Camping in Big Sur, California

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Ah, the great outdoors. It is my opinion that every Los Angeles resident be required to leave the smog filled air of the city and head to the woods at least once a year. How else will Los Angelenos know what the stars actually look like? Big Sur, California is on many top destination lists, and for good reason – every part of Big Sur is absolutely beautiful. The drive from Los Angeles is about five and half hours, but if you leave during the day, it’s not a boring drive. The scenery changes from LA’s mountains, to dry flat land, to desert-y dunes, to rocky cliffs with huge crashing waves along the Pacific Coast Highway reminiscent of scenes from England, to the lush forest filled with huge redwoods.

Everyone on the west coast should take a gander over to the Pacific Coast Highway – it’s a beautiful (though sometimes precarious) drive along the ocean. I hope to take the drive from LA up to where it ends in Leggett, CA at some point!

My friends and I camped at Ventana Campground in Big Sur, and we’ll be back again! The campsites were all almost completely different and the bathrooms were very clean. Unfortunately, showers are paid with purchased tokens – bummer. Deodorant and baby wipes it is! (Thank god for dry shampoo, amirite?) Camping is $55 a night for up to 5 people. The price is pretty much standard for all campgrounds in Big Sur, and almost all will have a two night minimum, fyi! I recommend not more than two tents, as the campsites can be tight unless you get really lucky! Be forewarned: wood costs $10 a bundle at the front store, and you’re not allowed to burn the wood on the ground. Bring your own wood and kindling or you’ll pay another night’s worth in firewood!

Venture Campground

DAY ONE – Pfeiffer Beach and Nepenthe Restaurant

Pfeiffer Beach was #1 on our to-see list. It’s a beautiful and secluded beach with a 2 mile drive to get down to it (parking is $10 per vehicle). We arrived at peak time on a Saturday, so there was no parking left down by the entrance to the beach. Not wanting to wait, we decided to hoof it.

Pleasant walk down to Pfeiffer Beach

Entrance onto Pfeiffer Beach

The walk took us about 40 minutes, but it’s on a paved road so it was an easy hike. The beach is expansive and beautiful, and a lot of fun to explore. We decided to climb up the cliff in the center (you’ll probably see other people on top, too), and get a better view. You can see in the picture below where there’s a little natural pathway up the cliff that makes it fairly easy to climb up. It’s just the getting back down that’s a little tricky! Once we got to the top, the view was amazing. You can see the entire beach, and the waves crashing into the rocks below is mesmerizing. We stayed on top for about an hour, and we saw a couple of whales near the surface!

Pfeiffer Beach Cliff

Top of Pfeiffer Beach Cliff

After an afternoon of climbing up and down a bunch of rocks and a four mile round trip walk to and from the beach, we had worked up an appetite. Nepenthe Restaurant has an unassuming website that looks like it hasn’t been re-designed since 1994, but don’t let that fool you. The restaurant has superb food, gorgeous design, and a view of the ocean that you absolutely cannot miss. Be prepared with a fat wallet, however – it’ll run you $16 for their infamous “ambrosia burger.” It’s definitely a splurge, but well worth it.

Nepenthe Restaurant Nepenthe Restaurant View

Nepenthe restaurant outside balcony view

DAY TWO – Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Jade Cove, and Elephant Seal View Point

The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a beautiful cove with turquoise waters and a quaint 80 ft waterfall. It was named after Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a well respected pioneer who was befriended by the owners of the property. Parking here is $10, so I suggest finding parking on the side of the highway. There’s a mountainside trail that takes you down along the cove. We came on a cool, cloudy day, and the sight was still beautiful at every point of the trail. If you walk down to the end of the path, you can read a little bit about the history of the area and catch another spectacular view.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park trail

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Driving further south on the PCH, we stopped at Jade Cove. The locals in Big Sur all seemed to be wearing or selling jade, so we couldn’t skip this little detour! While the beach seemed to be pretty picked-through and we didn’t have any luck finding jade, the moss covered rocks and the waves crashing against them was worth the visit. The rotting carcass of an elephant seal surrounded by flies laying on the moss covered rocks was not beautiful. I’ll spare you the video.

Jade Cove

Jade Cove bay

Next stop: Elephant Seal View Point. This is about an hour south of Big Sur, so it’s a great stop if you’re on your way back to Los Angeles. When you first come up to the fence to look below at the masses of elephant seals, they almost look like they’re dead, laying there in the sun lazily. Then you see the male seals start to bicker with each other over whose patch of sand they’re laying in and all is well again. When we saw them, it looked like their skin was falling off because they were shedding their winter fur! So cute.

Elephant Seal View Point Elephant Seal View Point Seals

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