18 Romantic Things To Do In Big Sur

Big Sur is one of my favorite weekend trips from the Bay Area, and when you make your way through here with someone special, you’ll totally understand why. The rugged coastline and pristine turquoise waters make this region one of the most romantic places ever!

If you love sharing experiences in nature with that someone special, Big Sur is a great place to visit.

Enjoy tons of hidden beaches, unforgettable views at all the vista points along the iconic Highway 1 drive, and hikes through redwood forests and ancient trees.

There’s seriously so much you can see and do here such as enjoying Bixby Creek Bridge, McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Keyhole Arch Rock at Pfeiffer Beach (an unmissable sunset spot).

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, anniversary trip, or just a weekend road trip through Big Sur, there are plenty of romantic things to do in Big Sur!

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Where Is Big Sur In California?

Big Sur cannot be boiled down or defined by a single town, state park, or national park. It’s an unincorporated area that makes up the coast, spanning roughly 70 miles from north to south.

This incredible stretch of California coastline is known for its rugged cliffs, lush forests, and incredibly clear blue waters.

All along the iconic Highway 1, you’ll find numerous state parks, natural preserves, beaches, waterfalls, and hiking trails worth visiting.

The drive will consist of twists, turns, and winds along a two-lane road. You’ll find no streetlamps and likely no cellular service during most of the drive. But that’s half the fun–you’re completely immersed in a world of scenic forests and rugged coastline. Welcome to the majestic Big Sur.

After the early morning fog burns off, a diverse environment of redwoods, canyons, and oceanside cliffs will reveal itself, beckoning to be explored! Seriously, there’s a wealth of things to do in Big Sur for outdoor enthusiasts and tourists alike.

Need a rental car for your trip? To find cheap rental cars, I recommend using Rentalcars.com. Their search tool is one of the best I’ve found!

Big Sur Travel Logistics

Nearest Cities: Monterey and Carmel to the north (40-minute drive), San Simeon and Cambria to the south (1.5 hour drive)
Closest International Airports: San Jose International Airport (SJC) – 1.5 hour drive | Oakland International Airport (OAK) – 2 hour drive | San Francisco (SFO) – 2.5 hour drive
Best Time to Visit: April through October, early fall is best
How to Get Around: By car
Most Photographed Areas: McWay Falls, Bixby Bridge, Keyhole Rock at Pfeiffer Beach

👉 BEFORE YOUR TRIP: Always check for highway road closures before your trip. Due to its rugged coastal terrain, Big Sur has experienced multiple instances over the years where sections of the road have completely broken off and slid down the hillsides. Stay informed and avoid unexpected delays or detours by checking for the latest info!

18 Romantic Things To Do In Big Sur, California

Big Sur is one of the most romantic destinations in California, and it offers a wide range of activities for couples looking for a romantic getaway. Here are some of the top romantic activities you can do in Big Sur.

Take a Scenic Drive On Highway 1 and Stop For Views

Big Sur Road Trip - 32 Best Things To Do Monterey CA - TravelsWithElle

One of the most romantic things you can do in Big Sur is to take a scenic drive on Highway 1. The drive offers breathtaking views of the rugged coastline — you and your partner won’t be able to get enough of it!

This drive is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, and for good reason. With its winding roads, breathtaking ocean views, and towering cliffs, the drive is an unforgettable experience for couples looking to spend some quality time together.

As you drive along Highway 1, you’ll be treated to epic views of the coastline, including the iconic Bixby Bridge, which offers a perfect spot to stop and take in the view. The bridge is a popular spot for couples to snap some romantic photos against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to the Bixby Bridge, there are many other pull-out and stopping points along the drive that offer incredible views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape. You can take your time and stop at any point along the way to enjoy the view, take a walk on the beach, or even have a picnic on the side of the road.

Be sure to bring a camera to capture all the special moments you’ll share with your partner!

Stroll Through The Charming Town Of Carmel

Carmel By The Sea - Travels With Elle

Most people “officially” begin their Big Sur road trip in Carmel, CA.

Carmel is one of the cutest little towns I’ve laid eyes on–it’s a quaint and romantic seaside village with a great selection of shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. You will not be able to resist the charm that the town of Carmel carries, evident the minute you step out of your car.

Carmel is a great town to grab a bite to eat and go wine tasting. If you want to stay the night here, it’s a great place to unwind and relax, though the B&B lodging options here might be pricier than in neighboring cities like Monterey.

From here, you’ll begin to enter Big Sur territory, where the seaside views from the highway really get impressive.

And if you’re visiting in winter, don’t miss the chance to go whale-watching in the area, this is the place to do it!

Stroll Through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos Natural Reserve - 32 Best Things To Do Monterey CA - TravelsWithElle

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is the first, all-nature stop on your Big Sur road trip. In this reserve, you will find a few hiking trails, hidden beaches, and many viewpoints to keep you busy for 1-2 hours.

There are a ton of walks and trails to choose from, and most of them are relatively easy and can be done without breaking too much of a sweat!

While the entire reserve is beautiful and worth exploring, don’t miss China Cove and Bird Island Lookout (on the south end of the park). Here, you’ll find coves filled with some of the clearest waters in all of Big Sur.

If you’re looking for a short hike here, I’d recommend the South Plateau Trail to Bird Island hike. This hike is only 1.6 miles long.

Point Lobos Natural Reserve - Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary

All year round, you’ll be able to hear and see harbor seals and sea lions hanging out. If bird-watching is your thing, you’re in luck! Point Lobos is home to hundreds of seabirds in the spring and summer, and you’ll especially see them on the Bird Island Trail.

Have A Spa Day at Ventana Inn or Post Ranch Inn

Alila Ventana Big Sur
Alila Ventana Big Sur | Booking.com

While Big Sur is iconically known for its breathtaking natural beauty, it’s also a great destination for couples looking to relax and rejuvenate. Nature and luxury are starting to go hand-in-hand these days.

One of the most romantic things to do in Big Sur is to have a spa day at one of the luxury hotels in the area — like Alila Ventana Big Sue or Post Ranch Inn.

Both of these bucket list-worthy resorts offer world-class spa services in a secluded natural setting, making them the perfect place to unwind and connect with your partner.

If you’re looking for a romantic spa experience, try to book an overnight stay at one of these hotels so you can enjoy the spa and sink right into bed after! Both spas offer a wide range of treatments, including massages, facials, and body treatments.

In addition to the spa services, both Ventana Inn and Post Ranch Inn offer a range of other romantic activities for couples, such as private yoga classes, guided hikes, and stargazing sessions. You can also enjoy a romantic dinner at one of the resorts’ award-winning restaurants, which offer locally sourced and seasonal cuisine in a beautiful setting.

Visit The Point Sur Lighthouse

Perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the historic Point Sur Lighthouse is a must-visit destination for couples looking for a romantic and memorable experience.

The Point Sur Lighthouse was built in 1889 and has been guiding ships along the rugged California coast for over a century. Today, it stands as a testament to the region’s rich maritime history and offers visitors a glimpse into what life was like for lighthouse keepers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The lighthouse is open for tours on weekends and holidays, and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline.

To make your visit even more romantic, consider packing a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds of the lighthouse. There are several picnic tables located near the parking lot, and you can also bring a blanket and find a secluded spot to enjoy some quiet time with your partner.

Alternatively, you can plan your visit for sunset, when the sky turns shades of pink and orange and the lighthouse takes on a magical glow!

See Bixby Bridge and Creek

bixby bridge big sur CA

Bixby Bridge is one of the most romantic landmarks in Big Sur. The bridge offers breathtaking views of the coastline, while the creek offers a peaceful and romantic setting.

Since it was completed in 1932, it has become an iconic symbol of the Big Sur coastline. There are two viewpoints on either side of the bridge, so if you’re looking for the perfect shot, I recommend stopping on the coastal side of the bridge first (heading south, this parking lot will be on your right).

To get views from inland, you can easily cross the street to get to the other side or continue driving south a bit to get to the other parking area.

The bridge is open to traffic, but there are several pullouts where you can park and take in the view.

Have Lunch With A View At Nepenthe

Nepenthe Big Sur

Nepenthe is a classic spot to eat when you’re aiming for a more romantic trip to Big Sur. This restaurant is perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and offers breathtaking views of the coast.

Nepenthe has been a Big Sur landmark since it opened in 1949, and its unbeatable location and unique architecture make it a must-visit destination for couples looking for a romantic meal! The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, with both menus featuring a range of dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

To make your lunch even that much better, consider requesting a table on the outdoor terrace, which offers front-row-seat views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape! You can also order a bottle of wine from Nepenthe’s extensive wine list and toast to your love while taking in the views.

Pro Tip: In addition to lunch, Nepenthe is also a great place to stop for a drink or a snack while exploring Big Sur. The restaurant’s Phoenix Shop offers a range of unique gifts and souvenirs, and the outdoor patio is the perfect spot to relax and take in the view.

Have A Romantic Dinner At The Post Ranch Inn

The Post Ranch Inn is one of the most romantic hotels in Big Sur, and it offers some of the best dining experiences in the Big Sur area.

This luxury resort is known for its world-class cuisine, which is made with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant offers a range of dishes, including fresh seafood, organic vegetables, and artisanal cheeses, all of which are expertly prepared by talented chefs. The restaurant’s wine list is equally impressive, featuring a range of wines from California and around the world.

Be sure to make a reservation if you plan to have a meal at the hotel’s restaurant!

See McWay Falls

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - Best Camping Northern California

McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of California!

You’ve probably seen this iconic fall before — the 80-foot waterfall cascading right onto the secluded beach, flowing into the most turquoise blue water you’ll ever see. This waterfall is absolutely jaw-dropping!

The combination of coastal flora, rocky cliffs, turquoise waters, and the waterfall makes for a gorgeous photo-op.

It’s important to note that you can’t walk down to the beach, but you can see it from above. It only takes about 5-10 minutes to get to the viewpoint from the parking lot. It’s really quite an effortless walk!

You will see plenty of signage for Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP and there will be a large parking lot. There is a self-pay station for parking at the entrance of the parking lot, but if you’ve already stopped at one of the previous state parks along Highway 1, there is no need to pay again.

Pro Tip: Visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP in the early morning or late afternoon for the best lighting. If you go during the afternoon when the sun is shining directly on the waterfall (which we’ve totally done before), it will be cast in shadows and will be difficult to see, and you won’t get good photos. Trust us, we have many terrible photos as proof!

Hike To The Secluded Partington Cove

Partington Cove is one of the most secluded coves in Big Sur, so naturally, it offers a truly romantic setting for couples!

This hidden gem is tucked away in a rugged canyon and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding landscape.

Partington Cove is located about a mile south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and can be accessed by a short but steep hiking trail. (1-mile round trip, 250 feet of elevation total)

It takes you through a 60-foot tunnel to an immaculate cove with a single bench you can sit on at the end and incredible views! To make your hike even more romantic, consider packing a nice little picnic lunch/dinner to enjoy at the cove.

Need help finding the cove? You can pull up “Partington Cove” in Google Maps. When you reach the turnout, you will see a closed gate and a steep dirt road down to the water and forest below. This is the path you will take to the cove!

Go Wine Tasting In The Area

Big Sur is home to some of the best wineries in California. Be sure to visit some of the wine-tasting rooms in the area for a real California-style wine tasting experience. Here are some of the top wineries to visit in Big Sur:

  1. Folktale Winery: This winery is located in northern Carmel Valley and offers a range of wines made with locally sourced grapes. The winery’s tasting room is open daily and offers a charming and rustic atmosphere, complete with a fireplace and outdoor seating.
  2. Bernardus Winery: This winery is located a bit inland from Big Sur in the Carmel Valley and offers a range of award-winning wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery’s tasting room is open daily and offers a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
  3. Wrath Wines – Carmel Tasting Room: While the winery is located in the Santa Lucia Highlands, they also have a tasting room in Carmel.
  4. Scheid Vineyards: This winery is located in Greenfield, but there’s also a tasting room in Carmel, which is open daily and offers a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, perfect for a romantic afternoon of wine tasting!

Hike at Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park - Big Sur Itinerary Guide - Travels With Elle

Andrew Molera State Park is the largest state park on the Big Sur coastline, which makes it the best option for day hiking and exploring. Here, you’ll find miles and miles of hiking trails that will take you through a varied terrain of forested redwoods, coastal bluffs, creeks, and sandy beaches.

Two beaches, reached by easy walks of approximately 1 mile each, are the park’s most popular destinations. Getting to the secluded beach includes a river crossing, which is a ton of fun (but be prepared with water shoes or a lightweight towel to dry off your feet if you’re heading in with just hiking boots).

If you’re looking to get a formal hike into your Big Sur itinerary, my favorite hike in all of Big Sur is The Ridge, Panorama, and Bluffs Loop, which clocks in at 7.5 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain. This hike will take you a few hours to complete and is quite a workout, but it’s simply too enjoyable to skip if you like to hike (I’ve done this hike twice!).

This loop hike climbs a ridge that offers outstanding views of the Big Sur Valley and the Pacific ocean, then drops through chaparral to the coastal bluffs and two small beaches. You’ll get a taste of every type of coastal terrain while you’re here!

Horseback tours are also offered, which will take you onto the Bobcat and Creamery Meadow Trails.

Pro Tip: If you want to add the 7.5-mile hike to your itinerary, you’re probably going to need to stay in the area overnight to fit in all the other romantic sights you have yet to see!

Catch The Sunset At Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole Rock - Big Sur Weekend Itinerary

Pfeiffer Beach has got to be on my list of top 3 unmissable experiences along the Big Sur coastline. This beach is not only home to the purple sand, but also to one of the best sunset viewpoints in all of California.

The Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock is the main event here and is often considered the most-photographed attraction in Big Sur after Bixby Bridge. Hands down, the absolute best time to see the rock is at sunset when the sun shines brightly through the keyhole, creating an unforgettable photo op.

At low tide, you can also walk towards Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock to explore the surrounding tide pools! We love lingering here whenever we can to enjoy the golden hour lighting and the sounds of crashing waves…

Pfieffer Beach is accessible by a one-lane road and is a must-visit in my book. If you’re sold on the idea of visiting, then pay attention because getting there can be confusing!

Directions: After you pass the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the Big Sur Lodge, there will be a hairpin turn on the right that is hidden by trees. There are no signs that tell you what the turnoff leads to, but it will take you onto Sycamore Canyon Road down to Pfeiffer Beach. If you keep your eyes out for a yellow “Narrow Road” sign, make the turn once you see it.

It’ll be a long road down to the beach, but you’ll reach the parking lot in no time. After paying for parking, you walk through a densely covered area of trees before arriving at the opening to the beach.

Pro Tip: It costs $10 to park, but get there early because if the lot is full, you’ll have to wait for cars to exit before you’re able to park and head over to the beach. If you have the time and can swing it, definitely stay for the golden hour and sunset. Absolutely gorgeous lighting will light up the keyhole section of Keyhole Rock! Don’t forget to bring a football/frisbee, beach chair, camera, and snacks!

Visit Calla Lily Valley

calla lily valley big sur ca

Calla Lily Valley is such a unique spot, and not a lot of people know it exists! How often do you get to see an entire valley of blooming lilies? This area is only in bloom in the spring so if you’re heading to Big Sur from February to late-April (and even early May sometimes), you’re in luck!

Be prepared to witness a sea of Calla Lilies just naturally growing in a tiny valley with its own little creek!

If you are traveling to the Big Sur in the springtime, this is a neat little spot you do not want to miss.

How to get there: Parking is available along the dirt pullout at Gate 19 for Garrapata State Park, near mile-marker 63. Please note, signs are small and difficult to see. There is a small, almost hidden gate you’ll need to walk through. From there, take the right fork, heading north to the bluff overlooking the beach. Continue north and follow the trail down the stairs to Doud Creek, where the Calla Lilies bloom. Follow the trail through the valley out to the beach.

Take A Late Night Hot Springs Soak

Esalen Hot Springs Big Sur CA
Courtesy of Esalen.org

Available by online reservation only, you can experience the healing waters of the Esalen hot springs during their public night bathing from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. At the time of writing, the cost is $35 per person.

You must book the same day for the evening you wish to visit. Registration opens at 9am PST and can sell out quickly. Please note, the baths are on private property so registration is a must.

Visit Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach is the largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur. This crescent-shaped shoreline is considered to be one of the best surfing spots in Big Sur, and is also a hot spot for fishing.

The most popular activity, however, is beachcombing! Spend a few minutes hunting for washed-up sand dollars, it’s a lot of fun finding sand dollars in perfect condition!

Take a Tour Of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle San Simeon

Hearst Castle is one of the most iconic landmarks in California and is worth a visit if you’ve made it this far south in the Big Sur area.

San Simeon’s Hearst Castle is a very grand hilltop estate that was once owned by art collector and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It’s pretty random to think that there are castles in California, but Hearst Castle is just that! Today, Hearst Castle is now an accredited museum and a California State Park, displaying Hearst’s extensive art collection.

The Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours to choose from during your visit to San Simeon, CA.

First-timers will thoroughly enjoy the Grand Rooms Tour. If you’re looking to go deeper, you can take a tour through the cottages, kitchen and upstairs suites. There are other special tours that highlight the art and architecture of the property as well.

If live reenactments are your thing, don’t miss The Evening Tour, available only in fall and spring, where costumed docents recall the days when Howard Hughes, Buster Keaton and Greta Garbo wandered the castle!

Visit The Coastal Town Of Morro Bay

Morro Bay - San Francisco to Central California Road Trip

Morro Bay is a small, beachy town that offers so many cute activities. It’s a great place for beach/water activities, including sailing, kite-flying, surfing, and kayaking. At a distance, you’ll surely spot Morro Rock, a humongous rock formation jutting from the water.

Explore the energetic Embarcadero, filled with shops and art galleries, or spend a few hours dining at an oceanfront restaurant. If you don’t know what to order, just get seafood. Morro Bay is a fishing town, and the seafood is as fresh as can be!

If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, I urge you to hike around Montaña de Oro State Park. You can’t miss the Bluff Trail At Montaña de Oro State Park!

Read More: The Perfect San Francisco To San Luis Obispo Road Trip

Romantic Accommodations In Big Sur

If you’re planning a romantic getaway to Big Sur, finding the perfect accommodation is key. With a range of luxurious resorts, cozy cabins, and romantic campgrounds, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

There are three areas I recommend for staying for a Big Sur road trip: Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur.

Carmel and Monterey

Big Sur


  • Ventana Big Sur Resort – This hotel is the ultimate splurge in the Big Sur area. Situated on top of a mountain, you’ll be living in luxury as you get to enjoy the incredible ocean views from the comfort of your own room. The onsite restaurant has an outstanding deck with ocean views.
  • Treebones Resort – Treebones has amazingly unique accommodation options on their property. From yurts to autonomous tents to camping in a ‘human nest’, these glamping accommodations offer guests peace and solitude on the beautiful southern end of the Big Sur Coast.


  • Big Sur River Inn – Adjacent to the Big Sur River, this California hotel features an on-site restaurant and bar. Pfeiffer Day Use Beach is a 10-minute drive away. Free Wi-Fi is provided in all rooms.
  • Big Sur Lodge – Featuring a restaurant, a seasonal outdoor swimming pool as well as a bar, Big Sur Lodge is located in the heart of Big Sur nestled within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Most budget-friendly

No matter what type of accommodation you choose, Big Sur is the perfect destination for a romantic getaway. Whether you’re adventurers, nature lovers, photographers, or just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to relax and reconnect with your loved one in this coastal paradise!

And if you’re looking for a change of pace, the charming towns of Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and the vibrant city of San Francisco are just a short drive away beckoning to be explored!

Tips For Visiting Big Sur

Plan ahead. I highly suggest mapping out your Big Sur road trip in advance to ensure you’re seeing things in order so you don’t have to double back and waste gas or time.

A full-day drive-through can be enough time, but you’ll likely have to sacrifice a few off-the-beaten-path spots or activities (like doing longer hikes, having picnics on the beach, grabbing drinks at an oceanfront restaurant, etc.).

Before you embark on your trip, make sure you have a full tank of gas. Get gas before you leave the Carmel / Monterey area. There is only one other gas station in the town of Big Sur, but other than that, you’ll find nothing else until way further south.

Accommodations in the Big Sur area book up fast, especially in the summer and fall. I recommend you make hotel reservations as soon as possible.

Driving from north to south is easiest. First off, driving on the coastal side means you’ll get the best views possible! Second, most viewpoint turnouts are on the coastal side (which would mean a simple right turn if you’re driving south). If you drive north, you will have to make lots of lefts along a winding highway when you enter and exit the turnout.

There will be no cell phone service for almost all of the Big Sur drive. Highly recommend you print out a map of the stops you want to take, screenshot them on your phone, or save all locations on your Google Maps.

Keep a swimsuit, sweater, and rain jacket in the car. Usually, morning skies are blanketed by fog, but as the daylight burns it off, it can get hot to the point where you won’t need a jacket. Some spots will be extremely windy, other areas will be super hot (perfect for lounging at the beach!). Best to be prepared for it all!

Don’t rush this road trip, and stop at any of the turnouts whenever you want. Some of the best viewpoints were unmarked and had no other cars there. Take your time exploring and soaking in all the glory that is Big Sur.


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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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