big sur family vacation

How To Tackle Big Sur As a Family Vacation

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Towering cliffs, steep drop-offs, and some of the most dangerous beaches in California. Yep, that’s Big Sur and before you think someone is crazy for picking Big Sur as a family vacation, let me say that what I just described is only some of Big Sur. You’ve also got stunning state parks, beaches with views of the Pacific Ocean that can’t be beaten, unique wildlife such as seals, and lots of amazing restaurants to get treats at. So all in all, you’ve got things that both parents and kids would enjoy, making this a good option for a family trip. Here’s our experience and how to tackle Big Sur as a family vacation!

big sur family vacation

Get an Airbnb

Though Big Sur is known for its swanky hotels like Post Ranch Inn, kids are probably not the best fit for an upscale 5-star hotel. Kids aren’t allowed to stay at that specific place anyway, but at $1,500/night, would you really want to share that experience with them? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m just speaking for my own kids here, but we had a lot of success with an Airbnb!

We stayed in a guest home connected to the owner’s main house and it was so nice. We had privacy (no one above or below us) and room to spread out, with a living room, kitchen, and dining table. I’m a big believer in Airbnb (or Vrbo) for families now!

I think if you have a nice place to stay without having to worry about your kids waking up during the night or throwing tantrums and annoying the neighbors, then your vacation is already off to a great start!

Keep the kids in the car for some lookouts

Driving the Big Sur coastline is amazing and adventurous, but does require caution as some pull-off lookout spots have steep cliffs with very minimal fencing to keep you from plummeting to the ocean (especially the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge-yikes).

I’d recommend just letting your young kids take in the view from the window for most of these stops, but thankfully, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience it yourself, as the “parking lot” is right next to the views and you don’t have to let the car out of your sight to snap a quick picture.

However, there are some spots on the drive that are great for kids! Some require a short hike (with stairs) that will take you to amazing ocean views. And if you start early enough in the morning you can usually get the whole hike to yourselves.

Another place that you can let the kids get out and stretch their legs is McWay Falls. Though we didn’t actually make it there (too tired), from what I hear, it’s a short walk and an easy hike to see an amazing waterfall! This popular spot is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Eat outdoors

Big Sur can definitely be a romantic vacation but don’t worry, there are family-friendly dining options. No matter where you go, when on vacation, I find it a lot more relaxing to eat outside as a family. Here are some options:

  • Nepenthe Restaurant- we didn’t make it here but it’s highly rated for being kid-friendly
  • Big Sur River Inn– good food with an outdoor, casual environment
  • Big Sur Bakery- great food and casual environment

We went in the summer (June) and didn’t deal with too many tourists. But then again we went right after California opened and I’m sure that had something to do with it. Fall and early spring are the recommended times for fewer people and hopefully less fog.

Spend the day at the beach

Though when traveling as a family you might skip the romantic hotel with a hot tub, you can still have some water fun! Some of our best days were beach days and I’m sure that is true for most families.

It’s never a bad idea to get some sand toys so the kids can happily play for hours and you can make some progress on the book you brought that you haven’t had any time to read!

We loved Monastery Beach. Though technically in Carmel, the beach is made out of tiny little rocks, not sand. Why is this worth mentioning? Because the rocks brush right off and you don’t have to deal with sand stuck in every little crevice…body or car!

However, there are no beach shortages in Big Sur. Some of the top ones are Pfieffer Beach (lots of room to run around here), Sand Dollar Beach, and Andrew Molera State Park Beach. Keep in mind though, that most of these beaches are for sand play only as the shoreline is pretty dangerous and not recommended for kids (or adults) to go swimming.

big sur family vacation

Wear the babies/young toddlers

Fortunately, Big Sur is full of amazing nature, trails, and hikes. Unfortunately, this means you’ve got to constantly carry the young kids. Pretty much all the time. But babywearing is nothing new, especially if you’re a family that likes to hike, so just bring your comfortable carrier and you’ll be good to go!

A hiking backpack could be a great option for the 1-2 year old age. Also, double strollers for multiples are amazing…especially if you explore some other little towns around you.

Find the right nature spots for you

Yes, Big Sur is known for its cliffs, but that’s not all. It may require a little research, but in order to tackle Big Sur as a family vacation, you’ve got to find the right nature spots!

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was a family favorite! The hiking trail is pretty safe and would be easy enough for younger kids, but older kids won’t be bored either. Not only is this natural reserve a beautiful place full of interesting rock formations, but you may see some sea lions or elephant seals!

Your kids may love Andrew Molera State Park. This park is almost 5,000 acres and has flatter terrain that may be easier for kids to walk on.

All in all, there’s no shortage of things to do for nature lovers. For redwood groves, check out Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. You may come across tide pools on the 17-mile drive, and as long as you stick to the pacific coast highway, you’re bound to come across a beautiful view or two.

Everyone’s family vacations will be different, of course, especially depending on the ages of your kids. At 3 months and 3 years old, I definitely think ours was on the more challenging end, but we managed to make Big Sur as a family vacation work. And though a family vacation is really a “relocation”, i.e, parenting in a new place while also trying to see a million things, i.e not relaxing, we still made some fun family memories! ๐Ÿ™‚

In my opinion, Big Sur is one of the best places in the United States. It’s the perfect destination to explore if you love natural scenery and beautiful beaches and if you want a spectacular view of the California coast, of course! Plus, there is so much to explore around the area such as Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, Santa Monica, Napa Valley, and more. Check out the posts below for more California travel content!

The Best Carmel By The Sea Photo Spots
Carmel By T
he Sea Outfits (& Fashion Tips!)
Things To Do in Napa Valley With Kids
What To Wear in Napa Valley In The Summ
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Napa Valley Photography That Will Make You Think Youโ€™re In Europe

big sur family vacation
Carolyn Arentson
Carolyn is the founder and creator behind My Chic Obsession. When she's not dreaming up new content, you can find her watching a funny tv show with her husband, raising her two boys, or planning her next trip to Paris.