Rugged coastline, stunning natural scenery and jaw-dropping views of the ocean, Big Sur is a gem of a destination for outdoor adventurers and intrepid travellers.
But Big Sur is composed of a number of small towns, and picking the right one can be a challenge. That’s why we put together this no-stress guide for where to stay in Big Sur.
This article was written by travellers, for travellers. It lists the best neighborhoods and towns in Big Sur and breaks them down into easy to digest sections divided by interest.
So no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find the perfect town or neighbourhood for your vacation in beautiful Big Sur.
Let’s get into it. Here is our guide for where to stay in Big Sur, California.
Quick Tips – Where to Stay in Big Sur
- Where to stay in Big Sur first time – San Simeon
- Where to stay in Big Sur on a budget – King City
- Best area to stay in Big Sur for nightlife – Carmel-By-The-Sea
- Coolest place to stay in Big Sur – Monterey
- Best neighbourhood in Big Sur for families – Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
In a hurry? Here’s my top neighborhood for first timers:
- Wander the grounds of Hearst Castle and take a dip in Neptune Pool
- Sip a glass of delicious wine at Heart Ranch Winery
- Dine on fresh and delicious seafood at Manta Rey Restaurant
Table of Contents
- Where to Stay in Big Sur
- Big Sur Neighborhood Guide
- 5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Big Sur
- 1. San Simeon – Best Place to Stay in Big Sur for First-Timers
- 2. King City – Best Place to Stay in Big Sur on a Budget
- 3. Carmel-By-The-Sea – Best Place to Stay in Big Sur for Nightlife
- 4. Monterey – Coolest Neighborhood in Big Sur
- 5. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – Best Place to Stay in Big Sur for Families
Where to Stay in Big Sur
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Big Sur.
Best Hostel in Big Sur: HI Monterey
Located along California’s spectacular coast, HI Monterey is our choice for the best hostel in Big Sur. Close to Monterey’s top attractions and activities, this hostel is the perfect base for your time in Big Sur.
It has a large kitchen, a spacious common room, and comfortable guest rooms.
Best Hotel in Big Sur: Otter Inn Monterey
The Otter Inn Monterey is a stylish and modern three-star hotel. Ideally situated in Monterey, this hotel is a short walk from Cannery Row, great restaurants, cafes and more.
It is composed of 32 clean and spacious rooms, each equipped with contemporary amenities and comfortable beds.
Big Sur Neighborhood Guide
Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Big Sur
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Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
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Stretching more than 140 kilometres along California’s rugged central coast, Big Sur is a stunning region. It contains lush and extensive wilderness, pristine beaches, breathtaking views, and everything in between.
From Carmel and Monterey in the north to San Simeon in the south, the region of Big Sur is composed of a number of charming small towns, rustic resorts, and vivacious villages.
Monterey is one of the largest towns in Big Sur. Famous for its incredible ocean views and stunning natural terrain, Monterey is also home to a great selection of historic buildings, stunning beaches, great restaurants, and boutique shopping.
Travel south and you’ll arrive in Carmel-By-The-Sea. A playground for the rich and famous, Carmel-By-The-Sea is filled with art galleries, restaurants, resorts and beaches. It is where you’ll find a wide variety of bars and options for after dark fun.
Continue heading south and you’ll pass through Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on the way to San Simeon. A small town that packs a big punch, San Simeon is bursting with historical attractions and animal adventures.
Head inland and north and you’ll arrive in quaint King City. This off-the-beaten-path town is perfect for budget backpackers and travellers who want to enjoy Big Sur without going over budget.
Of course, camping in Big Sur is also an option!
Still not sure where to stay in Big Sur? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
5 Best Neighborhoods to Stay in Big Sur
Now let’s take a look, in more detail, at the five best neighbourhoods and towns to stay in Big Sur. Each is a little different than the last so be sure to pick the one that’s right for you.
San Simeon is a small town that sits mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the California coast. The southernmost town in Big Sur, it is known for its lush landscapes, jagged coastline and its magnificent views out over the Pacific Ocean.
One of the most popular things to do in San Simeon is to see the elephant seals. This rustic town is home to the world’s only elephant seal rookery. More than 23,000 elephant seals call this region home and can be viewed almost every day of the year.
Another top attraction is the palatial Hearst Castle. Composed for 165 rooms, this castle has more than 123 acres of manicured gardens and spectacular terraces, pools and walkways to explore.
Things to See and Do in San Simeon
– Wander the grounds of Hearst Castle and take a dip in Neptune Pool.
– See the Northern Elephant Seals lounging on the rocks at the Elephant Seal Rookery.
– Take a long walk along Moonstone Beach.
– Walk out to Piedras Blancas Light Station and enjoy sweeping views out over the ocean.
– Spend a day at Arroyo Laguna State Beach.
– View amazing landscapes and incredible views by hiking through San Simeon State Park.
– Sip a glass of delicious wine at Heart Ranch Winery.
– Satisfy your taste buds at Sebastian’s Café.
– Dine on fresh and delicious seafood at Manta Rey Restaurant.
Best Budget Accommodations in San Simeon: San Simeon Lodge
The San Simeon Lodge is your best choice for budget accommodations in San Simeon. A charming two-star motel, this lodge has a sauna, an outdoor swimming pool and a fitness centre.
Each room is equipped with cable/satellite channels, a refrigerator and modern amenities.
Best Hotel in San Simeon: Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
Boasting incredible ocean views, the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort if our recommendation for where to stay in San Simeon. This resort has a great selection of features, including an outdoor terrace and a wonderful in-house restaurant.
Enjoy spacious rooms, cable/satellite channels and free wifi throughout your stay.
Best Hotel in San Simeon: The Morgan Hotel San Simeon
Comfortable beds, an amazing staff and a fantastic location are just a few of the reasons we love this hotel. Located in San Simeon, the Morgan Hotel has a number of great wellness features, including a gym, an outdoor pool, and an on-site spa.
The rooms are spacious and well-equipped for a wonderful and relaxing stay.
Away from the coast is the quaint and rustic town of King City. Home to more than 14,000 people, King City is a relatively sleepy town packed with history and nature.
King City is an excellent jumping off point if you’re keen to explore expansive and verdant Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Enjoy a day of exploring the land and hiking through the forest by visiting this California treasure.
This small out-of-the-way town is also our recommendation for where to stay in Big Sur on a budget. Home to a number of small hotels and cheap motels, King City is ideal for cost-conscious travellers and backpackers meticulously counting their pennies.
Things to See and Do in King City
– Stretch your legs at San Lorenzo County Park by exploring the hiking trails or playing a game of horseshoes.
– Step back in time and explore the exhibits at the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum.
– Get back to nature at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
– Enjoy homemade American fare at The Cork & Plough.
– Dig your teeth into delicious tacos at Tacos La Poteranca DE Jalisco.
– Grab a quick and delicious bite at the Wildhorse Café
– Dine on delicious Mexican dishes in a relaxed atmosphere at Guadalajara Restaurant.
– Play a round of 18 at the King City Golf Course.
Best Budget Accommodations in King City: Super 8 by Wyndham King City
Travelling on a budget? The Super 8 by Wyndham King City is for you! This quaint two-star hotel is located at the centre of the city. It has spacious rooms, comfortable beds and large, clean bathrooms.
Guests can also enjoy the spa facilities as well as the gym and outdoor swimming pool.
Best Hotel in King City: Motel 6 King City
Clean rooms and a great location – the Motel 6 King City is a great home away from home in Big Sur. This pet-friendly hotel has laundry services, a sun deck and a lovely outdoor pool.
There’s also an on-site restaurant, perfect for enjoying a meal after a day of sightseeing.
Best Hotel in King City: Keefer’s Inn
Keefer’s Inn is our recommendation for where to stay in King City. Situated at the heart of the city, this motel is close to popular attractions. It has a fitness centre, an outdoor swimming pool, and a BBQ area for guests.
Composed of 47 rooms, Keefer’s Inn is a great base for your time in Big Sur.
Carmel-By-The-Sea is a tiny beachside city that is steeped in luxury. A haven for culture vultures, this charming town is home to a wealth of art galleries, museums and historical and cultural attractions.
It also boasts a number of eclectic and innovative restaurants, including Flying Fish Grill, Dametra Café and Portabella, making it the perfect destination for fearless foodies and travellers with a taste for seafood.
Carmel-By-The-Sea is our top pick for where to stay for nightlife in Big Sur. Although you won’t find all-night dance club and heaving bars here, Carmel-By-The-Sea is home to a good selection of wine bars, bistros and pubs, ideal relaxing for a night out.
Things to See and Do in Carmel-By-The-Sea
– Eat incredible seafood at Flying Fish Grill.
– Slurp oysters and enjoy drinks at A.W. Shucks.
– Spot whales and other wildlife as you hike through spectacular Point Lobos.
– Dine on fresh and delicious Mediterranean-style dishes at Dametra Café.
– Sample local wines at the Albatross Ridge Tasting Room.
– Wander along the Scenic Road Walkway.
– Sip signature cocktails at Sade’s Cocktails.
– Tease your taste buds at Portabella.
– Have a quiet drink at Jack London’s Grill & Taproom.
– Enjoy amazing views from the shores of Carmel River State Beach.
– See beautiful scenery at rocky and rugged Garrapata State Park.
Best Hostel in Carmel-By-The-Sea: Carmel River Inn
Located in Carmel-By-The-Sea, the Carmel River Inn is a charming and rustic two-star property in Big Sur. It has a number of health and wellness facilities including a stunning outdoor pool, tennis courts, a day spa and a BBQ area. Each room is well-equipped with a mini kitchen, a microwave and coffee/tea making appliances.
Best Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea: Carmel Mission Inn & Fuse Lounge Café
Out top pick for the where to stay in Carmel-By-The-Sea is the stunning Carmel Mission Inn & Fuse Lounge Café. Conveniently located in Big Sur, this fantastic three-star hotel has a heated pool and a Jacuzzi. Each room comes complete with a fridge, coffee and tea facilities, and a relaxing spa bath.
Best Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea: Carmel Bay View Inn
The Carmel Bay View Inn is a restful, relaxing and welcoming hotel. It is situated close to Carmel-By-The-Sea’s top attractions, lush parks and landscapes, and great shopping. This fantastic five-star hotel has an outdoor pool, amazing views and is incredibly comfortable. Guest can also enjoy hot and delicious breakfast each morning.
Monterey is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in California. It’s also our pick for the coolest town and neighbourhood in Big Sur. Located just north of Carmel-By-The-Sea, Monterey is packed with historic buildings, cultural attractions, and an incredible array of epic scenery.
Great shopping, delicious restaurants, hipster coffee shops, and stylish wine bars are just a few of the things that make Monterey one of the hottest destinations on the Pacific Coast.
Love to eat? Monterey is home to some of the best food in the region. You’ll find creative and experimental restaurants serving up fresh and delicious seafood dishes, as well as American fare, Mexican feasts and delicacies from around the world.
In short, Monterey is the embodiment of that quintessential California cool.
Things to See and Do in Monterey
– See your favourite sea creatures and mammals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
– Enjoy the sights of Monterey Bay.
– Hike the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail.
– Shop the stall and boutique on Cannery Row.
– Hunt for souvenirs on Fisherman’s Wharf – and spot a sleeping seal or two.
– Grab a pint at Cooper’s Pub & Restaurant.
– Tease your taste buds at Old Fisherman’s Grotto.
– Dine on delicious seafood at Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant.
– Indulge in amazing French fare at Bistro Moulin.
– Savour spicy tacos, burritos and more at La Bahia Mexican American Restaurant.
– Kickstart your day with a delicious breakfast at Old Monterey Café.
Best Hostel in Monterey: HI Monterey
Located along California’s spectacular coast, the HI Monterey is our recommendation for the best hostel in Monterey. Close to the area’s top attractions and activities, this hostel is the perfect base for your time in Big Sur. It has a large kitchen, a spacious common room, and comfortable guest rooms.
Best Hotel in Monterey: Hotel Abrego
The Hotel Abrego has large rooms, comfortable beds and spacious and luxurious bathrooms. With Monterey’s top attractions located nearby, you won’t find a better base for your time in Big Sur. This hotel has an outdoor pool, a fitness centre, and a relaxing outdoor terrace.
Best Hotel in Monterey: Otter Inn Monterey
The Otter inn Monterey is a stylish and modern three-star hotel. Ideally situated in Monterey, this hotel is a short walk from Cannery Row, great restaurants, cafes and bars. This hotel is composed of 32 clean and spacious rooms, each equipped with contemporary amenities and comfortable beds. Its no wonder this is our top choice for where to stay in Monterey.
Get back to nature and enjoy a breath of fresh air by staying in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This state park and nature reserve is located away from the Big Sur Coast just north of San Simeon.
It covers more than 1,006 acres of protected land and is home to rivers, waterfalls, and unforgettable natural sights.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is our top choice for where to stay for families visiting Big Sur as it’s packed with outdoor adventures kids of all ages will love. Whether you want to swim in the river or hike to the top of the mountain, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has it all!
Things to See and Do in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
– See the massive and ancient Redwood Forests.
– Hike to the exquisite Pfeiffer Falls.
– Spot local wildlife including deer, skunks, bobcats and birds.
– Visit nearby Pfeiffer Beach and watch the fiery sunset.
– Build a fire and enjoy a night of sleeping under the stars.
– Hike the Buzzard’s Roost and enjoy panoramic views of the ocean, Sycamore Canyon and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
– Take a refreshing and relaxing dip in Big Sur River Gorge.
– Enjoy an incredible meal at Sierra Mar restaurant, just a short drive outside of the park.
– Climb over rocks and around fallen trees on the family-friendly Gorge Hike.
Best Hostel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Riverside Campground & Cabins
Located in picturesque and lush Big Sur, this rustic resort is composed of 45 sites for tent RVs and 11 cabins along the majestic Big Sur River. It has hot showers, laundry facilities and clean bathrooms.
Each site has its own fire pit and picnic table, and nearby you can enjoy inner-tube rides down the river.
Best Hotel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Big Sur River Inn
This rustic retreat was inspired by its surroundings. Located near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, this two-star hotel has charming décor, comfortable beds, and wood panelled walls.
It has 20 modern rooms with terraces, relaxing chairs and great views of Big Sur’s lush nature. There’s also a delicious on-site restaurant and stylish lounge bar.
Best Hotel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: Big Sur Lodge
The Big Sur Lodge is our pick for where to stay in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This splendid three-star property is close to the area’s top tourist attractions. It has a spectacular pool and beautiful views.
The hotel’s rooms are spacious and come complete with kitchenettes. The hotel also provides babysitting services.
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Big Sur
Big Sur is one of the most majestic and magnificent regions in California. Spanning 140 kilometres on the central coast, Big Sur offers visitors a myriad of spectacular views and unforgettable vistas, as well as interesting history, rich culture, and mouthwatering restaurants.
In this post, we’ve highlighted the top five towns and neighbourhoods in Big Sur. If you’re still not sure which is right for you, here’s a quick recap of our favourites.
HI Monterey is our pick for the best hostel in Big Sur. In hip and trendy Monterey, this hostel is close to the city and the sea, as well as great restaurants and good shopping.
Another fantastic option is Otter Inn Monterey. Modern and stylish this three-star hotel has comfortable rooms, contemporary amenities and a fantastic central location.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
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