The first time I went to Big Sur as an adult was with my boyfriend when I was 19 years old. We drove up the coast in his shoe box Scion, exploring the coastline from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. I fell in love with Big Sur - The way you feel as you look up at towering redwoods - The fact that you can be next to massive, ancient trees one minute and on a rocky, dramatic coastline the next - The way the waves crash angrily against the beach and the midnight blue currents turn into bright turquoise swirls that hug the rocks. It's beautiful, picturesque, off the grid and unlike anywhere I'd been before.
Years later, after I had finished my grad school thesis we jumped in his Suburu and took to the road, driving back up to Big Sur. We camped in an awesome Redwood grove at Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We woke up under the tall green leaves and cooked breakfast under speckled sunlight flowing through the trees. We hiked every day, jumped in the ocean at Pfeiffer Beach and ate tacos at the Big Sur Taphouse.
For what might be the last time in a long time, we headed up the coast again to visit our favorite place for Memorial Day weekend. We always go just the two of us, and we get to explore together and soak in our natural surroundings. I've read nature induces a creative and restorative energy, and whenever I leave Big Sur I definitely feel inspired and zen. This time around, Big Sur became even more special for us since, Kendell is no longer my boyfriend and is now my fiance! I'm really excited to share our favorite spots to eat, sleep and explore, as well as other spots we haven't experienced yet but are on our bucket list!
Where to Eat
Big Sur Taphouse: This is one of the OG spots Kendell and I started visiting in Big Sur. It's our favorite go-to since it's super chill, has a great selection of beers, a large outdoor patio upstairs in the back, amazing tacos, and a market attached for all your camping needs. Sit down with a brew and watch a game, play cards, or chat with some Norcal locals. Pro Tip: Order the carnitas tacos and the pork sliders!
Big Sur Bakery: The cutest little bakery tucked in a valley right off Highway 1 and next door to the Taphouse. They have good coffee and pastries if you need a morning snack, and additional heartier breakfast and lunch options for after a morning hike. You can enjoy your meal outside on a picnic table in their adorable garden. It's also a great place to pick up some goodies and bring them back to the campsite if you're the early riser!
Big Sur Roadhouse: A quiet, meditative lunch spot with beautiful decor, located across the street from Glen Oaks' cabins. There's an outdoor and indoor fire to curl up next to and enjoy a big lunch. The fountains trickle in the background as you enjoy their healthy options and local beers.
Nepenthe: Incredible views with a wooden deck and tons of outdoors seating, opt in for the cafe instead of the restaurant. Although the restaurant is deemed incredible, I can tell you having a drink and/or lunch at the cafe (Cafe Kevah) is much more fun. With a laid back atmosphere and a buzzing clientele you can soak up the views while snacking on a cheese board and enjoying a margarita or some rose. This is a must stop along Pacific Coast Highway as you're making your way up or down the coast. Check out the The Pheonix Shop on your way out, it embodies all that Big Sur is in artistic creativity inspired from natural surroundings.
Sierra Mar: This is where you go to splurge in Big Sur. The restaurant is located on the Post Ranch Inn property and has the most incredible views! Kendell surprised me with a night at this resort after we got engages and we had a celebratory dinner here. It's definitely a "once in a lifetime" dining experience. Perched on top of a high cliff, jutting out over the ocean with floor to ceiling windows, and 360 degree views of the ocean, you feel like you're eating on the clouds. Not only is the view incredible the food is just as good. The prixe fix menu has a few options for a set price: including an appetizer, two mains and a dessert. Order a bottle of wine and you'll enjoy the sunset in pure luxury. Trust me, I dream of this meal!
What to See & Where to Hike
McCway Falls: You know when you Google Big Sur and the picture of a skinny waterfall flowing into the ocean comes up? Well, that's McCway falls. Just as beautiful as people claim and just as popular... So beware of crowds in the summer. That being said, it's definitely worth a visit since it's an iconic Big Sur landmark. I always have a huge urge to get on that beach. Pretty sure I've heard rumors that you can swim to it. Once I figure out how to beat the system and run through that waterfall I'll let you know!
Partington Cove: This is the ideal short hike to do if you want the best of Big Sur quickly! Hike about 1 mile down to a cove, along the way there is an option to take a trail going left or straight. The trail going straight brings you to a beach with large boulders and is the obvious and more popular option. I recommend going to the left, you'll walk through a tunnel and out to an idyllic cove with forests of seaweed swaying in the tide and green cliffs framing the shore. Big waves crash into the coastline and spray hikers sitting on the rocks. If you're feeling adventurous, scale the cliffside and find a spot out on the point to watch the big waves crash and swirl around the coastline.
Bixby Bridge: If you've watched the popular HBO show, Big Little Lies, you're definitely familiar with this bridge.You can say it's pretty famous. It's worth a stop to take a picture since it is another iconic Big Sur landmark along Pacific Coast Highway. Again, this spot gets crowded in the summer. Pro tip: Pull up the road to the north east of the bridge and take a photo from there to get away from the summer crowds who stay on the main Highway 1. This way you get the whole bridge in the photo!
Pfeiffer Beach: This is where Kendell and I take our polar plunge when we are visiting! There's not too much seaweed floating around since the water is normally pretty rough and has big swells that keep the coastline pretty clear. There's some unique, gorgeous rock formations off the coast which make it a great spot for photos. The cliffs behind the beach have some hiking trails you can explore as well. This is one of our must-dos whenever we are in Big Sur, once when we visited in the fall we even enjoyed Cheezits and wine while taking refuge in a cliff corner to hide from the wind!
Where to Stay
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: This is the main park in Big Sur where you can book a campsite. The campsite is fully equipped with relatively nice bathrooms, a campground restaurant and there are a bunch of hikes starting from the grounds so you don't even need to drive to trailheads. There are definitely better campsites than others so make sure to check reviews and the campsite map to ensure you're in the best area for your group. There are a few sites in redwood groves which are my personal favorite and others along the river and they get a bit more sun. Pro tip: If you're staying at the campsite you don't need to pay for parking at other state park run such as Pfeiffer Beach.
Limekiln: This might be one of the coolest campground ever. No joke. It starts on the beach and tiered camping spots elevate back inland and into the redwoods. It's on the South side of Big Sur, and more secluded than most campsites since it's not near the a lot of establishments. This campground is definitely a place to camp if you want the best combo of redwoods and beach... In walking distance! Kendell and I haven't stayed here but we've stopped by to scope it out and it's made its way onto our bucket list.
Big Sur Campground and Cabins: This privately owned campground has tent camping, RV camping and a variety of reasonably priced cabins. It's actually one of the more moderately priced cabin rentals in the area. Their cabins are all traditional, cozy, wood cabins of various sizes, from studios to four bedrooms. Most of them have fire pits and porches outside. They also have a unique concept called camping cabins that have clear ceilings so visitors feel closer to their natural surroundings. These camping cabins have queen beds and come equipped with towels, blankets and linens. They give you the feel of camping but a real bed to sleep in! There are communal showers and bathrooms on site if you do choose the camping cabin option. If you're road tripping thorough and don't have all your camping gear this is a great reasonably priced option!
Treebones Resort: Kendell and I haven't had the chance to stay here but it's an epic resort with yurts, tent camping, twig huts and a human nest. It's best known for the human nest which is such an interesting and quirky concept. In the human nest you get to spend the night looking out over the Pacific from the trees! Treebones Resort also provides options for various activities such as yoga retreats, massages, eco adventures and sound baths. We've only heard great things from friends who have stayed here, needless to say the human nest is on our list as well! Pro tip: Book in advance since this place had definitely picked up in popularity in recent years.
Ventana Inn Campground: The evening we got engaged Kendell surprised me with a night of glamping at this amazing resort/campground! The recently re-vamped Ventana Inn now has an associated campground and let me tell you, it's amazing! They offer standard campsites in addition to glamping sites that consist of safari tents, gas and wood fire pits, a sink and mirror on the tent patio, and an ice chest for all your food and drinks. You're welcomed with a s'mores kit, a basket holding wine glasses, a cheese board and tea. They even provide a heated blanket for the colder evenings. You also receive a key to access beautiful restrooms with hot showers located down the road. The bathroom is always stocked with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, blow driers and other bathroom goodies you may need. The weekend we were there, the campground had just launched an outdoors, forest bar concept and were selling cocktails and local wine and beer out of an Airstream in the middle of the campground. You could order a drink and enjoy it at your campsite, yurt or on the picnic tables surrounding the bar. Another great aspect about this place, besides the fact it's extremely well designed, is that each safari tent is tucked away in it's own area so you truly feel like you are secluded out in the wild.
Post Ranch Inn: This epic place warrants it's own post, but the amazing property is always on Conde Nast Traveller's top hotels list and is one of those resorts that you would travel far and wide solely to experience. We stayed in one of their luxe tree house cabins. Each tree house is standalone accommodation and located within the trees. Each have a view that looks out over the valley to the east. Our treehouse came with two half bottles of local wine, reusable steel water bottles since the property has banned plastic, and local cheeses and snacks to eat while you're enjoying your view from your personal balcony!Our tree house had a short walk to one of the two heated infinity pools. We were close to the Meditation Pool, which is quiet and located next to a grassy clearing that overlooks the ocean. The other is the Jade pool, because local Big Sur Jade stones line the floor and sides. Wherever you go, the property's views are stunning, it's an artist's dream. There are hiking trails all around the property that bring you to the pool, spa, art gallery, and chef's garden. Stay tuned for more info and photos from Post Ranch coming soon!