central coast
Big Sur

Big Sur is famous its spectacular scenery, azure waves crashing on craggy rocks, groves of redwoods and clear rivers running to the sea. Plan to spend a day or more, get out of your car, take a hike in the redwoods, wriggle your toes in the sand, build a driftwood fort on the most beautiful beaches.

Big Sur is accessible by a single road, Highway 1. This two lane road are spectacular scenic viewpoints, but most are little more than a narrow turnout and too precipitous for little kids to get out and run around, going south from Big Sur.

Pfeiffer Beach - This is our favorite beach at Big Sur. It's a mile long protected cove with sandy beach, and rocks just offshore, where waves pour through openings in the rock and crash in mounds of white foam. Play and wade in the creek that flows into the beach, look for pelicans diving for food in the ocean, slide down the sand hills, bring a picnic, umbrellas and sand toys and return at sunset to watch the sun dip below the horizon.
Tip: This is a great beach, but don't wade or swim - the waves and currents are unpredictable.
It's a little difficult to find Pfeiffer Beach, as the exit is not marked from Highway 1. The turnoff (Sycamore Canyon Rd.) is 1/2 miles south from Big Sur Station (the ranger station). It's a paved, one lane road going west (no motor homes), two miles to the beach.
Andrew Molera State Park -
Picnic area - This is great stop to stop for lunch, picnic tables in the shade by the Big Sur River. In summer, when the water is low, there are footbridges over the river and kids can wade in the shallow creek.
Creamery Meadow Beach Trail - Hike to the beach on the Creamery Meadow Trail, it's a one mile, level trail (2 miles round trip). At the beach, kids will want to play in the driftwood forts on the beach (we saw five different forts, constructed from driftwood that's tossed up on the beach), or the sand bar where the river comes in (in summer when the water is low). The estuary is loaded with sea birds, bobbing in the calm waters amidst the seaweed. Tip: Watch out for poison oak, which does grow along the trail.
Cooper Cabin and Monarch Grove - Walk down the Trail Camp Beach Trail to see the Cooper Cabin, built in 1861, and the oldest building in Big Sur. Constructed of logs and hand-hewn redwood shingles, the silvery-gray cabin originally housed the ranch hands for the Cooper Ranch, which ran cattle and bred horses.
Around the cabin are eucalyptus trees, which are home to scads of monarch butterflies from late October through January. In the winter months, thousands of butterflies migrate to the central California coast, and the butterflies shelter together in the eucalyptus trees.
Horseback rides to the beach - Molera Horseback Tours offers horseback rides to the beach in the state park. Kids have to be 6 years and up for the rides (1 hour, 2 hours, sunset rides). Call 800.942.548 for reservations. (Corral is just before the entrance to the state park).
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great place to camp in Big Sur. Pitch your tent amongst the redwood groves or meadow areas along the river. In summer there are campfire programs and nature walks.
Nature Center - Stop into the charming little center with exhibits of local animals, such as foxes, raccoons, California quail, and owls. There are touch tables with a mountain lion pelt, a Native American metate, and slices of redwoods (this is great place to learn about coast redwoods.)
Nature Trail - Take the self-guided nature trail (less than a mile) through the redwoods, good for little kids.
Pfeiffer Falls Trail - Hike to a 60 ft waterfall on a trail that follows along the creek, with redwoods towering overhead and ferns under your feet, return on a new trail that goes over Redwood Creek. This hike is about a mile and half round trip on an easy trail (but not suitable for strollers, and if you have toddlers, gauge whether they can walk the whole distance).

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