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Best Time to Visit Big Sur (Best Weather & Outdoor Adventures)

Plan your Big Sur trip with our guide on the best times for weather & outdoor fun. From whale watching to marathons, find your perfect season for adventure.

Tobi Miles
July 26, 2022
Best Time to Visit Big Sur (Best Weather & Outdoor Adventures)

Big Sur is a 90-mile stretch of coastline between San Simeon and Carmel. The destination has some of the richest topography on the West Coast. From sprawling pacific views to redwood forests, This iconic California destination is a nature lover's paradise.

When planning your trip to Big Sur, there are a few things to consider. The rainy season, tourists, and accommodation prices are all important aspects of a vacation to Big Sur.

Between April and October is the best time to visit Big Sur. This is due to the consistent daily temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and an average of only two rainy days per month. It is also the ideal time for catching events like the International Marathon. Alternatively, the winter boasts fewer crowds and up to 20% lower accommodation costs.

Big Sur is a quintessential West Coast destination. Although you can visit at any time, certain months are better than others. For example, February is a great time for whale watching. However, cumulative rainfall reaches annual highs.

August is a stunning time to go for a hike. However, you may run into crowded trails during the tourist high season. Plan your vacation accordingly.

What is the Worst Time to Visit Big Sur?

The worst time to visit Big Sur is between December and March. This is due to the heavy rainfall in the area at this time. Visitors can expect an average of eight rainy days per month.

Rainfall peaks in February with over one in three days of the month having rainfall. Prepare for hikes in the rain and have some indoor activities planned just in case.

What is the Cheapest Time to Visit Big Sur?

The cheapest time to visit Big Sur is in the winter. If you fare well in wet weather, you may find paradise in this rainy oasis. Crowds remain at bay from December to March and the price of accommodation drops by 20%.

Although Big Sur in the winter is cheap, you may find yourself spending more on activities. One of the main draws of Big Sur is the numerous free adventures you can take.

Hiking and driving tend to be admission free. Be prepared to spend more on attractions like museums and galleries.

Related Read: 18 Best Hiking Trails in San Jose, CA

What Time of Year Does Big Sur Have the Best Weather?

Big Sur has plentiful sunshine and mild temperatures for most of the year.

If you visit from April to November, you shouldn’t run into much rain. You will also have pleasant daytime temperatures around 73 degrees Fahrenheit.

Best Weather and Outdoor Activities in Big Sur: Monthly Breakdown

January: Best Time for Whale Watching

January in Big Sur offers lovely weather. Just expect some chill in the air and a few rainy days. The colder winter weather keeps the fog at bay, making it an incredibly scenic stretch.

Big Sur is one of the most phenomenal places in the United States for whale watching. January is the middle of the gray whale migration.

The sea creatures make their annual journey from the frigid waters around Canada to warmer waters in Mexico. Big Sur is the best place to see their route.

Take a whale watching tour or simply watch from the coast. There are plenty of scenic lookouts to see the gray whales from the mainland.

  • Whale Watching & Condor Spotting Tours
  • Big Sur Foragers Festival

February: Best Time for Indoor Activities

February is notoriously the rainiest month in Big Sur. You might luck out with minimal rain, but chances are, if you plan to do outdoor activities, you may get caught in a shower. Take the opportunity to visit some of Big Sur’s iconic art galleries and museums.

The most highly rated indoor activity in Big Sur is the Hawthorne Gallery. The Hawthorne Gallery is a historic house-turned-gallery of the artistic Hawthorne family. The family called the scenic landscape of Big Sur home for decades and created artwork among the wilderness.

The gallery has multiple rooms dedicated to the Hawthornes. Check out the mesmerizing artwork they created.

Another great option for a rainy day is taking a day trip to Carmel by the Sea. Carmel is a European-style town near Big Sur. Bring an umbrella and take a stroll. Plenty of shopping, dining, and accommodations are available among the town’s natural beauty.

  • Point Sur Lighthouse Station Tours
  • Best time to go fishing in the Big Sur River
  • Best month to see Elephant Seal pups

March: Best Time to See Big Sur in Bloom

Big Sur is famous for its dramatic coastline and stunning wilderness. Visit in March to see the coast in full bloom. Springtime is when wildflower bulbs begin to blossom.

Be on the lookout for willows and calla lilies in the hilly scenery. The mountains and cliffs turn a bright green shade as a gorgeous backdrop to the flora and sea.

Take your eyes off the greenery and check out the ocean in March. This is when you have the best chance of spotting a seal pup lounging on the rugged coast. Wildlife tends to be in abundance in the Spring.

  • Spot gray whales on their journey from the Arctic to Mexico
  • Race for Open Space Trail Work

Related Read: Best Time To Visit San Francisco

April: Big Sur International Marathon

The Big Sur International Marathon draws in athletes from all over the world. It was even voted the best marathon in North America a few years ago.

The marathon welcomes thousands of runners to trek the jagged West coast. It crosses hills, valleys, scenic roads, and famous bridges. Runners can expect to see the ocean, Redwood trees, coastal mountains, and animal pastures during their race.

The Bixby Bridge is the main focal point of the race. A concert pianist in a full tuxedo is positioned at this spot to serenade runners during this portion. It is a sophisticated and world-class marathon.

  • Best time to see California poppies and wildflowers
  • Health and Fitness Expo Monterey

May: Best Time for a Scenic Drive

Big Sur is one of the most stunning places to take a drive in North America. Motorists can expect jagged mountains, rough seas, and plentiful wildlife as they take the wheel.

May is one of the best times to take this scenic drive due to pleasant, sunny weather. Start your course at the Big Sur visitor station. Learn about the area and pick up a map. Big Sur is notorious for poor cell connection.

From there, hit Highway 101. The road curves along the jagged, mountainous coast and has some incredibly dramatic overlooks. Make a pit stop before crossing Bixby Bridge to soak up the view. It is considered one of the most stunning bridges in the United States.

  • Big Sur Historical Society Showcase
  • Best time to see Lupine flowers

June: Best Time to Check Out Waterfalls

The dramatic coastline and wilderness of Big Sur is pockmarked by various waterfalls. The top-rated waterfall to visit is Pfeiffer Falls. Take the scenic Pfeiffer Falls Trail hike to visit the natural water feature. It is an easy, albeit steep, 1.3-mile hike to reach the waterfall.

Another glorious waterfall to visit is McWay Falls. This waterfall reaches 80 feet into the mountainside. The waters fall onto a white, sandy beach below. Limekiln Falls and Salmon Creek Falls shouldn’t be overlooked either.

  • The Junior Ranger program begins at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
  • Spartan Super in Monterey

July: Best Time for a Walk on the Beach

Ocean temperatures in Northern California tend to be a bit too cold and treacherous to swim. However, warm July weather makes it the perfect time to take a walk on the sandy shores.

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most stunning places on the West Coast. Expect jagged rocks jutting from the sandy shores and big waves.

Sand Dollar Beach is a gorgeous spot for a walk and a picnic. The waters here are a bit calmer and the soft sand is the ideal location for a meal outdoors. Andrew Molera and Julia Pfeiffer Burns are both excellent state parks with stunning beaches to explore.

  • State Parks Program Guided Hikes
  • Music and Fernwood Campground and Resort
  • Music at Big Sur River Inn

Related Read: 10 Best San Francisco Hikes

August: Best Time for Swimming and Watersports

The ocean in Big Sur looks inviting, but swimming in the surf isn’t recommended. The water is often cold and too rough for sea rescues in emergencies. However, you can still swim elsewhere in Big Sur.

Big Sur is home to a handful of swimming holes. They tend to be located within the forest and provide a calm, water oasis for safe swimming. One of the best is the Gorge Swimming Hole. Giant boulders surround this natural pool. It even has a small, sunny beach.

Salmon Falls is another popular swimming hole in Big Sur. A waterfall cascades down into the pool. Splash around below the falls. It is especially refreshing after hiking through Salmon Creek Trail.

  • Best time to go tubing down the Big Sur River
  • Watch the Blue Whale migration
  • Best time to see Humpback Whales and Orcas
  • Nightly campfire program at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

September: Best Time for Hiking

Big Sur is a major outdoor adventure destination. There are plenty of trails, parks, and forests for visitors to explore.

One of the most stunning hikes in Big Sur is the Pacific Valley Bluff Trail. This 1.6-mile loop follows flat terrain with panoramic ocean and bluff views.

A more challenging hike is the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail. This one is steep and jagged, but offers one of the best views in all of California from the peak. The trail can often be windy, slippery, and treacherous. Walk carefully.

Beginner hikers should be cautious and understand the trail’s difficulty. However, when you reach the top, it’s all worth it. Experience sprawling views of the ocean, a black sand beach, waterfalls, and more from the trail’s edge.

  • Monterey Jazz Festival
  • Big Sur Trail Marathon

October: Big Sur Jade Festival

The Big Sur Jade Festival is one of the grandest events in Big Sur. The festival was first held in 1989 and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

Expect plenty of art, food, and live performances at this annual festival. The vendors back up to stunning wilderness and hills. The festival also benefits a great cause - the Pacific Valley School District. Support the arts and public education at this popular event.

  • Big Sur River Run 10K
  • Nepenthe Halloween Ball Masquerade

November: Big Sur Food & Wine Festival

The mission of the Big Sur Food and Wine Festival is to showcase the cuisine of California’s coast. This three-day event offers regional tours, wine tastings, and culinary experiences.

The event welcomes over twenty different sommeliers to introduce visitors to the regional wine. Local restaurants and talented chefs also gather at this event.

  • Monterey Bay Half Marathon
  • Big Sur Harvest Fair

Related Read: 15 Best California Beaches for Families

December: Best Time for Stargazing

Big Sur is a phenomenal place to see the stars. The forested area is free of light pollution and offers stunning open spaces for nighttime adventuring.  Gaze out over the sea or in one of Big Sur’s campgrounds for an amazing view of the Milky Way.

December is the ideal time to go stargazing due to the cooler weather. It tends to be dry, and the temperature keeps nighttime fog at bay. Bundle up and check out the spectacular views.

  • Winter revival of the State Parks annual programming
  • Christmas on the Wharf in Monterey

What is the Best Time to Avoid Crowds in Big Sur?

The best time to avoid crowds in Big Sur is the rainy, winter season from December to March. Much of the draw of visiting Big Sur is hiking the stunning parks and trails. Although you certainly can hike in the rain, slippery conditions can render paths treacherous.

Big Sur is a major outdoor exploration destination. A few extra people on the trails may be worth the sacrifice for gorgeous hiking weather. Avoid crowds by steering clear of the most popular trails and swimming holes.

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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