Located on the central coast of California, Big Sur is famous for its rugged seaside and quaint coastal towns. A single two-lane road winds its way down the coast from Carmel-by-the-Sea in the north to San Simeon on the south. This stretch of highway provides stunning views of the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west and to the east the Pacific Ocean. This area makes a great location for a family beach vacation at any one of the towns along the coast and there are tons of convenient Big Sur vacation rentals to choose from. Here’s a quick guide to the top 10 Big Sur towns to start your search for the ideal vacation rental.

1. Carmel-by-the-Sea

With its humble beginnings as an artists’ colony, Carmel-by-the-Sea welcomes your family to wander the streets of this coastal town designed to resemble a European Village. The streets offer cute boutiques with eclectic items, art galleries and cafes to get a snack or quick lunch. Take the family to the Carmel Mission Basilica with its beautiful ceiling and thick walls to find out more about the Spanish influence on this area of California. Feel the sand between your toes when you take a romantic walk along the beach as the sun sets.

2. Carmel Highlands

Drive south along Highway 1 to reach the more modest town of Carmel Highlands with its spacious family homes. While away your days exploring the shops, playing on the beach, and taking a walk along the shore’s edge. At Bay Bikes, you and your family can rent bikes to ride around town to discover streets and views that you wouldn’t normally see. Hop in the car for the short drive to the Garrapata State Park for a day on the beach or a coastal hike where you can stop to take pictures 50 feet above the ocean.

3. Notleys Landing

Slow down and enjoy the peace and quiet in the small seaside town of Notleys Landing. This is a great location to reconnect with your family, hang out on the beach, and just unwind. However, it’s still close enough that you can spend a day at Carmel-by-the-Sea without paying the premium for a vacation rental there. In the evenings, drive a couple of minutes north for dinner at Rocky Point Restaurant that sits on the edge of the coast, offering stunning views and fresh seafood.

4. Posts

Posts is a great central location to explore the Big Sur towns and take long drives up and down the coast. After a day or town on the beach, take the family up to the California Sea Otter Game Refuge to view the protected otters and take in the views from cliffs. Stop at the Pfeiffer Falls Trailhead and hike into the see the dramatic waterfalls, or take a shorter path, Big Sur River Gorge trail that measures less than a mile.

5. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Area

Choose a vacation rental in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and spend your days exploring nature with your family. Your family can choose to spend a day on the beach, soaking up the sun, splashing in the surf, and flying kites. Of course, you’ll have to visit the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park for some hiking. Take a tour of the Point Sur Light Station and learn more about the maritime history of this area.

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6. Lucia

Just a few minutes north of the Limekiln State Park is the town of Lucia. Spend your days biking, beach combing, and communing with nature. In the Limekiln State Park, you and your family can hike among the redwood trees that are known for their height and sheer size. Many of the trails in this state park offer scenic views of the rugged coast as they wind their way through the park.

7. Plaskett

Surrounded by lush greenery and the chance to get out and explore many coves, the town of Plaskett offers your family a quiet retreat for their beach vacation. Spend your days on Sand Dollar Beach, collecting seashells, flying a kite, and surfing. For the thrill seekers, try paragliding with one of the local adventure companies. Grab your fishing rod and try your hand at fishing in Plaskett Creek that runs through the town.

8. Gorda

Gorda offers gorgeous scenery that’s stark and lovely as you stare out at the Pacific Ocean. Check the schedule at Treebones Resort to see if you have time to take one of the yoga classes. Take a drive to Moonstone Beach for a unique experience. Walk along the mile long boardwalk and soak up the beauty of this unspoiled beach with its unique pebbles that make up the beach.

9. Ragged Point

A little north of San Simeon is the area of Ragged Point. This area is popular with scientist and graduate studies who work out of the nearby Cal Poly Biological Sciences Ragged Point Research Station. When you’re out on the beach or boating on the water, you’ll probably notice the pier that houses its research facility. Hop on your bike and take the family down to the Ragged Point – Scenic View for some amazing family photos.

10. San Simeon

At the southern most point of Big Sur, the town of San Simeon teems with activities and fellow travelers. While staying in the area, take the family to Hearst Castle for a tour of this stunning home that was once owned by newspaper giant Randolph Hearst. For a day at the beach, head over to William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach and fish off the San Simeon Pier.