California’s top oceanside destination.
Hike and Drive Big Sur
Credit: Stan Russell

Arguably the most dramatic stretch of California’s coast, Big Sur’s famous high cliffs plummet to wild seas below. Driving the awe-inspiring stretch of Highway 1 north from San Simeon (and stopping to snap photos or just gaze), is the easiest way to appreciate the scenery.

Sierra Mar

Diners gaze out on the Pacific Ocean and rocky headlands from the Post Ranch Inn’s restaurant, Sierra Mar, perched on a secluded cliff 1,200 feet above the surf in Big Sur. Angled-glass walls and tables on varying levels ensure views of the expansive ocean, out past the sinewy southern coastline. The four-course prix fixe menu changes daily; grilled squab breast with foie gras crostini and endive and huckleberry gastrique were recent first-class choices.

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.


Enjoy an “Ambrosiaburger” on the terrace of a house reputedly once owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.

Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

Deep within Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Beach is a surreal mix of purple sand, giant redwoods, sycamores, and oaks. Offshore, a smattering of sea stacks are scattered like biscuit crumbs across the ocean. A hole through the center of one—known locally as “the door”—provides a frame for the setting sun; as it dips, the rock glows like a set of otherworldly gates in the last rays of daylight.