s Tacos for authentic Mexican food, and the Hidden Kitchen for organic and veggie options. Carmel is a bonafide foodie town with fine dining, steakhouses, fresh seafood, and a swathe of gourmet and casual restaurants serving a wide range of international cuisines. Check out Michelin-starred Aubergine, the signature restaurant of L’Auberge Carmel, for a daily-changing tasting manu with sumptuous wine pairings – ideal for special occasions. Other standouts include La Bicyclette (rustic French-Italian), Cultura Comida y Bebida (Oaxacan roots with Californian ingredients), Toro (traditional sushi and an extensive sake menu), Dametra Cafe (hearty Mid-East Mediterranean), and L’Escargot (local favorite for casual, French fine dining). Albatross Ridge Tasting Room, De Tierra Vineyards, Starlight Rooftop Lounge, A.W. Shucks Cocktail & Oyster Bar, Brophy’s Tavern, and Alvarado Street Brewery & Bistro are top spots for drinks in town. Start your day off right at The Little Swiss Café, Rise + Roam, Cafe Luna, and Dutch Door Donuts.
  • Kirk Creek Campground in Los Padres National Forest at the south end of Big Sur

    Remote and rustic Kirk Creek Campground between the towns of Lucia and Gorda is one of the best campsites in southern Big Sur.

  • Best Place for Cabins and Camping: Big Sur Village and Southern Big Sur
    The rustic cabins and campgrounds in and around Big Sur Village are surrounded by redwood and pine forests, babbling creeks, and undeveloped mountain parks but also have the advantage of being close to a clutch of restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and the main visitor center at Big Sur Station. For the best deals, it’s hard to beat Riverside Campground & Cabins near Big Sur Village. On the other hand, the scattered options in Southern Big Sur offer a slighter wilder, quieter experience, with crystal-clear night skies, far fewer overnighters, and fewer services. Kirk Creek Campground offers phenomenal views and clean vault toilets, though there is no fresh water on-site and no cell service. The shaded Plaskett Creek Campground is right next to Sand Dollar Beach with flush toilets and drinking water. Limekiln State Park Campground is right inside the state park and offers showers and drinking water. Treebones Resort features dramatically sited yurts, overlooking the ocean.

The 6 Best Places in and Around Big Sur for Tourists

1. Northern Big Sur & Big Sur Village

Northern stretch of coastline in Big Sur near Bixby Creek Bridge

Big Sur’s main communities and service areas lie in the center of the region, with Big Sur Village, just north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, straggling for around a mile along Hwy-1 and the Big Sur River. The area features a good range of accommodation, as well as two gas stations and the Big Sur River Inn General Store (home to the Burrito Bar). Other places to eat include Village Big Sur, which also has a yoga studio and art gallery, Big Sur Roadhouse, and Fernwood Tavern. There’s a visitor center at Big Sur Station (daily 9am–4pm; Phone: +1 831 667 2315), also the western terminus of the Pine Ridge Trail that cuts through the Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest. Highlights within easy reach include Andrew Molera State Park, with miles of trails and a protected stretch of rocky shore, and the region’s most popular attraction, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It features swimming in river pools, hikes on miles of forest trails, and the 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls – plus Pfeiffer Beach is nearby. Sparsely populated northern Big Sur includes scenic Point Sur Lighthouse, photogenic Bixby Creek Bridge, and Garrapata State Park, just seven miles south of Carmel.

2. Loma Vista & Posts

McWay Falls in Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park south of Posts in Big Sur, California

Just south of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, 3.5 miles from Big Sur Village, another small collection of services marks the adjacent Loma Vista and Posts communities. Along a mile or so of Hwy-1 is the region’s post office, a handful of art galleries, Big Sur Deli, the Big Sur Bakery, and several other restaurants: Big Sur Smokehouse, Big Sur Taphouse, and historic Nepenthe. The Nepenthe complex also comprises cheaper outdoor terrace Café Kevah and the Phoenix gift shop and bookstore. Other attractions include the Henry Miller Memorial Library, commemorating the irascible author who lived nearby from 1944 to 1963 and wrote about it in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Seven miles south of Posts is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, best known for hiking trails to spectacular McWay Falls, which tumbles photogenically onto the beach of McWay Cove. The park also encompasses secluded Partington Cove, a rocky beach accessible through a rock-hewn tunnel built in the 1880s.

3. Southern Big Sur

Limekiln Falls in the southern section of Big Sur, California

The long, lonely section of Hwy-1 slicing through southern Big Sur is sparsely populated and only features a handful of campgrounds and places to stay. Three miles south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park lies the tiny community of Slates Hot Springs, best known for the Esalen Institute. Once known as a Bohemian and hippie hangout, the institute offers posh massage treatments and yoga workshops today, though the Esalen Hot Springs are available to non-guests. Another 12 miles south is Limekiln State Park Campground, named after the hundred-year-old kilns that still stand here and known for pretty Limekiln Falls, deep in the forest. Further south is Sand Dollar Beach, the longest stretch of (gravelly) beach in Big Sur (Plaskett Creek Campground is nearby). Four miles south is the tiny community of Gorda, where there’s a gas station, deli, and Whale Watchers Café. From here it’s 12 miles to Ragged Point, past the Salmon Creek Falls. The restaurant at Ragged Point Inn is the last major snack stop before San Simeon.

4. San Simeon

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse and the fog signal building in the San Simeon area of Big Sur, California

The small community of San Simeon developed around the old fishing pier, once used to unload treasures for Hearst Castle (by far the region’s biggest attraction). San Simeon was once a whaling and shipping harbor, but today it’s a quiet little village. The circa-1852 Sebastian’s General Store & Café is now home to the Hearst Ranch Winery, while at William Hearst Memorial State Beach, the Coastal Discovery Center features interactive exhibits charting the history of San Simeon and the offshore Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Around five miles north lies the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, where huge elephant seals can usually be spied basking on the sand. San Simeon accommodation is all clustered along Hwy-1 south of Pico Creek, three miles south of the old harbor and the pier. Accommodation here tends to be cheap, old-school motels.

5. Cambria

Winding boardwalk behind Moonstone Beach in Cambria, Big Sur, California

Eight miles south of San Simeon, Cambria is a popular seaside resort, with the largest choice of accommodation between here and Carmel. Hotels are crammed along Hwy-1 facing Moonstone Beach, with another cluster a little inland in the “Main Village”, up the wooded Santa Rosa Creek valley. Other than the beach itself and its proximity to Big Sur, the only real attraction in Cambria is the whimsical Nit Wit Ridge, a wacky home constructed over 50 years by Art Beal, who only used recycled materials, from old toilet seats to discarded water pipes. Hotels in Cambria tend to be more upscale than in nearby San Simeon. It’s possible to use Cambria as a base to explore southern Big Sur, though it’s 72 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

6. Carmel-by-the Sea and Carmel Highlands

Stunning Bluefish Cove in Point Lobos State Park near Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea (usually shortened to Carmel) marks the northernmost point of the Big Sur region. Founded by artists and literati at the turn of the 20th century, the city offers an eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, and theaters, along with 18th-century Spanish missions, delightfully off-kilter fairytale cottages, and the craggy stones of Tor House and Hawk Tower, whose poet/builder took great inspiration from the rugged surrounding landscape. Carmel’s stunning coastline is a mix of sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings teeming with wildlife on land and sea. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, often called the “crown jewel of the State Park System,” offers miles of hiking trails, world-class scuba diving, and a 19th-century Whalers Cabin, originally established by shipwrecked Chinese sailors, now restored and operating as a museum. Just south of Point Lobos, Carmel Highlands is home to some of the most expensive real estate in America, where many celebrities and elites keep vacation homes nestled on the clifftops overlooking wild shores. Carmel makes an ideal base for exploring Big Sur’s most dramatic landscapes by day with evenings spent in picturesque lanes with top-notch dining, festivities, and cultural touchstones at your fingertips.

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About Santorini Dave

Santorini Dave Author Bio. Santorini Dave was started in 2011 by a guy who loved Greece, travel, and great hotels. We're now a small team of writers and researchers on a mission to deliver the most helpful travel content on the internet. We specialize in Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Greece and recommend the best hotels, best neighborhoods, and best family hotels in top destinations around the world. We also make hotel maps and travel videos. I can be contacted at dave@santorinidave.com.