Big Sur remains sparsely populated, with about 1000 inhabitants, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The people of Big Sur today are a diverse mix: descendants of the original settler and rancher families, artists and other creative types, along with wealthy home-owners from the worlds of entertainment and commerce. Real estate costs are as high as the views, with most homes priced above $2 million. There are no urban areas, although three small clusters of gas stations, restaurants, and motels are often marked on maps as "towns": Big Sur, in the Big Sur River valley, Lucia, near Limekiln State park, and Gorda, on the southern coast. The economy is almost completely based on tourism. Much of the land along the coast is privately owned or has been donated to the state park system, while the vast Los Padres National Forest and Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation encompass most of the inland areas. The mountainous terrain, environmentally conscious residents, and lack of property available for development have kept Big Sur almost unspoiled, and it retains an isolated, frontier mystique.
The Basin Complex Fire of 2008 forced a two-week evacuation of Big Sur and the closure of Highway 1, beginning just before the July 4 holiday weekend.
The fire, which burned over 130,000 acres (530 km2), represented the largest of many wildfires that had broken out throughout California during the same period. Although the fire caused no loss of life, it destroyed 27 houses, and the tourist-dependent economy lost about a third of its expected summer revenue.