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Everything You Need to Know to Plan a Weekend in Big Sur

Immortalized by writers like Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller for its isolated, wild beauty, Big Sur is a place that can leave the most traveled among us awestruck and speechless. Take our advice: Give yourself at least a long weekend, which allows enough time to soak in the thundering surf of the Pacific, the stillness of the redwoods, the magical fog that envelops the area during early morning hikes. We recommend starting in San Francisco and working your way down, which will take you past iconic Northern California beach towns like Santa Cruz and Carmel, plus plenty of spots to pull over and survey the craggy, jagged coastline—on the mend after some particularly devastating storms and mudslides last spring. The town itself is making a strong recovery, especially since the completion of the rebuilt Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which means innkeepers are excitedly welcoming visitors back after months-long absences. All the lodging below is up and running, and although some of the hiking trails are still closed, check out the California State Parks’ site for regular updates. And if you have more time to spare, this is our take on how to do a full coastal road trip.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Post Ranch Inn

    From a room here, perched on a 1,200-foot cliff, there are only two things to see: the wild Santa Lucia mountains and the Pacific. In fact, it’s hard to believe you’re not looking at the whole damn thing. And while the surrounding natural beauty is a given, the hotel also has a lot to offer indoors. The restaurant, Sierra Mar, has a fantastic, four-course, prix fixe menu, offering unfussy entrees like duck confit with local huckleberries and parsnips, and housemade pappardelle with pesto and pickled yucca blossoms. The spa, meanwhile, is the reason most people come here in the first place. It offers specialized treatments like Reiki, vibrational resonance, and too many other transporting services to list here. So it’s with good reason that booking one of the 39 rooms usually requires reserving well in advance (and no kids allowed).

  • Post Ranch Inn

    Photos Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood

  • Post Ranch Inn
  • Post Ranch Inn
  • Post Ranch Inn

    Photos Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood

  • Ventana Big Sur

    It’s a testament to Ventana that even with some of the best hiking and most gorgeous beaches in the world right outside the door, it’s still hard to leave the property. The diversions here include swimming in the two heated outdoor pools (make sure you know which pool you want to go to—one of them is clothing optional), napping in one of the many hammocks strung around the grounds, or anything else equally relaxing. At sunset, the kitchen offers a wine tasting, when guests can grab a glass and settle into one of the Adirondack chairs (it’s just as idyllic as it sounds). The 59 guest rooms were recently given a modern makeover, but with redwood-paneled walls and floors, and the sense of place is strong. Most rooms come with a private deck and fireplace, and the views of the ocean and hills are spectacular. It’s not all lounging and relaxing, if you don’t want it to be: The hotel offers guided walks around its 160 acres every morning, and they’ll book more challenging hikes with local guides, too.

  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Redwood Canyon Glampsites at Ventana

    The latest addition to Ventana Big Sur, these souped-up campsites are a wholly different (and decadent) way to connect with the great outdoors. Set within a 20-acre, redwood-covered canyon, the 15 safari-style canvas tents are outfitted with all the creature comforts you’d possibly want for a weekend in the wilderness. We’re talking daily housekeeping, a wood-burning fire pit, s’mores ready for roasting, heated blankets, WiFi, plus ample plugs for charging all your devices, should you want to stay connected. Guests are greeted in the morning with coffee, tea, and pastries, and forget about sponge baths—there’s a stand-alone private bath house (accessed by a special key card) with subway tile-lined showers, marble vanities, and heated floors. For an additional fee, guests can access Ventana’s resort grounds, including the pools, spa, gym, and Social House (the resort’s living room and center of activity). Although the resort is adults only, the campsites are kid-friendly.

  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Ventana Big Sur
  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

    Here’s the thing about Deetjen’s: It’s not for everybody, but that’s part of its charm. The original buildings date back to the 1930’s, when the owners, Helmuth and Helen Deetjen, first welcomed guests to their collection of tiny cottages in the redwoods. While the hotel faced devastating damage during the mudslides, they proudly re-opened this spring, and there are currently 16 rooms available for

  • overnight stays, each one with its own quirks (sloping roofs, rickety floors, timeworn furniture), and some with their own fireplaces or a wood-burning stove. There are no locks on the doors. And since they’re a little old-fashioned here, all reservations must be made by phone (yes, really). Regular visitors will tell you any time of year is beautiful here, but Deetjen’s is especially magical at the end of March, when the wisteria is in full bloom.

  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn
  • Treebones

    For a less pricey option, Treebones is an unconventional operation with a hippie spirit that offers solar-powered yurts, bare campsites, an organic garden, and, blessedly for those looking to really go off the grid, and absence of WiFi.

  • Tree Bones
  • Tree Bones
  • Tree Bones
  • Tree Bones
  • Tree Bones

WHERE TO EAT

  • The Sur House

    If you’re a guest at Ventana, it’s easy to lean on the rustic vibe of the Sur House for all your meals. Even if you’re not staying here though, it’s worth coming for breakfast in the morning, which is served on the sprawling patio (we’re talking mountains and redwoods on one side, ocean on the other). Chef Paul Corsentino pulls out all the stops: whole grain pancakes are served with an apple and maple compote, a take on Eggs Benedict includes guacamole and smoked turkey, and a solid menu of all manner of pressed juices.

  • Sur House
  • Sierra Mar

    The whole set-up over at Sierra Mar, the restaurant at Post Ranch Inn is meant to ensure that you’ll have the best possible views over the course of your meal. Set on a cliff above the surf, there are floor-to-ceiling glass walls and the tables are positioned at various heights so there’s truly no bad seat in the house. The four-course prix fixe menu changes daily but is a mix of Asian, French, and Mediterranean, drawing from much of the area’s fresh produce. Expect beautifully plated dishes like carrot cavatelli, seared king salmon with smoked split pea, and a tart apple salad topped with Big Sur chèvre. Both lunch and dinner are open to outside guests but require advance booking.

  • Sierra Mar

    Photos Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood

  • Sierra Mar
  • Sierra Mar
  • Sierra Mar
  • Big Sur Bakery

    Don’t let the rustic, 1930’s-style ranch house fool you. BSB has some seriously good food that could go head-to-head with anyplace in San Francisco or LA. Baker Michelle Rizzolo (who trained at Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery and Campanile) and the rest of her tight-knit team churn out seasonally-driven dishes alongside excellent coffee, sourdough bread, and pastries that visitors are willing to wait in line for. Come for brunch to try their most famous dish: breakfast pizza cooked in their wood-fired oven. Dinner is fantastic too, with lots of roasted veggies and freshly caught, butter-braised halibut and sea bass. Reservations are strongly suggested.

  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Big Sur Bakery
  • Nepenthe

    Nepenthe’s original owners, Lolly and Bill Fassett, actually came to Big Sur in the late 1940s, wanting to raise their children in the wilderness and, as they put it, “host dance parties under the stars.” The long-standing restaurant and community gathering place is made from redwood and bricks that Lolly made by hand, and the Fassetts (their children and grandchildren still run the place) are an important piece of Big Sur history. The restaurant is every bit as charming and laid-back as it was during their time, and their famous Ambrosia Burger is still the thing to order. For obvious reasons, time your trip around sunset and grab a drink on the patio for views 800 feet above the surf.

  • Nepenthe
  • Nepenthe
  • Nepenthe
  • Deetjen’s Restaurant

    Not much has changed since owner Barbara Blake arrived at Deetjen’s in 1939, and breakfast in the magnolia-shrouded courtyard remains a rite of passage for first-timers. (We’ve also heard good things about Chef Domingo Santamaria’s breakfast burrito, which was recently added to the morning line-up.) Dinner is downright magical, set in one of the four small dining rooms, where old photos line the walls, and the entire space is lit by candlelight. The warming menu is simple but thoughtful: a creamy saffron vegetable risotto, oven roasted rack of lamb, homemade soup, and Dungeness crab cakes. It’s worth bringing a nice bottle of wine too since their corkage fee is nominal ($15).

  • Deetjen’s Restaurant
  • Deetjen’s Restaurant
  • Deetjen’s Restaurant

ACTIVITIES

  • Henry Miller Library

    If you’re also a nerd (or looking for a postcard), don’t miss the Henry Miller Library, which is part memorial (the Tropic of Cancer author called Big Sur home), part bookshop, part hangout in the woods.

  • Henry Miller Library
  • Henry Miller Library
  • Point Sur Light Station

    If seafaring history is your thing, plan a trip to Point Sur Light Station, built in 1889 for ships navigating the rocky coastline. Perched on a mound on volcanic rock at the mouth of the Little Sur River, the lighthouse is open for guided walking tours year-around. From the end of April through the end of September, they also offer a moonlight tour.

  • Point Sur Light Station
  • Point Sur Light Station
  • Point Sur Light Station

ROADTRIP STOP

  • Limekiln State Park

    If you’re cruising south down Highway 1 you might miss it, but Limeklin State Park offers both easy access to the beach, plus an epic waterfall.

  • Limekiln State Park

HIKES

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns
    State Park

    This park can be a bit touristy (it’s the place where everyone takes the picture of the turquoise cove), but it’s pretty enough to merit a stop regardless. Aim to get there by 8 a.m. to guarantee you’ll get a parking spot and not have to park along the highway. If you happen to be here in December or January, the benches at the end of the Overlook trail are a great place to see whales migrating south.

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • Andrew Molera State Park

    There are still a couple of trail closures here including River, Twin Cottonwoods, Hidden Beach, and Trail Camp due to last Spring’s storms, but there’s plenty to see across the park’s 4,700 or so acres. When all is up and running there’s a diverse network of 20 miles of trails offering access to Molera Beach and the mouth of the Big Sur River, many of which get busy after 10 a.m., so it’s best to start early. A seasonal footbridge was just put in place to give hikers easy access across river.

  • Andrew Molera State Park

    Photos Courtesy of Dhilung Kirat

  • Cypress Grove Trail at
    Point Lobos State Reserve

    Though not technically in Big Sur, Point Lobos is a state preserve with enough hiking trails and information centers that a visit here could easily take up an entire day. It’s best explored by foot (arrive early, as latecomers have to park along the highway), so you can explore the wildflowers in the forests past the cliffs, then make your way down to the shore, where kids—and, honestly, adults too—can explore tide pools and climb around on the rocks. There are plenty of seabirds to be seen year round, and in the spring, it’s common to find baby sea lions and their mothers sunning themselves on the beach. The Cypress Grove Trail is an easy one-mile loop that takes you through one of the last remaining areas of naturally growing Monterey Cypress trees left on earth. (The other is at Carmel Bay at Cypress Point.)

  • Cypress Grove Trail

    Photos Courtesy of Katie Wheeler

HOT SPRINGS

  • Esalen Institute

    This old school New Age destination is the place to make all your hippie dreams come true. Book a personal enrichment workshop, bed down inside a cozy cabin on the cliffs, and spend your days exploring—or even becoming certified in—a healing modality like reiki, dance, massage, or yoga. If you’re a step beyond that, you can explore new paths to wellness through mindfulness, creative writing, crafting, or art. The healing arts center is open to all and is very worth a visit. The same goes for the hot springs, which are open to the public from 1 to 3 a.m. and require reservations weeks in advance (bathing suits not required).

  • Esalen Institute

HIDDEN BEACH

  • Garrapata State Park

    There’s no official entrance to Garrapata, but lots of small, hard-to-read signs marking the entrances to trailheads on both sides of Highway 1, so it’s still a little bit of a secret. Currently, the trails west of Highway 1 are open again, and there’s a little bit of something for everyone—whether it’s a walk on the redwood-shaded paths or the more stunning pathways that hug the bluffs.

  • Garrapata State Park
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