The biggest, most developed park in Big Sur  is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (47225 Hwy. 1, 831/667-2315, www.parks.ca.gov , day use $8). It’s got the Big Sur Lodge, a restaurant and café, a shop, an amphitheater, a somewhat incongruous softball field, plenty of hiking-only trails, and lovely redwood-shaded campsites. This park isn’t situated by the beach; it’s up in the coastal redwoods forest, with a network of roads that can be driven or biked up into the trees and along the Big Sur River.
Pfeiffer Big Sur has the tiny Ernest Ewoldsen Memorial Nature Center, which features stuffed examples of local wildlife. It’s open seasonally; call the park for days and hours.
Another historic exhibit is the Homestead Cabin, once the home of part of the Pfeiffer family—the first European immigrants to settle in Big Sur . Day-trippers and overnight visitors can take a stroll through the cabins of the Big Sur Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
No bikes or horses are allowed on trails in this park, which makes it quite peaceful for hikers. For a starter walk, take the easy, 0.7-mile Nature Trail in a loop from Day Use Parking Lot 2. Grab a brochure at the lodge to learn about the park’s plant life as you walk the trail.
For a longer stroll, head out on the popular Pfeiffer Falls Trail, 1.5 miles round-trip. You’ll find stairs on the steep sections and footbridges across the creek, then a lovely platform at the base of the 60-foot waterfall where you can rest and relax midway through your hike.
For a longer, more difficult, and interesting hike deeper into the Big Sur  wilderness, start at the Homestead Cabin and head to the Mount Manuel Trail (10 miles round trip, difficult). From the Y-intersection with the Oak Grove Trail, it’s four miles of sturdy hiking toMount Manuel, one of the most spectacular peaks in the area.
Need to cool off after hiking? Scramble out to the entirely undeveloped Big Sur River Gorge, where the river slows and creates pools that are great for swimming. Relax and enjoy the water, but don’t try to dive here.
This is one of the few Big Sur  parks to offer a full array of services. Before you head out into the woods, stop at the Big Sur Lodge restaurant and store complex to get a meal and some water, and to load up on snacks and sweatshirts. Between the towering trees and the summer fogs, it can get quite chilly and somewhat damp on the trails.