The 10 Best Things to Do in Big Sur, California

Countless writers, painters, and musicians share a common muse: the 90-mile stretch of California coastline known as Big Sur. Here, chiseled mountains slide into churning seas, chefs serve inventive cuisine, and a resurgent arts scene is growing amid the redwood trees.

47900 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
Described by devotees as the most luxurious, one-of-a-kind lodging experience in all of California, the Post Ranch Inn was purpose-built to blend in with the Santa Lucia Mountains. Opened in 1992, and designed by famed Big Sur architect Mickey Muennig, the modern dwellings here resemble sophisticated tree houses—at one with the earth, sky, and water. Each of the 39 buildings is built from recycled redwood and paneled glass, and each was designed with complete seclusion in mind. Choose ocean-view accommodations, like the Cliff House with a deck suspended over the cliffs, to feel as if you’re soaring with the red-tailed hawks. Or if you get your inspiration from the mountains, book the Peak House, which faces the top of the ridge. The Post Ranch Spa offers soothing body and facial treatments, private yoga and meditation practices, and even shaman healing sessions, while two pools on the cliffs have views that blend sea and sky. Other activities—morning yoga, guided nature walks, tours of the chef’s garden, and stargazing—keep guests immersed in nature. This is the place to go off the grid, commune with loved ones (or reconnect with yourself), and enjoy total privacy.
47080 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
Retro furniture, bright textiles, and in-room yoga mats characterize the Glen Oaks motel. Guests who book the Big Sur Cabin can stargaze from an outdoor clawfoot tub. From $225. (831) 667-2105. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
48603 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
In a regal redwood grove along the Big Sur coast lies a place “where nothing happens,” according to its proprietors. The highway traffic noise disappears, the filtered sunlight takes on the quality of stained glass, and the earthy smell of the forest is enough to cleanse your mind of digital and other distractions. This quiet altar of wisdom and irreverence serves as a bookstore and art hub focused on promoting the works of author Henry Miller, who lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962. The library hosts events throughout the year, but especially from May to October, including concerts, lectures, and book signings. The annual Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series occurs outside, in the redwood amphitheater. In the winter, the library takes on the aura of a writer’s retreat, when time stretches endlessly forward and you can spend hours browsing books, nursing a cup of coffee, and watching the light and shadows change the landscape outside the windows. Unlike a library, there’s no borrowing here, but what you walk away with may just be richer than any physical possession.
39171 Tassajara Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, USA
In 1967, Tassajara (already a storied hot springs resort) became the first Zen monastery outside Japan. Run by the San Francisco Zen Center, the monastery is open to the public from May through September and closed the rest of the year for monastic study. The only vehicle access to Tassajara is via the 14-mile dirt road that starts in Carmel Valley. Those without four-wheel drive should arrange for shuttle pick-up.
63025 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
Limekiln State Park in Big Sur has it all—beach, woods, and history—and the trails are so short that you can actually see it all. First, follow the half-mile Limekiln Trail along a stream to four metal kilns that once fired limestone rock into powder (a key ingredient for cement). The powder was packed into barrels and pulleyed down to the beach for loading onto boats headed for Monterey or San Francisco. The industry (which lasted from 1870 through the 1880s) was harmful to the surrounding redwood forest, but the kilns have since been overtaken by vegetation. On the way back to your car (or shaded campsite), turn left on the Falls Trail and continue until you dead end at a streaming 100-foot waterfall. If you packed a picnic, eat it here, unless you’d prefer the small beach under Highway 1. Limekiln State Park is two miles south of the town of Lucia. (805) 434-1996
45500 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
One of my favorite campgrounds in Big Sur is the big open meadow at Andrew Molera State Park. It’s great for large groups and it’s one of the best bases for hiking and surfing in the area. More than 20 miles of trails run throughout the park’s bluffs and headlands; two of which cross a stream and finish at a sandy cove. The beach has a point break that’s popular among local surfers (read: nonlocal surfers are expected to be respectful and follow the rules of the waves.) There’s also an outfitter headquartered inside the park that leads horseback rides along the shore. Andrew Molera State Park is located 20 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. (831) 667-2315
55000 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
I was putting my bags in my car, getting ready to leave, when a man came up to me and said, “Is it really time to go?” I smiled and answered, “No.” There was mutual understanding that nobody is ever ready to leave this place, where a feeling of bliss envelops every visitor. This results partly from the surrounding raw natural beauty, like the blackest sky so full of stars, the bright moon reflected in the ocean, forested cliffs that meet crashing waves, and sometimes whales passing by in the distance. It’s also because the place has long been a haven for those seeking personal change and growth. The variety of workshops, from yoga to music and meditation to art, reflect Esalen’s long history as a center for philosophical theory and research. Perhaps the institute’s most memorable feature, however, is its extraordinary hot springs bath house and massage center, precariously positioned on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. To visit Esalen, reservations are required, either for a workshop or for a stay without attending a workshop. All stays include use of the bath house, access to the grounds, and meals that utilize fresh ingredients from the center’s huge gardens. Scholarships and work-stays are offered for those who cannot afford the regular prices.
Hotels
71895 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
For such a remote region, Big Sur has more than its share of amazing places to stay. One of the most unique is Treebones Resort, nestled high in the foothills of South Big Sur overlooking the Pacific. The off-the-grid property offers 16 signature yurts as well as oceanfront campsites, a 500-square-foot “autonomous tent,” and the “human nest,” a spherical dwelling woven from tree branches by local artist Jayson Fann. Even nesters have access to the resort’s pool, hot tub, and restaurant, which highlights produce from the on-site organic farm and houses what has to be one of the world’s most scenic sushi bars.
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