big sur is everything we need it to be, every time we visit it. Big cities like New York and San Francisco make for great getaways, but the mood changes all the time. Restaurants and shops come and go; neighborhoods change and the crowds grow. The great thing about visiting someplace like Big Sur — so embedded in it’s natural habitat — is that it never seems to change. There’s a timelessness to the rugged coastline there with it’s misty woods and epic, winding roads that we never tire of and that brings us so much peace of mind.
Here’s how to get the most out of a visit to Big Sur from your drive in to the most epic spots to eat and stay…
On Your Way In…
carmel valley ranch | This dreamy resort is tucked away in the wooded hillsides of Carmel Valley above the charming town of Carmel-By-The-Sea. Whether you’re driving in from SF, LA or flying in from Monterey, Carmel Valley Ranch is the ultimate stop over before making the scenic drive into Big Sur. The resort’s California-rustic vibe hits the sweet spot between natural and luxe. Surrounded by vineyards and hiking trails, Carmel Valley Ranch offers suites nestled into the hills with deep bathtubs, fireplaces, and deer creeping along every wooded path between you and their epic restaurant.
We’re big fans of Executive Chef Wood’s culinary exploits—many involving honey, cheese, salts, eggs, fruits and vegetables from the Ranch’s own organic garden. Grab our recipe from Chef Wood for the best butternut squash soup we’ve ever had here.
The main lobby houses their cozy bar and restaurant alongside a luxurious pool and hottub that overlook the nearby vineyards and hills.
monterey aquarium | Did you know that, as well as being a super-charming day trip up the coast from Big Sur, the Monterey Aquarium is a world-class leader in sustainable seafood? Spend an afternoon at the aquarium where you can get up close and personal with wildlife from up and down the coast, as well as spot marine life right from their viewing deck — otters and whales included. We love their gargantuan floor-to-ceiling tanks full of fish and turtles, but their exhibit full of jellyfish, from the nearly microscopic to the sedan-sized is truly something to behold.
carmel-by-the-sea | This charming seaside town is stuffed to the gills with shops, wine tasting rooms and great little spots to tuck away for brunch or tea. Depending on the time of year of your visit, save time to sit on the beach or hit the waves. There are some incredible homes for rent in the area, but we prefer Carmel Valley Ranch just up the winding valley from the coast.
Venturing Through Big Sur, CA…
Ventana Big sur | Our favorite place to stay in Big Sur. Ventana boasts all of the sparkle of staying at a world-class resort while remaining completely true to the Big Sur experience. Well-designed creature comforts blend right in with the tall grasses and jaw-dropping wooded views of the sprawling property. We noticed that robed guests would amble in from the pool or their in-room hammocks to enjoy the Ventana team’s local wine-tasting in the afternoons like clockwork. The tastings were well-curated, but a chance to lounge around the lobby at golden hour was reason enough to show up.
Our room at Ventana featured high wood ceilings, leather chairs in front of a roaring fireplace, a Japanese bathtub, and a giant deck with hammock for the most epic naps. A note for parents: This property is for adults only.
If you’ve got the will to rip yourself from the gorgeous rooms, it’s a beautiful forest stroll to the pool with it’s infrared sauna and oceanview or a short hike through the woods to Ventana’s The Sur House with views of the ocean that are a mood of it’s very own.
post ranch inn | Likely the most famous property in Big Sur, we enjoyed popping in for a pre-fixe dinner at the Inn’s incredible restaurant perched on an oceanside cliff. Ventana is hand’s down our top pick for staying in Big Sur, but Post Ranch Inn’s cliffside restaurant with floor-to-ceiling cliffside views is an experience not to be missed.
pfeiffer BIG SUR state park | The drive along Highway 1 into Big Sur is what makes this area magical all on its own. The road winds endlessly along cliffs, tucking in and out of the woods that reach the coast. Pfeiffer State Park is the place to visit if you’re looking for a few hours of hiking. The wooded trails break out on the water for an experience you won’t soon forget.
Big Sur smokehouse | Just as you leave Ventana for Highway 1 adventuring, you’ll find the new kid on the block, Big Sur Smokehouse, a cottage straight out of a vintage travel ad and pitch perfect for a road trip stop. Expect smoked brisket and spicy bloody mary’s alongside a few modern dishes, too. (Their kale salad is out of this world and so hearty it fits right in at the BBQ joint!)
big sur bakery | No visit to Big Sur is complete without breakfast, lunch (and/or) dinner at Big Sur Bakery. We almost lost the local gem to Big Sur’s recent fires, so we were thrilled to hear when the bakery re-opened and were happy to find that it still stands in all its original low-key glory. Order coffee and cinnamon rolls before a hike and spend a little time drooling over the florals, beeswax candles and other goods in the nearby shops.
The key to a great experience in Big Sur it to drive yourself in and hit the winding road almost every day while you’re there. The key to living well while in Big Sur is all about simply being in Big Sur. Bring a book or two, pack your hiking books and just enjoy being in one of the most magical places in the world. Ventana Big Sur also offers glamping tent experiences as well, but we prefer their epic cabin suites.
How many days would be good to set aside for this experience?