After spending a couple days exploring Pinnacles National Park, and a day playing in Monterey at Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, we were so excited to finish our family road trip vacation in Big Sur.
On our way to Big Sur, we stopped for a walk along the bluffs at Garrapata State Park and a hike at Andrew Molera State Park. We were starving and couldn’t wait to get to our hotel, the Big Sur River Inn, to try their full service restaurant.
As we drove through the Big Sur River Valley, the Big Sur River Inn came into view… The first thing we saw was the Valero gas station and a brightly colored, purple, blue, and yellow bus behind it. While Brian parked and went inside to see if our room was ready, the kids and I checked out the bus, which operates as a funky ice cream truck and snack shack.
Dining At The Big Sur River Inn
We then headed over to the River Inn Restaurant for lunch. With a giant fireplace and wooden walls, the restaurant is very cozy. We sat on the outdoor patio with a beautiful view of the Big Sur River and tall redwood trees. The setting and my daughter’s hot chocolate was the best part of our meal. We ordered burgers and fries and it took more than 45 minutes to get our food. Our server never brought us any drink refills or any sauces we asked for (like ketchup), and almost seemed irritated to be working. Our food was okay and our bill… well, let’s just say we didn’t eat there again.
Upon check-in, Brian discovered there was a made-to-order burrito bar in the General Store, so we skipped the restaurant for dinner in favor of beer, cider, and huge, monster-size burritos, and it was incredible. The burrito bar is open for breakfast too. We had bagel breakfast sandwiches and burritos filled with hash browns, bacon, eggs, avocado, and salsa. OMG! Yum!
For the remainder of our stay, we ate fantastically delicious burritos for breakfast and dinner. We also grabbed yummy, fresh, made-to-order sandwiches from the deli for lunch, and stocked up on picnic supplies, snacks, and treats in the General Store.
If you book a Big Sur vacation at the River Inn, I highly recommend stopping at the Big Sur Burrito Bar for at least one meal, and if you’re there for multiple days, getting sandwiches from the deli too.
Our favorite, and most delicious meals of the whole vacation were the ones Brian and I got to go and ate together on our balcony, overlooking the kids playing on the lawn below and the Big Sur River rushing in the background.
While in Big Sur, we also stopped in the pub at the Village Shops next door to the Big Sur River Inn, The Maiden Publick House — twice! The bartender, Matt, was fantastic. He was friendly, welcoming, and provided great service. The pub food was unbelievable, the music was great, and holy moly, the tater tots were to die for.
Staying At The Big Sur River Inn
The Big Sur River Inn is truly an unforgettable, one-stop, family-friendly vacation destination nestled amid towering redwoods along the scenic Big Sur River. Originally named the Apple Pie Inn, the historic riverside lodge was Big Sur’s first hotel and restaurant and has been welcoming travelers since 1934.
- There are eight Riverside Suites in the main lodge building with king beds in the bedroom, trundle-style day beds in the living room, and decks overlooking the river.
- There are 12 standard Motel Rooms in buildings on the opposite side of Highway One, with one or two queen beds, and either porches or patios.
- All rooms are non-smoking, no pets are allowed, and there is free WIFI in the common areas and some rooms — Brian could only get spotty service early in the morning and I had no data or cell service the whole time we were at the River Inn.
We booked a two-room Riverside Suite in the main lodge and were thrilled when we checked-in and found out our suite was on the second floor, which meant we had a shared balcony that overlooked the expansive lawns and redwood-lined Big Sur River. After a long day of hiking along Big Sur coastline, we really enjoyed picking up burritos, deli sandwiches, and cold drinks to enjoy on our balcony for dinner, and the kids loved playing games out on the lawn.
Our rustic suite had a private bedroom with a king size bed and television for Brian and I, and a living room with a trundle-style day bed for the kids. While the suite was really sparse, with no artwork on the walls, minimal furnishings and decor, no phone, and no hair dryer, it was clean, comfortable, and had a coffee maker. The living room area was big enough for all of our adventuring gear and ice chest for picnicking, which was awesome. The only downside was that the walls are really thin, and on our second day there, a group of several adults and children — at least seven or eight people — checked into the suite next to ours and they were very loud.
The Big Sur River Inn also has an outdoor pool, but even with it heated, it was way too cold for us to use it. There is also a gas station on-site, which was super convenient, because there are almost no places to get gas along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur.
We LOVED the General Store! With everything from camping supplies, sundries, donuts, and cold drinks, to a selection of beers and local wines, made-to-order pizzas and sandwiches, ice cream, fresh fruit smoothies, and a burrito bar, The General Store has everything you need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or a day of adventuring in Big Sur.
- In the mornings, we enjoyed hot coffee, hot chocolate, cereal, bagel breakfast sandwiches, and huge breakfast burritos.
- Before leaving for our Big Sur day trip adventures, we picked up deli sandwiches, wraps, drinks, chips, and sweet snacks.
- For dinner, we grabbed cold beers, ciders, and Gatorades, and delicious shredded chicken and carnitas burritos that were so big, we could barely finish them.
If you’re not Staying at the Big Sur River Inn, you should definitely plan on stopping in the River Inn General Store for a meal. You can eat at one of the picnic tables outside the General Store, where there are also public restrooms.
Know Before You Go
- The Big Sur River Inn is located at 46800 Highway One, Big Sur, California 93920 on the Big Sur River 25 miles south of Carmel.
- Amenities include a general store, Valero gas station, public restrooms, ice cream bus, restaurant, outdoor pool, deli, burrito bar, pizza bar, local shops, and an awesome pub.
- With an indoor dining room and an outdoor patio (that has twinkle nights above at night), the Big Sur River Inn Restaurant is a full service restaurant offering a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Eat in the historic dining room or outside on the deck, on the lawn along the bank of the Big Sur River, or even in the river on one of the Inn’s famous Adirondack chairs.
- On Sunday afternoons, from May to September, you can enjoy live music under the sun on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
- With affordable pub grub and the most extensive American craft and European beer selection in Monterey County, The Maiden Publick House is located at Village Shops #2, Big Sur, California 93920. (The Village Shops are next door to the River Inn.)
Other Nearby Big Sur Attractions
If you love the outdoors, you’re going to love adventuring with your family in Big Sur. From short, easy trails, to long, strenuous trails, there are opportunities for everyone interested in hiking, no matter how old you are or what physical shape you’re in. We spent three days with our kids on a family road trip vacation hiking through Big Sur and had a blast!
When traveling south on Highway 1 from the Big Sur River Inn, it is approximately:
- 3 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- 4 miles to the Pfeiffer Beach turnouff (Sycamore Canyon Road)
- 13 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
- 28 miles to Limekiln State Park
- 35 miles to Jade Cove
- 36 miles to Sand Dollar Beach
- 38 miles to Willow Creek Picnic Area And Beach
- 47 miles to the Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead
- 51 miles to Ragged Point Inn & Resort
- 68 miles to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
- 68 miles to Hearst Castle
When traveling north on Highway 1 from the Big Sur River Inn, it is approximately:
- 2 miles to Andrew Molera State Park
- 6 miles to Point Sur State Historic Park
- 14 miles to Garrapata State Park
- 21 miles to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
- 29 miles to Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey, California
- 31 miles to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove
- 32 miles to the Point Pinos Lighthouse