Camping Under the Stars in Big Sur
Big Sur is a hidden gem along the California coast just a few hours' drive from San Francisco and Los Angeles, yet full of uninterrupted nature and beaches. There are so many wonderful hikes to take in the area, along with lots of restaurants and bars with live music right on the water. One of my favorite ways to enjoy Big Sur is by camping up in the mountains, but there are certainly many lodging options, from small inns to luxury spa resorts.
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Where to stay
Post Ranch Inn
This is bucket-list Big Sur: Chic clifftop cottages in a spectacularly romantic setting overlooking the Pacific.
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Daily full breakfast, for two guests per bedroom
$100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit utilized during stay
Alila Ventana Big Sur
Just off the PCH, this newly all-inclusive and ever-romantic getaway is spread over 160 secluded acres.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Full breakfast daily for two guests per bedroom, served in the hotel restaurant.
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Day 1: Set Up Camp & Marvel at the Stars
Get to Big Sur
Drive (in your 4-wheel drive car, very important!) to Big Sur from San Francisco or Los Angeles. If you are flying from afar, the closest airport is Monterey Regional (MRY,) a mere 25 miles away. Other options are San Jose (SJC,) San Luis Obispo County (SBP) or San Francisco (SFO,) though I'd recommend SFO for convenience of car rental/flight options.
Once you get your car and camping gear (or hotel reservation details, the choice is yours!) you'll head straight to Pfiefer Park. Pfiefer Park is full of beginner, intermediate and advanced hiking trails, though primarily beginner/intermediate with a focus on views and nature fun. Your first stop should be Pfeiffer Falls, which you can find by following the trail to the left of the lodge (go to the lodge, cross the road beside it, note the wooden signs.) Next, head over to the Gorge swimming hole to relax a bit, eat some snacks (or have a full on BBQ as some people do) and splash around in the beautiful water.
Set Up Camp
Try to leave Pfeiffer Park by 4:00 PM so that you can make the 1 hour drive to Plaskett Ridge Road campgrounds. Even if you plan on staying at a hotel, I highly recommend you visit the campgrounds and have dinner under the stars! You'll see the campground entrance on the left, drive about 50 feet past this entrance gate and turn onto the first dirt road on your left. You'll be able to drive (slowly) up the mountain until you find the perfect spot to pull off and climb up with your camping/dinner gear. Don't be afraid to drive up higher in the mountains, you'll be rewarded with an amazing view of both the forests and the Pacific Ocean! Once you finish dinner, either pack up and head to your hotel or set up camp for the night.
Day 2: Exploring Nature
First, we're going to see some elephant seals at Ragged Point. Park by the seals and take your time watching them flop around the beach. After you've had your fill, walk a bit north along the water to follow the Boucher Trail, a short trail that takes you to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, wildflowers and wildlife.
A Secret Waterfall
Getting to this hike requires a bit of exploration, but it's so incredibly worth it. To begin your treasure hunt, you'll want to find the pullout along Highway 1 that is 3.6 miles North of Ragged Point (or 45 miles south of Pfeiffer State Park entrance if you're driving from there.) From the pullout, cross over to the inland side of the road and follow the signs for Salmon Creek Trail until you find a tunnel with some graffiti on it. Once you find this, a chain of rock-lined pools lead up to shallow falls. Continue along the path and you'll find a beautiful 120-foot waterfall and swimming hole. This pathway will require a bit of boulder hopping, but nothing we couldn't handle as recreational hikers.
Dinner & Relax
After a long, busy day, cook or find a casual restaurant and have a nice sunset dinner before settling in with a good book and getting a good night's rest.
Day 3: Beach Day
Pack up camp or check out of your hotel and hit the road. If you feel so inclined, wake up early for the sunrise — it's quite beautiful over the water. Then head out to Sand Dollar Beach for a picnic or try looking for Jade in the sand. You can also go surfing or fishing. There are lots of fun shells and other beautiful stones to be found in the sand.
Drive back to the airport/home and relax — then look at your photos from the weekend and start thinking about your next trip to Big Sur.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspo? Check out my guide The Best of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Exploring Healdsburg, California Wine Country's Best Kept Secret.
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