If you’ve never spent a weekend in Big Sur, California, start planning your trip there today. The rugged stretch of land along the central Pacific coast is a region that is sparsely populated, but a beautiful and relaxing tourist destination. On a sunny day, the air is crisp and clear and the ocean is so blue and flat that you cannot tell where it meets the sky — it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Wondering what to do and where to stay after you’ve gotten lost in the surroundings? Here are six things we love about the region. But be warned: when you go for a weekend, you’ll quickly realize that a couple of days isn’t nearly enough time in this magical place.
The scenic drive
To get to Big Sur, you have to drive along the famed California State Route 1, which is a narrow and windy two-lane road along seaside cliffs. Leave San Francisco around 9 a.m. to ensure that you avoid the worst of the traffic and make it to your destination during the day — you won’t want to miss gorgeous views that are so remarkable that a written description doesn’t do them justice. If you get hungry on the way, stop in Monterey for lunch along the waterfront at the Cannery Row Brewing Company. The massive restaurant isn’t a true brewery — they lost the water rights to brew beer a couple of months before it opened in 2010, but it has 73 beers on draft, making it one of the largest lists in Northern California. The building dates back to the late 1800s, so it’s filled with exposed brick, wooden walls, vintage signs and even a graffiti tag by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. The cuisine is not your typical bar food, so expect deliciously hearty items like short rib grilled cheese. The meat is smoked for 18 hours before being piled high into a sandwich that is served on toasted sourdough with a crispy provolone cheese crust. It’s so scrumptious, it’s sinful.
Ventana Big Sur
Once you get to Big Sur, one of the best places to stay is the adults-only Ventana Big Sur. There’s a homey, compound feel to Ventana: Hammocks dot the property and guests wander around in slippers and bathrobes. It’s romantic and calming, luxurious and laid back — it’s no wonder stars like Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway made the property a part of their wedding weekends. The hotel is truly an oasis nestled in between redwood trees and rosemary shrubs. The majority of the rustic yet modern cabins offer hot tubs on private balconies while providing the Pacific Ocean as a constant backdrop. It’s insanely quiet, so much so that on a recent visit, the resort felt empty even though every unit was sold. The rooms have an open bathroom area with a marble bathtub, sinks and shower that are visible from the beds, which sit in front of a cozy, easy-to-light fireplace. There’s a Japanese bathhouse, stellar spa, heated pools, a daily wine-and-cheese reception and guided morning walks around the property. The restaurant is also not to be missed. It has a glorious ocean view and a mouth-watering menu highlighted by a sensational charcuterie platter (with grilled mortadella) and innovative twists on classics (wedge salad adorned with candied bacon, smoked tomatoes and pickled pearl onions).
Post Ranch Spa
Another can’t-miss hotel option is Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Post Ranch Inn. Though the property is filled with elegant natural touches, its Four-Star spa stands above everything else — literally. Situated on top of a ridge, the sanctuary is framed by redwood trees with a view of the ocean. Immediately upon arrival, you feel at one with nature; you can’t help but be relaxed by the stunning surroundings. The extensive menu features five different types of massage, numerous facials inspired by the flora of the region and several body treatments. There are also spa rituals like the crystal and gemstone therapy, which involves an aromatherapy massage, Big Sur jade and gemstones corresponding with the seven primary chakras, energy-balancing Japanese reiki, shaman sessions, fire ceremonies and drum journeys. Cater your visit to suit your needs, be it the clearing of negative influences, the purification and letting go of a past wounding or aligning your creative destiny.
Big Sur Bakery
For breakfast or dinner, you can’t beat this local institution just three minutes from Post Ranch Inn. Located off of California 1 next to a gas station, the bakery is a wooden house with an intimate, always-packed dining room. The vibe is so relaxed, you can’t help but slow down when you’re here. We recommend making a dinner reservation, giving you a chance to enjoy excellent rustic preparations of wood-fired pizzas, whole roasted fish and creamy, melt-in-your-mouth mushroom risotto piled high with roasted garlic. The wine list is exceptional. And if you’re nice to your waiter, he’ll send you home with a bag full of pastries that were left over from the morning. There’s nothing like basking in bakery treats from the comforts of your cozy room without having to wait in line.
The best place for drinks in the area is Nepenthe, a funky, old-school spot that has been serving visitors to Big Sur since 1949. To get to the restaurant and bar, you have to walk up several flights of stairs. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of the ocean and surrounding land. Nepenthe has an outdoor arena with a carved wooden sculpture of a Phoenix greeting guests as they arrive. Grab a Manhattan, made with Four Roses Small Batch bourbon and blood orange bitters, and a spot by the roaring open fire outside. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun set over the sea.
The beautiful hikes
During the day, Big Sur and its surrounding area offers some of the state’s most exquisite hiking trails. Garrapata State Park has a five-mile trek, though, with its 50-foot climb, it’s not for the faint of heart. Should you make the brave trek, you’ll be rewarded with an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean. Spending time in this sort of untouched nature, you can’t help but feel at peace. Another hike that’s not as strenuous, but longer at eight miles, is the Andrew Molera loop trail. You’ll walk through beaches, meadows and a few small redwood groves on this route. Finally, there is Pfeiffer State Park, which has campgrounds, the Big Sur River, wildlife and a host of massive redwoods, oaks, sycamores, alders and willows to gawk over.