Since Highway 1 connected it to the rest of California in 1937, Big Sur has been a haven for artists, writers, spiritual seekers and the mainstream crowds who followed them there. It is, after all, one of America’s most awe-inspiring places: Dramatic cliffs crash into the Pacific Ocean, and mountains dotted with redwoods reveal waterfalls and scenes out of a fairy tale; moody, ever-changing weather means no two days feel the same. All in all, it feels like a dream.
Luckily, even after all that time, Big Sur has managed to remain pristine (a testament to the destination’s long-held emphasis on sustainability) and maintain much of its bohemian ethos (although bohemian prices are a thing of the past). Today, you’ll find a small collection of incredible places to eat, a few world-class hotels and no shortage of marvelous natural vistas. Here are some of the standouts to jumpstart a perfect weekend in Big Sur.
Where to Stay in Big Sur
Big Sur is best known for its pricey accommodations, but for a quality stay with options that won’t break the bank, check into Glen Oaks Big Sur. Here, introductory rooms start at a few hundred bucks per night and go up from there for more photo-worthy options, like the Big Sur Cabin (a standout with private outdoor areas complete with two soaking tubs and two fire pits). Whichever room you choose, however, staying at Glen Oaks will put you within striking distance to everything Big Sur has to offer.
If money is no object, then book your stay at the legendary Post Ranch Inn. Opened in 1992 and situated directly above the Pacific, this has long been Big Sur’s most spectacular place to rest your head. Their variety of accommodations include modern treehouses in the forest and a selection of architecturally unique, mountain and ocean-facing abodes. For the ultimate stay, especially of the romantic variety, snag one of their private, freestanding pavilions equipped with an outdoor soaking tub.
If Big Sur on a budget is more your style, or you simply want to sleep beneath the stars, consider Ventana Campground. Located directly behind Alila Ventana, another exorbitantly expensive five-star hotel, the campsite, like the hotel, is managed by Hyatt. This means the sites are incredibly easy to book (when compared to the complicated, lottery-style system used by state-managed campsites nearby) and well-maintained (each comes with a picnic table, fire pit and use of clean, modern bath houses).
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Where to Eat in Big Sur
If staying at Post Ranch Inn isn’t in the cards, consider visiting for a splurge-worthy dinner at their restaurant, Sierra Mar. Book well in advance to time your reservation with the sunset and know that the multi-course, prix-fixe menu, which changes daily and utilizes produce from the hotel’s garden, will set you back $145 per person. If wine’s your thing, they also have the region’s most impressive cellar, with over 3,200 bottles to choose from.
For casual, all-day dining, stop by Big Sur Bakery, a local institution. Grab a coffee and pastry to enjoy on a morning drive down the coast, or sit for something heartier from their breakfast, brunch and lunch menus. Come dinner, the bakery draws a line worth waiting in for their famous wood-fired pizzas. If elevated bar food and cold beer sounds more appealing, directly next door is Big Sur Taphouse. Sampling their rotating selection of on-tap brews until you find the one for you is encouraged, and a menu of can’t-go-wrong staples like nachos and wings will hit the spot.
Finally, and farthest south, stop by Coast Big Sur. Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the culinary program is run by chef Nick Balla, formerly of Bar Tartine. And while the menu he’s crafted is succinct, trust that what’s on it has been perfected (order the tahini goddess salad and sourdough pizza) and that it’s best enjoyed on the ocean-view, rooftop terrace. To wrap things up, you’ll also find homemade ice cream and a shop filled with provisions to stock your hotel room (think grab-and-go cheeses, beer/wine and other packaged snacks).
What to Do in Big Sur
Perhaps a controversial statement, but there isn’t that much to do in Big Sur. This, however, is part of the destination’s laid-back charm. Much of anyone’s visit here will consist of eating at the aforementioned restaurants and driving Highway 1 to take in famous views, like Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls. As far as getting near the water goes, Pfeiffer Beach is the go-to spot for long walks on the beach, and hiking down to Partington Cove should definitely be considered. For more Big Sur hikes, we’d recommend contacting Big Sur Guides and Hiking and hiring a private guide to take out any guesswork.
One way to rationalize dropping the dough on one of Big Sur’s ultra-luxury hotels, like Post Ranch Inn, is that simply being there or sitting on your balcony staring at the ocean is a very worthy way to spend your time. You’ll also have access to pools by which to lounge and complimentary activities in which to partake, like sound baths, nature walks and morning yoga. And given Big Sur’s reputation as a spiritual wellness mecca, there are few better places to treat yourself to a unique spa experience. At Post Ranch Inn, meet with their shaman (available to non-hotel guests here), to return your mind, body and spirit to its “healed state.” When in Rome.
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