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Nestled between the rugged scenery of the Carmel Highlands and the beachy town of San Simeon sits a magical and mythical stretch of jagged coastline, where breathtaking views are expansive. For years, Big Sur offered bohemian writers and artists an isolated refuge, a place to escape the hustle and bustle of 1950’s and 60’s America and return to the beauty of nature. Immortalized by the words of Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller, the central Californian region quickly became one of the top tourist destinations in the world, attracting nearly six million visitors every year. And yet, even as the once secluded spot has grown into a must-see, the allure of Big Sur has remained. Left largely undeveloped, the area has been dubbed a “national treasure,” and it’s well worth a trip for anyone passing through the west coast who’s looking to unplug for a few days. With legendary resorts, restaurants, and beaches—and a few hidden gems along the way—Big Sur is the perfect weekend getaway. Below, check out our recommendations for how to spend a weekend in the coastal town, from where to stay to what to do and where to eat.
Where to Stay
Considered one of the most exquisite hotels in the world, Post Ranch Inn is likely already on your radar—and if it’s not, it certainly should be. Sitting high atop the cliffs of Big Sur, 1200 feet above the Pacific, the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property is located along the famously scenic Highway One and has truly majestic surroundings. Post Ranch Inn is known to be the only hotel in Big Sur to offer an ocean view, but in reality, there’s no hotel anywhere that boasts an ocean view quite like the one found here, where it’s tough to believe you’re looking at just a small sliver of the Pacific and not the entire thing. With 39 unique rooms and suites perched along a ridge that parallels the water, guests can choose a view of the ocean or one of the stunning mountain scenery, while the private Post House and South Coast House provide ample room for relaxing and entertaining and take full advantage of the expansive ocean views. Post Ranch also has a lot to offer indoors, from an award-winning restaurant to an incredible spa that specializes in treatments like Reiki and aromatherapy, and guests can even have an astrology reading or embark on a shaman drum journey. Staying at the luxury resort requires booking well in advance, and note that children are not allowed, but believe us, getting a babysitter is well worth it for a visit to Post Ranch Inn.
Set atop 160 acres of redwoods and rolling meadows overlooking the Pacific, Ventana Big Sur is an adults-only escape, where even surrounded by some of the best beaches and hiking in the world, you’ll never want to leave the property. Guests can opt for privacy and seclusion in one of the hotel’s 59 cottage-style suites, or they can stay in one of Ventana’s 15 luxury safari-style glamping tents at the redwood canyon glampsites. With the more traditional suites, you can get a taste of the stunning landscapes that surround you with a private outdoor balcony or spacious patio, while the glamping tents offer a private fire pit, where you can make s’mores and reconnect with nature in an intimate way. Ventana has a range of activities for guests to choose from, including falconry, art classes, wild foraging, mixology classes, and seemingly endless hiking, and the resort’s Spa Alila is home to everything from traditional massage and skincare treatments to innovative tai chi and meditation classes and Essence Portraits that capture your essence through your unique color patterns.
Where to Eat
Perched high atop Big Sur’s cliffs, Nepenthe first opened its doors in 1949, but the restaurant was built around a cabin that had been there since 1925 and was previously owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Known for its miles-long scenic views of the coast, Nepenthe’s outdoor terrace may be the first thing that attracts visitors, but it’s the restaurant’s Mediterranean menu and use of local, California-grown food that keep them coming. The name was inspired by a Greek word meaning “isle of no sorrow,” and as you enjoy The Famous Ambrosiaburger or Lolly’s Roast Chicken Dinner by the firepit, you’ll understand exactly why.
Sierra Mar, the clifftop restaurant at Post Ranch Inn, is a must-visit whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. With sweeping views of the Pacific from every angle, the eatery calls upon floor-to-ceiling windows and tables positioned at staggering heights to ensure that guests experience the best possible sight as they dine. The four-course prix-fixe menu changes every day, but expect a mix of French, Asian, and Mediterranean, all made with fresh produce from the area and plated beautifully.
If you ask us, no holiday is complete without a visit to a local bakery, and a trip to Big Sur is no exception. Whether you’re craving a sweet treat or looking to sink your teeth into an airy sourdough, Big Sur Bakery has what you need. Nestled inside a 1930’s-style ranch house, the bakery is known for its seasonal dishes, sumptuous pastries and bread, and excellent coffee, all of which patrons happily wait in line for. In addition to the usual suspects, Big Sur Bakery also offers a splendid dinner menu that includes delicious wood-fired pizza and freshly caught fish.
What to Do
Arguably one of California’s most iconic spots and certainly Big Sur’s biggest claim to fame, Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world thanks to its beautiful design and breathtaking surroundings, and it’s a must-see when passing through the town. Completed in 1932, the bridge soars 260 feet above a steep canyon, and it boasts truly panoramic 360-degree views of the ocean as it meets the cliffside.
Named for and created in honor of the eponymous great American author who called the area home for nearly 20 years, the Henry Miller Library is thought to be the cultural heart of Big Sur. Self-described as “the place where nothing happens,” the library is home to an extensive collection of Miller’s works, including Tropic of Cancer, Sexus, and of course his love letter to the region, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. From May to October, the library offers a jam-packed cultural calendar full of events and festivals for visitors to join in on.
Considered one of the most incredible sights along California’s coastline, McWay Falls is an 80-foot-tall waterfall tucked inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The “hike” to the waterfall is actually more of a casual stroll on a paved trail, and it spans around half a mile, so there’s truly no excuse not to visit McWay Falls and take in the stunning sight.
Big Sur is full of alternative and holistic approaches to life, and the Escalen Institute is the acme of it all. A center for transformation and the integration of body, mind, heart, spirit, and community, Escalen offers a number of personal enrichment programs, where visitors can explore—and become certified in—everything from yoga and massage to reiki and mindfulness. While the workshops require at least a few days and staying in one of the institute’s cozy cabins, the healing arts center is open to the public and can be visited during the day, and the destination’s hot springs are open for Public Night Bathing from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. with a reservation.