As you cruise along Highway 1 in Monterey County, take in the striking sight of crashing waves against craggy cliffs and get your camera (or phone) ready. Consider one photo op mandatory—the majestic Bixby Bridge, which serves as a grandiose welcome to Big Sur.
Continue south for another 16 miles to Pfeiffer Beach, where a wide beach (with purple sand!) looks out onto an arched rock. This gem takes a little effort to find: Drive to the end of the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, which is on the west side of Highway 1 between the Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Although the natural beauty of the Central Coast region makes it a must-see destination on its own, world-class resorts like the Ventana Big Sur take it to a bucket-list level. During the Pfieffer Canyon Bridge closure in 2017, the luxury hotel upgraded its entire property, earning it a spot on Travel + Leisure’s 2018 Editors’ Pick for the Best New Hotels. The new glamping options put a luxe spin on “roughing it,” with plush beds, wood-burning fire pits (s’mores kit included), and daily housekeeping service.
While at Ventana, enjoy the amenities. Start with a daily yoga class or guided hike, peruse the works of local artists at Glass House Gallery, soak in the outdoor pools (note: one is clothing-optional), and enjoy the complimentary afternoon wine and cheese tasting. For dinner, The Sur House offers breathtaking ocean views and seafood delivered by local fisherman.
After a good night’s sleep, head south to the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Order a coffee and browse the collection of books before continuing on to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where the 80-foot McWay Falls flow right into the ocean. Nearby dining options are promising. At Big Sur Roadhouse, enjoy seasonal California cuisine in a rustic-modern space or kick back with a drink in an Adirondack chair at Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant. Don’t miss the famous Ambrosia Burger at Nepenthe, perched on a cliff 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
Wave Big Sur goodbye and head to Carmel-by-the-Sea
Check into The Hideaway, an inviting 24-room bed-and-breakfast located within the walkable, fairytale town of Carmel Village. For dinner, stroll over to La Balena Cucina Toscana to see what’s on the daily-changing menu—the handmade pasta and whole fish special are a safe bet.
North and South Lake Tahoe
It’s time for a change of scenery. Within a five-hour drive, you’ll reach the winter wonderland of North Lake Tahoe, home to notable resorts such Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows), Sugar Bowl Resort, and Northstar California. In addition to snowboarding and downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, skating, and fat biking are popular here. After a hearty meal (try West Shore Café in Homewood or Sunnyside in Tahoe City), cozy up for the night in the well-appointed Cedar Crest Cottages overlooking Lake Tahoe’s West Shore.
South Lake Tahoe is about 45–60 minutes away, where you’ll find a whole different set of winter activity options. Hike or snowshoe around Emerald Bay for the million-dollar views of Lake Tahoe (snowshoe rentals at Camp Richardson Mountain Snow Center). For more downhill terrain, Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort are within easy driving distance, and the gondola for Heavenly Mountain Resort leaves right from the center of town. Keep things convenient and stay at the all-suite Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, located at the base of Heavenly, and walk to one of the restaurants in the village—locals suggest Azul Latin Kitchen or 10 Crows BBQ.