How to take a World’s Best trip to Big Sur, California.

By Josh Sens and Oliver Strand
July 29, 2011

The Trip

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.

Big Sur, California: World’s Best Scorecard


Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant 47540 Hwy. 1; 831/667-0520;; breakfast for two $12.

Big Sur Deli 47520 Hwy. 1; 831/667-2225;; lunch for two $15.

Coast Ridge Road

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park 831/667-2315;

Post Ranch Inn 47900 Hwy. 1; 888/524-4787;; doubles from $595; dinner for two $270.

Ventana Inn & Spa 48123 Hwy. 1; 831/667-2331;; doubles from $700.

Ventana Inn & Spa

If hammocks, afternoon wine and cheese receptions, and guided “Discovery Walks” appeal to you, this cozy, adults-only retreat is just your ticket. Days here fall into an unhurried, restorative pace: Staff encourage guests to begin with a one-hour guided walk around the property, which is offered every day at 10 a.m. Keep your eyes peeled for California condors, red-tailed hawks, and, during migration season (December-January and April-May), gray whales. Afterward, settle in for a sea-inspired treatment at the spa (be sure to take advantage of the adjoining bathhouses and sun decks, but note—some are clothing-optional). The property was purposefully built with plenty of windows to take in the breathtaking view, and rooms here are modern, yet cozy, and subdued.

Post Ranch Inn

The hotel opened in 1992 and is made up entirely of small buildings set on a ridge high above the Pacific. In 2008 Post Ranch added 10 new sculptural structures, spiraling Pacific Suites, cantilevered Peak Houses, and Richard Serra-esque Cliff houses clad in torques of rusted steel. Staying in a Pacific Suite, wherever you stand you are exposed to the ocean and the sky but unseen by other guests. Even the tiled bath, big enough for two, has a commanding vista, and a floor-to-ceiling window that opens to let in Pacific breezes. The walls are paneled in redwood salvaged from old wine barrels and sheet metal art adorns the bathroom. Sierra Mar, the hotel restaurant will pack you a lunch to take down the Pacific Coast Highway in a Lexus convertible that guests can borrow for free. The mini-bar is complimentary, so take advantage on your balcony overlooking the ocean.

No guests under 18.

Glen Oaks Big Sur

Just off California's most dramatic stretch of coast, this recently expanded cluster of cabins and lodge rooms was made for sybaritic nature lovers. The setting sweeps from redwood-studded hills to the banks of the Big Sur River, and sustainable touches such as bamboo floors and organic cottons stay true to the region's eco-minded ethos.