Your first day in Big Sur will likely end with a sunset so beautiful it stops all conversation. Two hours south of San Francisco, you’ll stand with a full view of the Pacific stretched out in front of you, the waves crashing a thousand feet below. Watch the sun dissolve into the ocean from a balcony at the Post Ranch Inn, the iconic California hotel set on a ridge high above the waves. At its glass-walled Sierra Mar restaurant, asparagus and arugula from the resort’s garden are served with Parmesan and house-made prosciutto. Hotel guests can book in advance to use a Lexus convertible free of charge, so in the morning, zip down the Pacific Coast Highway (with a stop at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant for warm, flaky scones) before hiking past redwoods on the empty Coast Ridge Road. On the other side of Highway 1, Ventana Inn & Spa accommodates outdoorsy types with meandering gardens and hot tubs with ocean views. Grab a backpack lunch from the hotel (beef tenderloin or turkey sandwiches and a bottle of Roderer sparkling wine) or head a half-mile north for Mexican fare (carne asada sandwiches; chicken tamales) from Big Sur Deli. There’s no better picnic spot than Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a sandy cove where craggy rock outcrops rise from the shallow water. The promise of California is that the world is immense, and in Big Sur, you have a privileged place in it.
Big Sur Affordable Tip: Glen Oaks Big Sur, a cluster of recently renovated cabins and lodge rooms, reflects the region’s eco-minded ethos. Rooms have sustainable accents such as bamboo floors and organic cotton linens, while oversize windows offer views that stretch from the redwood-studded hills to the banks of the Big Sur River. Doubles from $225.
Big Sur Family Tip: The Ventana Wildlife Society Discovery Center, in Andrew Molera State Park, features interactive exhibits on the California condor and efforts to reintroduce the species into the wild. Guided tours to condor hot spots are offered on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. Andrew Molera State Park; 831/455-9514; tours from $50 per person.