I would put Big Sur on my short list of magical places. To have such geographical beauty in the United States is so convenient. Big Sur is located on California’s west close between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The region consists of 85 miles of coast line with rugged terrain and sparkling blue waters. You can traverse Big Sur’s beauty through a narrow, two-lane, windy, cell-phone-tower-free highway known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) aka Route 1.
But first, getting to Big Sur from Yosemite, we had to take advantage of the must-sees along the way: namely, Carmel-by-the-Sea and its famous Pebble Beach Golf course. Carmel is such a cute beachcomber town and it reminded me of many small towns in Europe. I wish we had an extra couple of days to scope out all it had to offer but lunch and an afternoon drink at the golf course was all our time would allow. We had lunch at a quaint restaurant called Porta Bella situated on the popular Ocean Ave. After strolling the avenue for a bit, we headed over to Pebble Beach where we drove the 17-mile scenic drive which runs through Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. The homes were not-in-this-lifetime stunning. We then found our way to the Pebble Beach Resort and enjoyed a drink at the Terrace Lounge overlooking the famous-to-golf-enthusiasts Spyglass’s 18th hole. My husband is determined now, more than ever, to come play this course.
After a few short miles down the PCH, we finally embarked upon the Big Sur area.
Lets get real for a second, like anywhere else in California, Big Sur is overpriced…on everything…so you have two options: 1) suck it up because there are about billion Europeans who will willingly pay luxury prices for a mediocre flatbread in Big Sur or 2) make it a day trip and move on.
We opted for the former but with one small compromise: we stayed near the lower, sleepier, region of Big Sur in a town called Lucia at they amazing, newly renovated, Lucia Lodge. There’s no such thing as the “perfect” location and as this is a region, not a town, everything is rather far apart but staying on the north or south end has great value. Case and point: waking up to this view every morning and not seeing any signs of civilization for several miles and saving a couple hundred bucks PER NIGHT. Of course this means that you have to behave at dinner and not over serve yourself… those pitch black, windy roads are no match to the non-sober.
If you prefer to be more centrally located, our dear friends swear by Ventana. And if you’re into camping, I hear Treebones Resort is where it’s at. There’s also Big Sur Lodge, inside the Pfeiffer State Park but rates can be finicky. My next trip, I may consider Airbnb or Flipkey where I hear you can get stunning views for a fraction of the price. If you’re COMPELTELY trying to disconnect from the outside world (and considering Big Sur has zero cell phone service, it’s not that hard to do in the first place), check out Camaldoli.
The Big Sur coastline has stunning views all down the PCH; however, there are a couple spots that are notable for photographing. Bixby Creek Bridge at the north end is one of them. I decided if I ever became homeless (God forbid), I was coming to this bridge to live under. It is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Underneath the bridge lies a seemingly private beach that hikers dare to descend to. With a little research, we learned that in the 1950’s an eclectic group of hippies bought the whole of Bixby canyon. They divided the flat areas along the creek into 2-3 acre plots and artists, writers, and poets lived in this area where they had access to fresh clean water and stunning views. It remains in the same pristine state with over 100 acres of private preserved common land. The last cabin sold for less than $1million.
Another highly photographed area is within the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where you can view McWay Falls. If you park within the park, you’ll pay $10 for the day but you’ll have access to both parks; otherwise, many tourists park along the PCH. From lot to waterfall, it’s about 0.6 miles round trip. After making your way down the path you’ll discover the waterfall and the remnants of the McWay Waterfall House. Can you imagine waking up to this view?! Visit first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds because by sunset, you’ll be rubbing elbows with everyone else visiting the park that day. This blog post is a great crash course in getting to know the history of this area.
The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has several easy-moderate hikes to waterfalls. The Ewoldsen Trail is about 5 miles round trip and starts from the Canyon trail and hikes uphill through a redwood forest. You’ll see more of a bird’s eye view of the coast.
Another option is the Pfeiffer Falls trail that we opted for. The trail leads by a few redwoods before ending at the waterfalls. It’s no McWay Falls but the 2 mile trail is popular and will give you a little workout with an elevation change of about 600 ft.
Since we had hiked Yosemite National Park just two days prior, we had our fill of hikes and were ready for some R&R with scenic views.
With all that was saved on our hotel, we splurged for a dinner at the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar. The Post Ranch Inn is the highest of luxury resorts in the Big Sur area and it definitely felt that way with the extravagant vehicles valeted in the parking lot. The service was impeccable and the food was good. Was it our best culinary experience? No. Was it a great experience with a great view? Definitely. If it’s not obvious, time your reservation at any restaurant with a view so that you catch the sunset towards the end of your reservation. Nobody wants to pay for stunning views and end up staring at a black ocean.
Another spot that came recommended to us was the Big Sur Bakery. This restaurant doesn’t come with amazing views of the ocean; quite the contrary, you’ll be facing a gas station. However, it is comfortable, cute, well landscaped and comes with your very own out house for a rest room. As with all of Big Sur, you’ll overpay for a pizza. Our only regret was choosing this restaurant for a dinner instead of lunch.
Another restaurant that came recommended to us was Napenthe, just down the road from Big Sur Bakery; unfortunately, we didn’t make it here but they do serve California style food on a roof top with a view.
As there are so many turn offs along the PCH, we opted to drop into one of the few markets along the PCH and pick up sandwiches and drinks for a picnic lunch one day. In good California fashion, we scoped out our view and picnicked next to a Mercedes-driving-hippie playing an instrument that resembled a sitar in his Hawaiian print shirt. It.was.awesome.
The Big Sur sunset deserves a shout out. The beautiful pink, orange, and purple sky is not to be missed.
You know what else deserves a shout out? Ginger pills and Dramamine…those windy roads, y’all!
Now, on to Santa Barbara for some Spanish architecture and delish wine!