The first Europeans to see Big Sur were the Spanish conquistadores, who called it el Sur Grande, or the Big South. They built a series of missionss there, but otherwise took little interest. Under Americann rule, the prohibiting terrain kept settlers out, except for a few ranchers. It remains sparsely populated today, over six decades after the Pacific Coast Highway was put through with the use of New Deal funds and prison labor. The only two towns in Big Sur, excepting the relatively flat southern reaches, are Big Sur and Lucia. Most of the land along the very coast is privately owned, but the vast Los Padres National Forest encompasses the inland portions, and there is a number of small state parks. The area is still quite inaccessible compared to many of California's other natural tourist attractions, but it has a low capacity for visitors and becomes very crowded during major vacation periods.
Big Sur has attracted and inspired a number of writers and artists. most notably Robinson Jeffers and Edward Weston.