Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look. —Henry Miller
There’s something about this place that’s like nothing in the whole wide world. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel it whenever I’m there. Maybe it’s the winding roads that reveal an original view, an epic glimpse of something new at each turn. Or maybe it’s the roar of the mighty ocean crashing against the rugged cliffs below. Whatever the reason, visiting Big Sur always feels like a thrilling getaway, an escape from mundane routines and familiar sights. This lovely place enthralls you with it’s vast wilderness, jagged hillsides, dizzying roads, and glimmering ocean views.
We visit Big Sur as often as we can, and it’s not nearly often enough. The drive down Highway One boasts some of the most heroic views on this side of the world, and the actual town of Big Sur is entirely charming. There is something for every type of traveler, you can rough it and camp deep in the wilderness, or you can celebrity-style glamp right smack in the middle of a nearby redwood grove. There are hotels in Big Sur that would rival the most exquisite resorts in the world, and the food is nothing short of spectacular. It’s definitely quality over quantity in this place. We have our tried and true favorites that we go to again and again, and even after living in the area for almost a decade, there are still places that we need to explore, events that we have to cross off our bucket list (number one is attending a concert at the Henry Miller Library). So this in no way is an exhaustive guide to everything you can do in Big Sur. Just a tiny list of our beloved spots.
This photo shoot happened when I was about 12 weeks pregnant and had been making big plans for this blog. Our first post was going to be this guide to Big Sur and we were lucky enough to have Ellie Kolleen as our photographer. I had been following Ellie (and drooling over her work) ever since I moved to California and found her Instagram feed, so you can imagine my fan-girl moment when we met up with her at Starbucks on our way to the shoot in Big Sur. I had to shriek and goob-out in the car with Drew before we actually went in and met her, just so I could be relatively cool and collected. Shooting with her was an absolute blast, we had so much fun just walking around the town and taking pictures! And then our photos came and I just about cried. Some day we’ll win the lottery and I’ll be able to hire Ellie as our full-time, life-chronicler and all of the photos ever taken of us will be fabulous and stunning. But for now we’ll just settle for these and plan our next photo shoot in some other romantically dreamy place real soon.
LODGING. We’ve stayed in a few places on our visits to Big Sur and our absolute favorite is Glen Oaks. We stayed here to celebrate our third (dating) anniversary and it was more than we ever expected. Our cabin was situated right under the redwoods and we had our own private campfire and outdoor patio area. As we cooked our dinner and sipped some bubbly, we could see the stars peeking through the redwood canopy overhead. The orange glow from our fire bounced off of the trees and made the patio feel like our very own enchanted place. The crisp smell of the redwoods, along with the tantalizing aroma of the steaks (dinner á la Chef Drew), swirled all around us as we ate, drank and danced under the moonlight, nestled in among the redwood grove. Surrounded by the trees, listening to the sound of the river and the forest critters all around, this place is pure magical perfection. We also love the Adirondack chairs overlooking the river, or in our case actually in the river because the water level was so low when we visited! If you’re celebrating a special event, or just feel like a splurge, we recommend booking the Big Sur Cabin with the private patio and outdoor claw-foot tubs (jaw-droppingly gorgeous). Whenever we visit we instantly feel the harmony of this extraordinary place and we always leave revived and refreshed.
CAMPING. We’ve stayed at Fernwood Campground a couple of times, but there are so many other places that we haven’t tried yet so this list is definitely going to be expanded as we explore more. As far as campgrounds go though, this is one of our favorites. I really like it because you have the option of going all hermit-like and booking one of the campsites deeper in the redwoods, or you can choose to stay close to the hotel, camp right along the river, and still pop into the restaurant for one of their world-famous burgers (or just us famous because we love them) and catch a college basketball game while you eat (oh yeah, we totally did that…Go Duke!). This campground is affordable (some places in the area are way out of our budget) and gives you a major dose of that Big Sur magic.
FOOD (always the best part). This one we’ve done lots of research on! The Big Sur Roadhouse, part of Glen Oaks, is a great stop for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Not to mention that it’s conveniently located just across the street from the lodge. Their chilaquiles are mouth-wateringly scrumptious and one of my favorite dishes there. The Big Sur Bakery is another delightful place to stop in for good coffee and breakfast snacks. Their croissants and baked goods are always on our favorites list, and we often stop there for some yumminess even if we’ve already eaten elsewhere! The Restaurant at River Inn Big Sur takes the prize for most picturesque location to dine along the river. Outdoor seating is the way to go here. Nepenthe is where we take all of our guests when we want to show off. Marvelous food, quintessential Big Sur atmosphere, and drop-dead gorgeous views. We often just stop in for cocktails and the view before heading out to camp or heading back from a hike. Their Ambrosia Burger is my favorite dish (I guess I eat a lot of burgers?!). And finally, if you’re celebrating a really special occasion or just want to be fancy for a day then head over to Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. The property, the resort, the views, everything here is breathtaking and extravagant all at once. Be sure to make a reservation at the restaurant during busier seasons (summer and holidays) and enjoy the feeling of complete coolness that oozes from this place.
Hiking. And finally, have you stuck with me for this long? The hiking in Big Sur is glorious, especially now that the highway is finally rebuilt and open and the full suite of options lays before you along that winding road. Whether you want to hike in nearby Garrapata, or head all the way south to Limekiln, there are a million places to go in between and so many adventures to be had in the wild lands of Big Sur. Garrapata offers the first glimpse of Big Sur hiking and has hikes for all experience levels. If you like an easy, relaxing stroll then keep to the beach side and walk down the steps to the sandy heaven below. In the spring time the wildflowers and callas lilies bloom outrageously in this area and it’s a must-see. If you like a more challenging hike and are a fan of sweeping, knock-you-off-your-feet vistas, then take the inland hike uphill and be prepared to stop and marvel often along the way. Just a few miles south there is Andrew Molera State Park. The landscape looks very different now after the heavy floods we got a couple of years ago, but this is a lovely hike and if you can still get out to the beach it offers some pretty spectacular ocean views. Pfeiffer State Park has numerous hiking trails, some of them like Liewald Flats and the Nature Trail (starting across from Day Lot #2) offer short and easy, but lovely hikes for day trippers or casual hikers. There are also some serious hikes and incredible nooks and crannies along the river and deeper into the park that are definitely worth the time and effort. There are also a few dog friendly hikes for those of you with furry friends—River Path and Warden’s Path in Pfeiffer State Park and the beach at Limekiln State Park. And as always, be sure to stop by McWay Falls and see one of my favorite views ever, plus it’s a super easy walk right off of the highway. There is still some damage to the hike as a big portion of it was washed away, but it’s definitely worth a gander.
If you’ve never been, you’ve got to make it a point to visit this incredible place. And if you’re a local and have been dozens of times like we have, well then have one more go at exploring a new hiking spot, taking a bath outside of your cabin, or eating some delicious burgers with a stunning view. Cheers!