Big Sur travel diary

In spite of the fact that I'm not a textbook outdoorsy person, Big Sur is one of my favorite places on earth. I've day-tripped or driven through it multiple times, but had never actually spent the night there. So when my company announced that we had to take a mandatory week off—and flying anywhere was out of the question—Sean and I decided to take a road trip, and Big Sur seemed like the perfect place to hit first. Depending on traffic, it's about three and a half hours by car from San Francisco, and I highly recommend taking the scenic route, Highway 1, which goes along the Pacific. Big Sur is a magical place; it's surrounded by mountains, heavily forested, with a river running through it, and it stretches along some of the most gorgeous parts of the coastline. It's also incredibly peaceful and relaxing; on a usual vacation, it generally takes me a couple days to totally relax, but I felt completely mellow by the end of our first night. We spent four nights in Big Sur, but whether you're spending an entire week or only one night (considering we had a different neighbor every night, I think that's what most people tend to do), there are a gazillion things to do. Here's what we did in Big Sur.

This is the Bixby Creek Bridge, a must-stop on the way into (or out of) Big Sur 

What to do
There are a bunch of hiking trails at Andrew Molera State Park but obviously we followed the one that said Beach, which was an incredibly easy, flat, mile-long meander through a meadow to, yes, a beach. There were a ton of surfers there (hauling a surfboard for a mile is dedication), as well as families and bird-watchers, who gleefully shared that they saw a condor (!). 

We had wanted to do the Pfeiffer Falls hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, but unfortunately that trail is closed at the moment for refurbishment, so we opted for Valley View instead, which we were told was "moderate." I now know that "moderate" means "moderately challenging," or "very uphill." Still, it was worth it for a gorgeous view of the valley and, unexpectedly, a full cell phone signal (my only one of the trip!).

Partington Cove (in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park) was one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip; it's a steep but short trailhead just south of town that leads to a bridge, tunnel, and old remains of a dock on one side, and a small, rocky beach on the other. Highly recommend.

One of the most famous sights in Big Sur is McWay Falls, also in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which was closed while we were there. McWay Falls is particularly notable because it's a waterfall that flows directly into the ocean, which is pretty rare; it's also in a lovely cove and the whole thing is very Instagrammable. There is normally an easy trail that leads you closer to the falls (you can't go all the way down to the beach), but since that was closed, we just pulled over and took a peek from the road. 

As you drive south on Highway 1, there are a bunch of other tiny towns along the coast. Just past Lucia is Limeklin State Park, which has several easy trails that we were still too lazy to hike (hey, we had done the Valley View trail in the morning and were spent). Instead, we opted to sit on the beach and share a bottle of wine, which is a perfectly good way to spend an afternoon, if you ask me. 

The hottest club in Big Sur is Pfeiffer Beach, and I say that because there is literally a bouncer (ok, or a park ranger) who controls the capacity. We got turned away on our first try, but went back later in the day and breezed in. You have to take a very narrow, pothole-ridden, two-mile-long road to get there, which can be harrowing, but it's totally worth it: the beach is sandy, very picturesque, and not at all crowded. Pro tip: go either early or late in the day. 

Where to eat
Our first stop is almost always Big Sur Taphouse, which has a bunch of great local beer and wine plus elevated pub food. More importantly, it has a totally chill outdoor seating area that's perfect for hanging out for hours on end, which is exactly what we did. They also own Big Sur Deli next door, which is a great place to stop and grab sandwiches to take on a hike.

I had never been to Big Sur Bakery before this trip, and now I'm kicking myself, because the food was Ah. May. Zing! Not only was my croissant delicious, but I had possibly the best smoked salmon toast I've ever had in my life (including in Sweden). Next time, I'm definitely trying the pizza! 

We were intrigued by the tacos on Fernwood's menu, and we had such a pleasant experience eating them on the outdoor patio that we came back again the next night. All of the servers who work here are lovely, and they make great drinks too. 

I am admittedly not the biggest fan of barbecue, but Big Sur Smokehouse is probably the most elevated BBQ joint I've ever been to. It's a gorgeous space with dark wood and marble countertops, and the food is delicious (plus they had Scribe wine in a can!). Turns out it's part of the super-fancy Ventana resort, the main part of which was closed while we were there, but I'm glad we found this gem of a restaurant. 

Of all the spots in Big Sur, Nepenthe holds a special place in my heart. It's the first restaurant I ever went to here (it was recommended by my old acupuncturist in NYC, who got married there!), and while the view is breathtaking at any time of day, it's truly magical at sunset. The building itself was built by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940s, and it has a rich history of hosting artists, writers, and other creative types. I will say that the food is on the pricey side and can be hit or miss (the burger is a safe bet), but it's entirely worth it for the spectacular view. 

Where to stay
Big Sur runs the full gamut of lodging options, from campsites that cost $25 a night to Ventana, which starts at $1,700 for a basic room (I kid you not—that's more than we paid for the St. Regis in Bora Bora!). We wanted to be as socially distant as possible without renting a private house (there aren't a ton of those in Big Sur), so we ended up in a cabin at Glen Oaks and I can't recommend it enough. Ours was simply but chicly decorated, with a king-size bed, sofa, and outdoor area with a fire pit; the hotel provides you with ingredients to make s'mores, so we did that every night! The cabins are on a huge parcel of land with hiking trails and Adirondack chairs along the riverbank—we sat in those and shared a bottle of wine, just listening to the gentle rush of the river, and it was glorious. Also, you get free donuts and coffee for breakfast every morning—can't beat that! We will definitely be back. 


Joanne said...

What a fun trip! All that food looks so good too.

Shelbee on the Edge said...

Cheryl, this looks like an amazing trip! I am so glad that you decided to go for your forced vacation! Thanks for sharing and linking up with me.


Nancy 's Fashion Style said...

Fantastic! Not only the walk and the beaches, but the fooood!!! Haha, you love food as much as I do!

Elizabeth Walker said...

Amazing view! Thank you for capture these moments!

Gata Collins said...

What a wonderful trip! Breathtaking views and tasty food!

Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom said...

This really makes me want a vacation or to travel right now. That food, those sights! Ahh!


Shauna Crymble said...

What an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing!

Aidan Brogan said...

Nice trip! and thank you for the tips!