As a recreational area of regional, national and international importance, Big Sur attracts nearly 4.5 million visitors annually. The accessibility of Big Sur to several nearby population centers is a major factor contributing to its high visitation.
The basic recreational resource of Big Sur is the visual beauty of its striking landforms and unspoiled landscape. The mountains, forests, creeks, rivers and ocean shoreline combine to offer diverse recreational opportunities. The artistic and rustic lifestyle for which Big Sur is known creates an attractive cultural setting that compliments the natural character of the area. Recreational activity is concentrated along the coastal strip: on beaches, rocky shoreline, public parks, forest lands, campgrounds off Highway One and various visitor serving facilities. The Big Sur Valley has numerous camping, lodging, dining and other visitor serving facilities and is the focal point for recreational activity and services in Big Sur.
The Big Sur River, the beach at the river mouth, the redwoods in the valley and Pfeiffer Beach are major natural resources in the area. The Los Padres National Forest occupies much of the area south of the Big Sur Valley. The national forest is a major hiking, backpacking and camping area. Several trailheads offering access to the backcountry and the Ventana Wilderness are located off Highway One. Several beaches including Sand Dollar Beach, Mill Creek Beach and other smaller pocket beaches are scattered along the southern Big Sur Coast within the boundaries of the National Forest. Hiking trails are scattered throughout the Ventana Wilderness and the National Forest backcountry. Day use facilities are provided at Mill Creek, Sand Dollar Beach, Willow Creek and Pfeiffer Beach.
At present there are eight motels, lodges or inns on the coast. Rustic cabins are available at two of the campgrounds. The Camaldoli Hermitage run by a Benedictine Order has 11 rooms, which are available with the Hermitage’s permission for use as a retreat. Esalen, an internationally known institution, offers accommodations for 90 people enrolled in educational programs. Private campgrounds with about 350 units constitute over half of the vehicle access campsites in Big Sur. All of the private campgrounds except Limekiln Beach Redwood Campground are located in the Big Sur Valley.