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Where to Go in Big Sur

Luxury hotels, iconic eateries, and outdoor activities steal the show in this breathtaking region

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Ventana Big Sur

Ventana is Spanish for “window,” and this hotel in a redwood forest takes advantage of its spectacular coast-meets-mountain setting. Many of the hotel’s 59 rooms, which are outfitted with fireplaces and soaking tubs, look onto the ocean or the mountains from private patios or balconies. For guests who want to get even closer to the trees, the resort, which underwent a renovation in 2017, offers new glamping accommodations: 15 safari tents that feel refined and private are set into a 20-acre wooded canyon and outfitted with plush beds, lighting, and fire pits (and include daily housekeeping and nightly turn-down service). Visit Spa Alila for relaxation and rejuvenation through massage, energy work, bodywork, skin care, and astrology readings. Soak in the Japanese hot baths, swim in two heated outdoor pools, explore the property on daily guided hikes, or visit the Glass House Gallery to view work by local artists. At the Sur House restaurant, ingredients from the nearby farms and sea are the stars—along with dramatic views.

Henry Miller Memorial Library

In a regal redwood grove along the Big Sur coast lies a place “where nothing happens,” according to its proprietors. The highway traffic noise disappears, the filtered sunlight takes on the quality of stained glass, and the earthy smell of the forest is enough to cleanse your mind of digital and other distractions. This quiet altar of wisdom and irreverence serves as a bookstore and art hub focused on promoting the works of author Henry Miller, who lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962. The library hosts events throughout the year, but especially from May to October, including concerts, lectures, and book signings. The annual Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series occurs outside, in the redwood amphitheater. In the winter, the library takes on the aura of a writer’s retreat, when time stretches endlessly forward and you can spend hours browsing books, nursing a cup of coffee, and watching the light and shadows change the landscape outside the windows. Unlike a library, there’s no borrowing here, but what you walk away with may just be richer than any physical possession.

Big Sur Bakery

You might drive right by the Big Sur Bakery as you make your way along the wild coastline that artist Francis McComas once called the “greatest meeting of land and sea.” But if you do miss it, turn back. This casual roadside bakery and restaurant—which used to be known as “that place behind the gas station”—is a can’t-miss destination for its freshly baked bread and pastries, as well as sit-down meals. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, perfectly seasoned dishes emerge from the wood-fired oven. Chef Michelle Rizzolo has devoted herself to making the best chicken anyone’s ever had—and you should absolutely order it. But there’s also delicious pizza, homemade meat balls, grilled octopus, and desserts you won’t want to share. Big Sur Bakery is also a community hub, where locals drop by to have a scone and a cup of coffee, and catch up with friends. Pro tip: Go early for freshly baked pastries. Get more than you think you’ll need. You’ll eat them all and you won’t regret it.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

One of Big Sur’s most iconic images comes from this state park: tree-topped rocks jutting above a golden beach next to crashing surf. If you’re not an avid outdoorsperson, this is possibly the best reward for an easy hike that exists: Visitors can view the 80-foot McWay Falls as it plummets from a granite cliff to the sandy cove below from the half-mile Waterfall Overlook Trail, which is easily accessible from the entrance gate of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The falls, creek, and canyon are named after Christopher McWay, an early settler and farmer, but the park itself is named after a legendary early pioneer who had a ranch in McWay Canyon with her husband. For a different view, turn to Ewoldsen Trail, a two-mile loop that crosses streams and winds through redwood trees. At its highest elevation gain, the views make any effort more than worthwhile. Pro tip: The Central Coast’s only known colony of double-crested cormorants live just offshore, so birders should bring binoculars—and patience.

Nepenthe

A fictional medicine for chasing away sorrow mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey gives this restaurant and shop its name. Perched high above the Pacific and in the shadow of the Santa Lucia Mountains, Nepenthe offers miles-long views of the coast. It’s certainly served its purpose as a lure for poets, artists, travelers, and vagabonds since it opened in 1949—and part of the pleasure of a stop here is listening to fellow diners who are old-timers tell “I remember when” stories. Enjoy it all from a seat on the laid-back patio, or inside the main building, designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and made of native materials to blend with the landscape. Three of this restaurant’s dishes are so beloved that the staff is asked daily for recipes: the Ambrosia burger (where quality of ingredients and temperature of the grill are essential), Lolly’s Roast Chicken Dinner with fresh sage stuffing, and the raspberry-boysenberry-strawberry Triple Berry Pie. Even the simplest menu items take on a best-ever taste here, and you wonder if it’s the food, the atmosphere, the view, the company, or all of it wrapped together in an iconic California package that can’t be found anywhere else.

The Sushi Bar at Treebones

Before glamping was a phenomenon, there was Treebones Resort, its yurts set on redwood platforms with views of the Pacific Ocean. But the swanky yurts at Treebones aren’t the only reason you should stop here. The Sushi Bar at Treebones Resort is the local go-to spot for sushi. The two-seating nightly omakase experience offers an elaborate tasting menu, served against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset over the ocean, visible through the windows behind the chef. The sushi chef thoroughly guides you through the dishes. While the freshest catch is always the star of the menu (which can include scallops with black garlic and yellowtail nigiri), even vegan diners will have plenty to enjoy with sushi options that highlight produce from the on-site organic garden. Pro tips: Only open from March through November, the Sushi Bar offers same-day reservations for off-property guests; with very limited seating, you need to be fast on the phone dial. Even better, since overnight guests receive first priority when they book their yurt, your odds of dining here improve if you stay over, too.

Post Ranch Inn

Described by devotees as the most luxurious, one-of-a-kind lodging experience in all of California, the Post Ranch Inn was purpose-built to blend in with the Santa Lucia Mountains. Opened in 1992, and designed by famed Big Sur architect Mickey Muennig, the modern dwellings here resemble sophisticated tree houses—at one with the earth, sky, and water. Each of the 39 buildings is built from recycled redwood and paneled glass, and each was designed with complete seclusion in mind. Choose ocean-view accommodations, like the Cliff House with a deck suspended over the cliffs, to feel as if you’re soaring with the red-tailed hawks. Or if you get your inspiration from the mountains, book the Peak House, which faces the top of the ridge. The Post Ranch Spa offers soothing body and facial treatments, private yoga and meditation practices, and even shaman healing sessions, while two pools on the cliffs have views that blend sea and sky. Other activities—morning yoga, guided nature walks, tours of the chef’s garden, and stargazing—keep guests immersed in nature. This is the place to go off the grid, commune with loved ones (or reconnect with yourself), and enjoy total privacy.

Big Sur Adventures

Using an e-bike isn’t cheating—it’s far more environmentally friendly than using a car, plus you get some exercise as well. And those climbs along the coast are much easier when you have a 750-watt assist. Big Sur Adventures offers a trio of e-bike tours for all levels of riders: 17-Mile Drive, the Old Coast Road, and McWay Falls. One of the best choices for intermediate riders is the Old Coast Road route, a dirt road that follows the original wagon trail into Big Sur. There are locals who haven’t been on this road, and the views are magnificent as they stretch along the coast, into oak and redwood groves, and across the Little Sur River. Trips include four to 12 people and typically last three to four hours. Sure, in a car, you can roll down the windows to smell the sea, but exploring the coast by bike gives you a full sensory experience: ocean and forest scents, warm sun on your arms, the sound of crashing waves and wind in the trees, and the feeling of getting a little closer to the wild coast.

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