Point Lobos vs Big Sur: Which One Should You Visit?
There are few places in California more beautiful than Big Sur and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
Both locations boast stunning coastal scenery, with rocky cliffs, crashing waves, and dense forest. However, there are also some key differences between the two places, and if you only have a short amount of time in the area, choosing only one to visit can be a tough decision.
In this guide, you will learn the main differences between Point Lobos and Big Sur so that you can decide which is of these gorgeous places is better for your trip.
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Big Sur vs. Point Lobos: What you need to know
Before we start discussing which of these two places is better to visit, it is crucial to understand each of them a little better.
What is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve?
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a state park located in Monterey County, California.
The park is known for its scenic coastline and diverse plant and animal life. Visitors to the park can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and camping.
The reserve also offers opportunities for scuba diving, bird watching, and whale watching. With its stunning views and abundant wildlife, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a must-see for any nature lover.
What is Big Sur?
Big Sur is a stretch of coastline along the central coast of California.
It’s known for its dramatic cliffs, which rise from the crashing waves below. Big Sur is also home to redwood forests, waterfalls, and hiking trails.
The area is popular with tourists, who come to admire the natural beauty and enjoy the many outdoor activities available.
While Big Sur may be best known for its coastline, there’s plenty to explore inland as well.
What do Big Sur and Point Lobos have in common
Point Lobos and Big Sur are two of California’s most iconic coastal destinations. However, they have more in common than just beautiful views.
Both Point Lobos and Big Sur are home to various unique plant and animal life. Point Lobos is known for its large population of sea lions, while Big Sur is home to the endangered California condor.
In addition, both destinations are popular with tourists from all over the world and located in the same area, which make a lot of people visit them on a same trip.
However, Point Lobos is a state park, while Big Sur is a section of the Central Coast of California.
Point Lobos vs Big Sur: Which one to choose?
There’s no denying that California’s coastline is absolutely stunning. But if you only have one day to explore California’s coastline, you might be wondering whether to choose Point Lobos or Big Sur.
While both destinations are definitely worth a visit, there are some key differences that you should keep in mind.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is much closer than Big Sur if you are visiting from Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea.
In fact, it is only a 10-15 minute drive from these cities.
However, if you come from San Francisco, you will have to drive quite a while anyway, so the distance might not be a deciding factor.
Point Lobos is much smaller than Big Sur. It is only 1,300 acres, while Big Sur stretches a whopping 143 km along the coast.
This means that if you want to explore a larger area with more coastline and hiking trails, Big Sur is the better choice. However, if you are looking for a more intimate experience, Point Lobos might be the better choice.
There’s no denying that seeing Big Sur can easily take up an entire day (or even longer).
However, Point Lobos can be done in a few hours if you are short on time. This makes it a great choice if you only have a limited amount of time to explore California’s coastline.
Both Big Sur and Point Lobos offer great hiking opportunities.
However, if you are looking for longer and more challenging trails, Big Sur is the better choice. Point Lobos has shorter and easier trails that are more suitable for families with small children or those who are not looking for a difficult hike.
Best hikes in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:
- Moss Cove Trail (2.8 miles)
- South Plateau-Bird Island (1.6 miles)
- Cypress Grove via South Shore Trail (1.7 miles)
- Lion Point Trail Loop to Hidden Beach Loop (3.2 miles)
- Bird Island Trail (0.8 miles)
- Cypress Grove Trail (0.8 miles)
Best hikes in Big Sur:
- Ewoldsen Trail (9.2 miles)
- Pfeiffer Falls Trail (0.8 miles)
- Partington Cove Trail (1.4 miles)
- McWay Falls Trail (0.6 miles)
- Coastal Access Trail to Soberanes Point (7.5 miles)
Point Lobos is known for its rocky cliffs and crashing waves. Big Sur, on the other hand, is more famous for its dense forest and river valleys.
So if you are looking for a particular type of scenery, that might be a deciding factor for you.
If you want to see a large variety of wildlife, Point Lobos is the better choice.
The state park is home to a large colony of sea lions as well as otters, dolphins, and even whales. Big Sur is also home to a variety of wildlife but the most famous residents are the California condors.
Point Lobos is a state park which means that there is an entrance fee. However, this fee is only $10 per car (compared to the $30 fee for Big Sur).
Big Sur, on the other hand, does not have an entrance fee.
If you want to camp while you are visiting California’s coastline, Big Sur is the better choice. There are a variety of campsites available in the area (although reservations are recommended).
A night in a campground in Big Sur will cost you $35-60, depending on the location and time of year.
Point Lobos does not have any camping sites. However, there are many hotels available in Monterrey and Carmel-by-the-Sea if you are looking for a place to stay.
Parking in Point Lobos is completely free; however, there is only space for 150 cars.
Parking in Big Sur, on the other hand, is very easy since there are several places to park at each of the stops.
If you are looking to spend some time on the beach both options are great choices.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has a variety of beaches (both rocky and sandy) that are perfect for picnicking, swimming, or just relaxing.
Big Sur is home to some of the most pristine beaches in the state, like Garrapata State Park, Andrew Molera State Park and Sand Dollar Beach.
Number of visitors
If you are looking for a less crowded experience, Point Lobos is the way to go. The state park only receives about1 million visitors per year.
Big Sur, on the other hand, receives over 5 million visitors per year. This means that it can be quite crowded, especially during the summer months.
There is not really such a big difference in climate between Point Lobos and Big Sur.
Point Lobos tends to be a bit cooler than Big Sur. This is because it is located further north and gets more fog from the ocean.
On the other hand, Big Sur is located further south and has a warmer climate.
The best time to visit Point Lobos and Big Sur really depends on what you are looking to do. If you want to camp, the best time to visit is in the summer. However, if you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Point Lobos is in the spring or fall.
Personally, I visited in spring, and it was still warm and lovely.
This is the description of each season in the area:
Summer (June to August)
The days are usually warm and sunny in the summer, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
However, fog often rolls in during the evening and morning hours, giving the air a cool and refreshing feeling. The ocean breeze also helps to keep things comfortable.
Even on the hottest days, you can usually find a spot in the shade to relax. Of course, no one can predict the weather with 100% accuracy, so there may be days when it’s a bit hotter or cooler than usual.
But overall, Big Sur and Point Lobos enjoy very pleasant summer weather.
Winter (December to February)
One of the beauties of visiting Central California is that it never really gets that cold. Big Sur and Point Lobos enjoy mild weather year-round.
During the winter months, average highs are in the mid-60s, with occasional days in the 70s. Nights can be chilly but rarely dip below freezing.
Precipitation is low during the winter, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
Spring (March to May)
The weather in spring is simply gorgeous. The days are warm and sunny, with highs in the 70s, and the nights are cool and breezy. This makes for perfect conditions for hiking, biking, and camping. The scenery is stunning, with wildflowers blooming everywhere you look.
However, the area can also be susceptible to heavy rains and strong winds.
As a result, visitors should check the forecast before heading out on any hikes or drives. Spring is also an excellent time to see some of the area’s wildlife, including whales, dolphins, and seals.
Fall (September to November)
Big Sur boasts some of the most beautiful weather in the fall months. The days are sunny and warm, with temperatures averaging in the low 70s.
However, the nights can be cool, so it’s wise to pack a sweater or light jacket. The ocean is also lovely and temperate this time of year, making it perfect for swimming, surfing, or simply strolling along the shore.
Fall is an ideal time to visit Big Sur, as the crowds have thinned out and the scenery is at its best
One of the best times to see whales in Big Sur is during the winter and spring months. This is when gray whales migrate along the California coast. The best place to see them is in Big Sur, from one of the many overlooks along Highway 1.
Bird watching in Big Sur and Point Lobos
Many different types of birds can be seen in Big Sur and Point Lobos.
Some of the more common ones include seagulls, cormorants, pelicans, and California condors.
Spring and fall are generally the best times to see birds, as this is when they are migrating.
Activities in Point Lobos and Big Sur
There are endless possibilities for things to do in both Point Lobos and Big Sur. Here are just a few ideas:
Best things to do in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- Explore the tide pools: Point Lobos is home to a variety of marine life, including sea stars, urchins, and crabs. Be sure to check out the tide pools at Whalers Cove for some up-close encounters with these creatures.
- Discover the incredible China Cove: This secluded beach is only accessible during low tide. But it’s well worth the effort to get there, as China Cove offers breathtaking views of the rocky coastline.
- Spend some time on Gibson Beach: This is one of the most popular beaches in Point Lobos, and it’s easy to see why. Gibson Beach offers stunning views of the coast, as well as a great place to relax and enjoy the sunshine.
- Learn about the history of Point Lobos at The Whaling Station Museum: This museum tells the story of the whaling industry in Point Lobos. It’s a fascinating look at a key part of the area’s history.
- Go hiking: There are numerous hiking trails to explore in Point Lobos. And no matter what your skill level, you’re sure to find a trail that’s perfect for you.
- Go on a guided nature walk: Point Lobos offers a variety of guided walks, covering subjects such as the area’s history, geology, and wildlife. These walks are a great way to learn more about the reserve and all it has to offer.
Best things to do in Big Sur
- Check out the visitor center at Big Sur Station: The visitor center is a great place to start your exploration of Big Sur. Here you can learn about the area’s history, geology, and wildlife.
- Drive along the Big Sur Coast Highway: This scenic drive will take you past some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Be sure to stop at some of the overlooks along the way to really take in the views.
- Visit Pfeiffer Beach: This beach is known for its dramatic cliffs, crashing waves, and hidden caves. It’s a must-see for any visitor to Big Sur.
- Hike to McWay Falls: This easy hike takes you to one of Big Sur’s most popular attractions, the 80-foot McWay Falls. The falls flow directly into the ocean, making for an incredibly scenic (and Instagrammable!) experience.
- See sea elephants from up close at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery: Just north of Big Sur is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where you can see these giant creatures up close.
- Explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: This state park is home to a variety of hiking trails, waterfalls, and coastal views. It’s a great place to spend a day exploring the outdoors.
- Drive through Bixby Bridge: This iconic bridge is one of the most photographed spots in Big Sur. Be sure to stop and snap a pic (or two) when you’re in the area.
- Explore Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: This state park is home to a variety of hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints. It’s the perfect place to spend a day exploring all that Big Sur has to offer.
- Visit Limekiln State Park: This park is home to a redwood forest, as well as the historic Limekiln Falls. It’s a great spot for a picnic or a leisurely hike.
What to pack for Big Sur and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
When packing for your trip to Big Sur or Point Lobos, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
The sun can be very strong in this part of California, so it’s important to protect yourself from the harmful UV rays.
In addition, you’ll want to pack comfortable shoes for all the hiking and walking you’ll be doing. And finally, don’t forget to bring a camera to capture all the incredible scenery!
Big Sur and Point Lobos packing list:
- Sunscreen – I like this one from EltaMD
- Hiking shoes – The Columbia Newton Ridge is fantastic!
- Bug Spray
Finding a place to stay
Now that you have all the information you need to decide before visiting Big Sur or Point Lobos, it’s time to start planning your trip! The first step is finding a place to stay.
Best hotels in Big Sur
There are a few different options when it comes to accommodations in Big Sur. You can stay in a hotel, or campground, or even rent a house or cabin.
Alila Ventana Big Sur: This luxurious hotel is located in the heart of Big Sur and features stunning views of the surrounding area. Also, it has a spa, on-site restaurant, and two heated pools adjoined by a Japanese hot bath.
Fernwood Resort: This rustic hotel has a beautiful sun terrace and mountain views. . It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy all that Big Sur has to offer.
Big Sur Lodge: This wonderful lodge has an old-fashioned ambiance that is hard to find these days and makes for a fantastic and comfy base to explore Big Sur.
Best campgrounds in Big Sur
If you’re looking to save some money on accommodations, camping is a great option. There are a few different campgrounds located throughout Big Sur.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: This state park offers a variety of camping options, including RV sites, tent sites, and group campsites.
Andrew Molera State Park: This state park also offers RV and tent camping and a group campsite.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: This state park has RV and tent sites available for overnight guests.
Big Sur River Gorge: This campground is located along the Big Sur River and offers Tent sites as well as RV hookups.
Best hotels near Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
As regards finding a place to stay near Point Lobos, I would recommend staying in either Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Both of these towns are just a short drive from the state park and offer a variety of hotels and lodges to choose from.
Carmel Fireplace Inn: This hotel is located just minutes from the beach. Cottages include Amish-crafted furniture, private entrances, and en suite bathrooms.
Carmel Mission Inn: This luxury resort is surrounded. by attractions such as Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Fisherman’s Wharf,
L’Auberge Carmel, Relais & Chateaux: Originally built in 1929, this chateau-style luxury hotel is incredibly nice. Plus, it’s less than a 15-minute drive to Point Lobos Reserve.
Big Sur vs 17-Mile Drive
If you decide not to drive to Big Sur. The 17-Mile Drive is a great option to add to your itinerary if you’re short on time and want to see some of the area’s highlights.
This stretch of road winds its way along the coastline of Monterey, California, offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
However, it goes without saying that Big Sur is the better option if you have the time to explore.
Wrap-up: Point Lobos vs Big Sur
So, what’s the verdict?
There’s no easy answer when choosing between Point Lobos and Big Sur. Both destinations offer stunning scenery, incredible pant and wildlife, and plenty of things to do. However, depending on your preferences and what you are looking for in a destination, one might be better suited for you than the other.
So, which one should you choose- Point Lobos or Big Sur? If you are short on time and want to see various wildlife up close, Point Lobos is the better choice. However, if you have more time and want to explore a larger area with longer hiking trails, Big Sur is the better option.
Finally, if you have the time, you can always visit the two of them on your California road trip to get the best of both worlds.
And that’s a wrap! For more travel tips and updates, you can follow me on Instagram.