The region of Big Sur stretches for about 60 miles along California’s rugged Central Coast, where ancient redwood trees reach for the sky, the road wiggles along the edge of the ocean, and from June to October, migrating whales can be spotted offshore. Though the area is best known for its million-dollar views of the Pacific coastline, there’s plenty to do on a small budget. Here are six things to do in Big Sur for under $20.
1. Go for a hike in one of the Big Sur state parks
One of the most photographed spots in Big Sur is McWay Falls, an 80-foot turquoise waterfall that tumbles off a cliff onto the sandy beach below. It’s found in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park -- one of the area’s many state parks -- where there are also 300-foot, 2,000-year-old redwood trees, and dozens of miles of hiking trails. Similar trails are available in nearby Limekiln State Park, which also boasts four old lime kilns, an accessible beach, and 100-foot Limekiln Falls. The state park fee is $10 per car (or you can enter on foot for free), and the pass is good all day at any state park. With hundreds of thousands of acres of state parks, nature reserves, and dedicated wilderness in Big Sur, there’s plenty of space for hiking.
2. Check out the events at Henry Miller Memorial Library
Located in the house where Henry Miller lived for 18 years, the Henry Miller Memorial Library is part memorial and archive, part bookshop and cafe, and an event space and community gathering spot. Stop by to browse the books, learn a bit about Henry Miller’s life in Big Sur, or check out one of the frequent events, which on any given day might be an open mic, lecture, book signing, or art show. There’s no fee to enter, though some events are ticketed.
3. Browse the art at the Hawthorn Gallery
Featuring works by owner Gregory Hawthorne and his family, as well as other artists, the Hawthorne Gallery is a Big Sur institution. Browse handmade jewelry, glass art, ceramics, paintings, or wander among the sculptures in the surrounding garden. Admission is free.
4. Drink a beer and dip your toes in the Big Sur River
The rustic, family-friendly Big Sur River Inn has been serving locals for 100 years and it remains popular as much for the hearty, homestyle food as for its location along the Big Sur River. On warm days, guests gather outside on the deck and on the lawn or grab one of the bent willow chairs in the river and dangle their feet in the cool water. On Sundays, they host a backyard BBQ with live music.
5. Tour the historic Point Sur Lighthouse
Though the Point Sur Lighthouse still guides ships, it’s now automated and the buildings once lived in by the lighthouse keeper and his family are now part of the Point Sur Historic State Park. Guided tours of the 1889 lighthouse and grounds are available on select dates -- there’s even a moonlit tour and a Halloween tour of the supposedly haunted site. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for kids and teens (children 5 and under are free). Tours cost $20 for adults, $10 for kids 6-17 years old.
6. See an epic sunset
With nearly a dozen beaches to choose from, you can’t go wrong in Big Sur. One of the most popular places to catch the sunset is Pfeiffer Beach, where a large rock arch just offshore makes for a postcard-worthy photo. Other popular spots for sundown include Sand Dollar Beach, the longest stretch of sandy shore in Big Sur; Andrew Molera State Park, which has a sheltered sandy beach; and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where you might spot whale, seals, sea otters, sea lions, and thousands of seabirds in the protected coves.