Central California: Big Sur

Just another overlook in Big Sur

Big Sur, 300 miles/5 hours from LA and the northernmost point of Central California, is flat out gorgeous. Scattered along a precarious cliff’s edge overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, the battle here is to keep your eyes on Highway 1 and away from the incredible views.

Packing a rain-jacket or umbrella is always a good idea, especially in winter and spring. Big Sur’s dress code is (almost) always informal — you’ll see hiking boots and sneakers everywhere – and the temperature rarely gets hot. Always bring a light jacket/sweater for the day and one more layer for night; if you plan to stay up here, bring something warm to sleep in.

That is, as opposed to merely someone warm to sleep with. It’s truly romantic up here, with cool ocean winds across the bluffs, crashing waves, quiet redwood groves, and places to linger over a soaring ocean-view lunch or candlelit dinner.

Big Sur is also a camping couple’s paradise, but sleeping outdoors isn’t really my thing. If it’s yours, check out the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce’s camping guide.

Just because I’m not keen on tents, though, doesn’t mean I won’t sleep in a yurt.

A couple years back, my husband and I spent a cozy night at Treebones, where guests sleep in individual yurts, or round tented rooms with wood floors, windows, sinks, French doors, decks and extraordinarily comfy beds. Bathrooms aren’t inside the yurts; nearby, there are large public bathrooms with separate stalls and showers. The bathroom walk is better with footwear both inside and out, so bring some flip flops.

Breakfast is available in the front office each morning, but the spread is pretty light; you can do a lot better further along in the Village. A great spot to visit during whale watching season (December-April), Treebones is perched up on a hill across Highway 1 from the ocean, with an almost endless view and nearby hiking and beach access. (They were building an ocean-view, heated pool when we visited, and now it’s ready.)

However, Treebones is several miles from the main drag of Big Sur, which makes driving to and from any night-time activities like, say, dinner, potentially dangerous. In Big Sur, there are slim-to-no guardrails on Highway 1, and no street lights. Here, brights and caution are your friends.

Along Highway 1

Ragged Point Inn is a very popular spot because you can park in the huge lot for free, grab an espresso drink at the outdoor kiosk, gaze upon the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains on one side, or amble through the Inn’s coastal gardens to the very edge of the sea cliffs. You can also make your way down a 400-foot wooden staircase to see a waterfall and clamber around the rocky beach below.

Ragged Point is even farther south than Treebones, and in fact, closer to San Simeon’s Hearst Castle, but does offer three meals a day in its stunning dining room or garden patio. Many of the rooms have the same views that you can get for free, so I’ve never felt a need to stay overnight there — but their local, organic food is sublime.

Ditto on the food at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, which is miles from Ragged Point, much farther north and closer to the business district known as the Village.

While staying at Treebones, we came to Deetjen’s for a cozy, romantic dinner of sustainably-farmed foods here, with flowers on the tables and the resident cat coming around to visit. (I love me some cats and miss my tabby when I’m away, so anytime I can snuggle one on vacation is a happy time.)  They’re also known for lovely traditional breakfasts in a glass-topped room that’s more like a conservatory than a porch. (They don’t, however, serve lunch.)

What we hadn’t realized was that Deetjen’s also appears to be a wonderful place to stay, dark and quiet at night, with snug cottages nestled amongst redwood and pine trees. Deetjen’s is all about spiritual, crunchy California, with a burnished shell of upscale beauty.

For even more upscale digs, try the Post Ranch Inn or the Ventana Inn & Spa.

In case you don’t want to drop many hundreds of dollars each night on the rooms here, you can always check out their spas and restaurants. Ventana in particular is known for its spa’s outdoor massages and elegant cliffside lunches and dinners at Cielo.  Post Ranch’s Sierra Mar has limited dining times available to outside guests — 3pm – 6pm, and again at 8:45pm – but you can always indulge in some gemstone therapy somewhere inbetween.

For slightly less coin, head up to the breathtaking cliff-side patio at Mediterranean-themed Nepenthe. Try an Ambrosiaburger or beet salad for lunch or dinner — tastes even better with the turquoise spread of the Pacific as its backdrop. A simply fabulous place to relax and have a cocktail after hiking.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Just south of Nepenthe is The Henry Miller Library, open every day but Tuesday from 11am-6pm. The writer lived here off and on for almost 40 years, and you can learn everything you both wanted and didn’t want to know about him here. There are always book readings, lectures and music performances here; it serves as a de facto community auditorium.

To get out of your car or off an ocean-view deck and experience the trees, rocks, river, and ocean that make Big Sur so unique, visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Stop at the visitor’s information center at the trailhead to Pfeiffer Falls to get information on the several different trails to take — there’s a comfort level for every hiker here.

Inside Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur Lodge Restaurant & Espresso House is purely casual, offering inexpensive breakfasts, salads and burgers on a creekside patio surrounded by trees. Their espresso drinks are the best you’ll find in the area.

And as I always say, a well-caffeinated couple is a happy couple.

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See also
Big Sur, Revisited – Part One
Big Sur, Revisited – Part Two
Central California: San Simeon
The Best of Central California

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