Few roads are as iconic as the Pacific Coast Highway in California. The section often considered the most scenic is a 90-mile stretch between Carmel and San Simeon, known as Big Sur.
The narrow two-lane highway winds and loops through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, overlooking rugged coastline and dramatic ocean views. Although the highway was completed in 1937, the area still consists of mostly undeveloped land. This untouched and isolated beauty is what draws visitors from across the globe to Big Sur.
In addition to the wild and dramatic landscape, world class wineries, five-star wellness retreats and fine dining can also be found along this stretch of California coast. While the natural wonders of the area, including epic hikes, are Big Sur’s main attractions, there is plenty for luxury minded travelers to experience.
A Big Sur vacation really is about the road trip journey, not just the destination. For a unique ride, Monterey Touring Vehicles offers classic and vintage car rentals to cruise down the coastal road in style. Fly into Monterey, secure a car, and set out for a drive through one of the most beautiful landscapes in America.
Perched high on a mountain overlooking Big Sur’s coast is Ventana, one of the area’s premier accommodations. Ventana is nestled among 160-acres of redwood forests. It has 59 guest rooms, all suites, spread throughout the property connected by pathways looping through the woods.
The resort has a laidback elevated aesthetic that fits in well with the forested setting. Operations at the eco-friendly resort include a property-wide recycling program, electric vehicles to shuttle visitors across the expansive grounds, and an organic garden. Every guest room at Ventana includes a deck or patio with views of the ocean or forest, and many have fireplaces and outdoor hot tubs. The property offers over five miles of walking trails, two outdoor heated pools, and an outdoor Japanese bath experience.
The resort’s main restaurant, The Sur House, has an expansive terrace overlooking the ocean below. The menu is considered Big Sur-inspired cuisine and focuses on local ingredients from the property’s organic garden, local wineries, and California’s seafood vendors.
Across the street from Ventana is Big Sur’s other premier luxury accommodation, Post Ranch Inn. This resort is on the Pacific Ocean side of the street and sits 1,200 feet directly above the waves. The property has been owned by the Post family since the mid-19th century, when William Brainard Post founded one of Big Sur’s early homesteads. The location is prime and the resort does a great job of leaning into its idyllic setting with panoramic ocean views offered from the on-site restaurant, many guest rooms and two of the property’s pools.
Post Ranch Inn has 39 guest rooms spread across 100 acres. The guest room accommodations range from cliffside overlooking the ocean to luxurious tree houses tucked among the Redwoods. The resort has three outdoor pools, which include two clifftop heated pools that offer direct ocean views and make for the perfect place to end a day watching the sun dip behind the Pacific. The resort’s restaurant, Sierra Mar, serves locally sourced food with floor-to-ceiling views of the cliffs and Pacific Ocean. It also boasts a 139-page wine list.
Outdoor activities are the main draw of Big Sur. There are numerous hiking trails to choose from, ranging from beginner to advanced. Most of the hiking in the area is part of the state and federal park system. One of the area’s most popular destinations is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Here you’ll find the well photographed McWay Falls, a waterfall that drops 80 feet into the Pacific Ocean. Andrew Molera State Park is another highly visited area for hiking. It is the largest state park in Big Sur with a network of 20 miles of trails. For those who prefer a guided experience, Big Sur Guides and Hiking offers private guides and customized itineraries, including a helicopter tour.
If you prefer a less strenuous experience there are plenty of non-hiking activities in Big Sur. The spa at Ventana, Spa Alia, is an oasis in the forest. Reserve an outdoor cabana for a private pampering session among the Redwoods. The nonprofit Esalen Institute was founded in 1962 with the mission to be a center for exploring human potential through experience, education and research. Visitors can book personal enrichment workshops, try healing modalities such as reiki, massage, and yoga or visit their popular hot springs. Another Big Sur landmark is The Henry Miller Library, a nonprofit arts center, bookstore, and performance venue paying homage to the author.
Although Big Sur proper does not have wineries, Monterey County is home to over 200. The nearby Santa Lucia Highlands cultivate exceptional wines and the area is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Folktale Winery is located on an idyllic 15 acres of sustainably-farmed vineyards along the Carmel River. Arrange a private wine tasting in their French-style chateau or have a meal in the vineyard’s wine garden. Every Sunday Folktale serves a locally sourced brunch in their garden featuring handcrafted wine centered cocktails. For a unique experience, arrange a wine tasting helicopter adventure with Specialized Helicopters.
EAT & DRINK
The best dining destinations in Big Sur lean into the area’s spectacular views. No place does it better than The Glass House, a private dining experience offered at Ventana. The Glass House was stylishly created out of an oxidized shipping container and sits 1,100 feet above the ocean on a cliff. The space is decorated with art by local artists and an all-glass balcony juts out over the cliff edge. Visitors can arrange for a private meal here for two up to a small group, and a tasting menu with wine pairings is available.
Another exceptional cliffside dining experience is at Nepenthe, a favorite local gathering spot that’s been in operation since 1949. The property features a large outdoor patio, sweeping sunset views and an outdoor fireplace.
The author was a guest of Ventana and Post Ranch Inn.