By Brooke Porter Katz
September 20, 2012

As a Los Angeles native, I’m ashamed to admit that I had never been to Big Sur—only one of the most photographed and picturesque areas in California—until last July, when my fiancé and I embarked on a road trip up Highway 1 from L.A. to Napa. I had never seen the huge elephant seals lazing the day away (just south in Piedra Blancas), never gotten so close to a deer (at Point Lobos State Reserve); never stayed on a campground enclosed by towering redwood trees.

Ours was a high-low vacation: we saved money one night to splurge the next. But the budget-friendly stay in one of Fernwood Resort’s new adventure tents—complete with lamps, fluffy queen beds, and wood-burning stoves—turned out to be the highlight of the trip. (Although, as I blindly stumbled my way to the campground’s outhouse for the third time that night, I can’t say I didn’t fantasize about the luxe Post Ranch Inn down the road).

For dinner, we didn’t venture far, grabbing a table at Fernwood’s on-site tavern, where the meat on the barbecued pulled-pork sandwich is house-cured and smoked out back, and the nachos are “as big as your head.” There’s live music on Saturdays, and if you’re there on a Monday (like we were), make sure to get in the weekly trivia game. The locals may give you dirty looks if you win (like we did), but it’s worth the first prize: a mason jar that you can fill with free beer all night. An added bonus: more money in our pockets to spend on our “splurge” night in Carmel—yet another West Coast classic this California girl had never seen.

Brooke Porter is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure.