Big Sur is a place of magic, wonder, and legend. It is a remarkable destination where people have come for centuries to discover themselves and to try to capture the illusive spirit of finding something important. For each traveler to Big Sur, what is important, differs. It is known for its incredibly beautiful ocean views, jagged cliffs, rivers and unparalleled coastal environment. It is a pristine stretch of sky, sea and forest which extends about 90 miles along the Pacific Ocean as it meets Central California.
Big Sur is for potential adventures. Hikers find miles of varied trails, cyclists come to brave the ever-winding Highway One, surfers challenge the surf crashing along the shore and horseback riders explore the natural beauty. Thinkers come to imagine and to see, creative types come to be inspired, and people gather together with different kinds of conversations than they might have elsewhere. With a population of about 1,000, and no downtown, visitors to the area stay in hotels along the highway, or in Carmel or Monterey to the north or Cambria to the south. It takes time to traverse Highway One, as it winds along the coastline. Many travelers opt to travel further inland where freeways make for easier and faster commutes from Southern to Northern California via the Central California. But for those who take the time, Big Sur is more than worth the slower pace it takes to find it, or even pass through it.
For those who truly wish to experience Big Sur…and it is a spot to experience at least once in a lifetime…there are hotels which still capture that illusive essence of the place. These top five are, for the most part, not typical. They are those which are located right in Big Sur, and the few which provide moments apart from the rest of life. From the most luxurious, to the most quaint… these are Big Sur accommodations of the iconic kind.
Lucia Lodge was built by the Harlan family, who were pioneers to Big Sur in the 19th century. Five generations later, the family still welcomes guests to its lodge nestled on the sea cliffs overlooking the surf. The lodge is comprised of ten rooms and cabins which were constructed on Pacific Coast Highway One more than 100 years ago.
Lucia Lodge is famous for its Big Sur location, as no other resort is as close to the sea. The cabins are cradled on a cliff 300 feet above the ocean, with views of the coastline, the Santa Lucia Mountains and the water. The lodge is in Lucia village, and next to the highway. Many guests spend the night, but it is also possible to have lunch or dinner in the restaurant. Meals are home style, and the adjoining deck allows for whale watching during migration season. A picnic area below the cabins provides a place on the edge of the cliffs for direct ocean views. Travelers often purchase items hand crafted by local artists in the gift shop.
Guests may choose to take day trips to Hearst Castle, located 40 miles to the south, or to Carmel, located 50 miles to the north. Hiking trails for all levels of ability, beach access for swimming, surfing and jade or sand dollar combing are all part of the available activities nearby.
There is a rustic quality to the lodge which guests travel to enjoy. There are no televisions and no phones, but it is common to spot whales passing by, birds soaring in the sky, and sea otters playing in the sea’s kelp beds below. Guests come to take in the beauty of the rhythmic sounds of waves breaking on the shore and to wonder at the mountain views and seascapes.
The rooms with full ocean views are in four freestanding cabins which were built in the 1930’s and are part of the original lodge. These are cabins designated as Rooms 7, 8, 9 and 10 and they are situated the closest to the cliffs. Each cabin features four poster queen size beds, gas fireplaces, stand-up showers and traditional 1930s bathrooms which are small by today’s standards. What the cabins do have offer is historic accommodations and spectacular ocean views. Room 10 is the Honeymoon Cottage, and it is closest of all to the cliffs.
Rooms with full ocean views start at $325 per night, but rooms are available with mountain and partial ocean views starting at $250 per night.
Post Ranch Inn
The story of the Post Ranch Inn began when William Brainard Post staked his homestead in Big Sur. He and his family were among the first pioneers to the area, and the 100 acres which comprise Post Ranch eventually became the luxury resort it is today. At first, entrepreneur Post worked the land, married and raised a family. His children carried on the legacy. The Post Ranch Inn welcomed its first guests in 1992, but it has been part of the Post family for more than 150 years.
There are thirty-nine guest rooms and a single private residence at this rustic retreat. The rooms are situated to offer wonderful views of the ocean and the mountains. Guests come to relax and rejuvenate at the resort, so there are no alarms or televisions in the guestrooms. To stay, guests must be 18 years or older, and no pets are allowed. Post Ranch Inn is 325 miles north of Los Angeles, 150 miles south of San Francisco and situated off Highway 1.
What is offered for all guest rooms, however, is a welcoming array of amenities, such as a buffet breakfast daily, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in a mini-bar, access to wireless Internet, valet parking, and many complimentary activities. These include activities such as guided nature hiking, yoga each day, garden tours, stargazing, and access to the swimming and infinity pools, to start.
There are Ocean View, Mountain View and a Private House offered as accommodations:
- Cliff House- features suspended deck, an enclosed garden courtyard, and a glass walled bedroom with custom built furniture, floors with radiant heat, and wood burning fireplace to enjoy the views of the ocean from the outdoor hot tub, the indoor soaking tub and the interior. In-room dining and complimentary turn down service nightly, plus walking sticks and much more is available.
- Ocean House-features grass and wildflower covered roof, panoramic views, a private deck facing the Pacific Ocean, soaking tub and a double-sided fireplace between the bedroom and bath.
- Coast House-private entrance, fireplace, coastline views, terrace with coastline views.
- Pacific Suites-two story building with two suites, private entrance radiant heat flooring, fireplaces, ocean views, hot tub outdoors on private deck, indoor soaking tub, custom furniture.
- Peak House-deck suspended over ridge top, private views of the mountains, glass walls in bedroom, fireplace, heated floors, outdoor hot tub, king size bed, organic linens and mattress, stereo, in room dining available.
- Mountain House-two story duplexes with Ventana Wilderness and Santa Lucia Peaks views, heated floors, king size beds, organic mattress, private deck, in room dining, organic bath products and indoor spa tub.
- Tree House-built on stilts with a stairway reaching up from the forest floor nine feet to gain entrance, king bed, window seat, fireplace, skylight for stargazing and sleeping in the trees.
- Butterfly Rooms-private guestrooms with separate entrances, three floors of rooms under the butterfly wings of the building, king bed, fireplaces, forest and mountain views from private decks, and in room dining available.
- Post House- a one room house designed for privacy, ocean views of the Big Sur coastline and the Pacific Ocean, with a fully equipped kitchen, a media room with a 55-inch flat screen television, king bed, landscaped private backyard with hot rub and all the amenities offered at the ranch.
The Sierra Mar restaurant is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is situated on the cliff tops, and was awarded the Grand Award by Wine Spectator. The gourmet dining is enhanced by ingredients which evoke a sense of culture and place. The cuisine is innovative. Dress code is casual elegant, with sandals, athletic gear, t-shirts and shorts not permitted. Reservations are recommended for all mealtimes.
The Post Ranch Spa offers a wide range of signature spa services designed for relaxation. The spa is only available to the hotel guests. Therapies are available in spa or in room.
Prices for accommodations start at approximately $750 USD per night.
Treebones is a 10-acre site formerly occupied by a lumber mill built in the 1960s. The locals gave the site its name, and John and Corinne Handy, who purchased the land and built their unique village of yurts on it, kept the name. It is a fine example of living on the earth as the Native American Indians once did in the area, and still touches the earth with much of the same spirit brought by the Hippies and Bohemians who came in the mid-1900s. The site has numerous yurts available for glamping (glamorous camping), the Oceanview Sushi Bar, the Wild Coast Restaurant for lunch and dinner daily, a massage studio for reserving massage therapies, and some of the most exquisite views of the Big Sur coastline.
The round yurts at Treebones are similar to Mongolian aboriginal tents. They are not soundproof, so no amplified music is allowed inside and campers must observe quiet time designated between 9PM and 8AM because voices carry over the grounds. What is wonderful about the way sound carries, though, is that guests can hear elephant seals when they bark on the shoreline below, rain on the rooftops and wind on the walls.
The bathrooms are heated and located in the main lodge about 1 to 3 minutes away from the yurts. Flashlights are recommended for night trips.
The yurts feature queen beds, comforters, heating units, and the restaurant is nearby. There is free wireless satellite internet inside the main lodge, but it will not support downloading or streaming videos, Skype or FaceTime. Social media and email are possible, but no cell phone reception. Guests use the outdoor payphone instead. Another plus is that Treebones is always 99% free of mosquitos.
Wines and beer on tap are available at the Sushi Bar.
The Handys raised four children at Treebones, and now the entire extended family lives on site along with 20 employees. Treebones is their home, and they enjoy sharing their experience with those who would like have an unpretentious stay with them. Treebones is not far from popular Hearst Castle and Cambria for day trips.
The average, lowest nightly rate for a yurt is about $275.
Ventana Inn & Spa
Voted #14 in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards for 2016, this is a hideaway snuggled within 243 acres along the Pacific Coast. There is plenty of opportunity to wander through the local old-growth forests, to see the setting sun as it glides into the sea, to stargaze while enjoying the Japanese baths, and the meander through the rolling hillsides.
Because this is a very complete resort experience, there are many types of accommodations ranging from guestrooms, to rooms with fireplaces, suites, suites with hot tubs and the secluded and very private Cottage House. There are 59 rooms and suites spread over the property. The interiors are rustic, with wood and stone features, king beds with luxurious linens and bathrooms, private decks, fireplaces, hot tubs, soaking tubs and choices of amenities. Guests must be 18 years old. The rooms are sophisticated with spacious windows and upscale furnishings.
The Restaurant at Ventana offers breakfast, lunch and dinner for both guests and travelers along Pacific Coast Highway. The menu is eclectic with a rustic, lodge-style dining room, a patio that overlooks the coastline, and classic cuisine heightened with locally sourced ingredients prepared by Chef Paul Corsentino, who hails from Manhattan.
The Spa at Ventana is serene, with a peaceful offering of treatments to pamper guests and soothe their spirits. The therapies focus on not only massages, but the traditional healing methods of energy balancing and reflexology. The Spa acknowledges Big Sur’s location as a healing vortex and sacred site, and seeks to continue the traditions of creating well-being associated with its history.
There is an Art Gallery on site which showcases works created by renowned artists inspired by the Central Coast.
The Social House serves as a kind of living room for guests at Ventana. Many activities occur there, including wine and cheese sampling, complimentary programs of yoga classes, wine pairing sessions with the resort sommelier, hiking recommendations, gathering to meet with other guests for morning and evening activities, enjoying the game room, or having coffee, fresh juice and other light snacks. It’s the place where the concierge helps guests to find their perfect stay.
Ventana Campground is situated in a redwood canyon with modern campsites, bath houses, water faucets, fire rings and picnic tables. There are trails leading to The Restaurant at Ventana and the 40-acre site is not far from general stores, taverns and cafes. The campground is only for tents, camper vans, and trucks with small top campers or roof tents.
Day trips include hiking the Coast Ridge Trail, visiting the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, seeing the tallest trees on the Earth- the Sequoia trees in Monterey County, or driving into Carmel or Monterey to explore the historic sites there.
Guest accommodations start at about $1,000 USD per night.
Glen Oaks Big Sur
Glen Oaks Big Sur is the kind of place where one can camp out, but do so indoors. The resort features three main styles of accommodations, each of which evokes the spirit of the early days of Big Sur. In the not too distant past, camping in Big Sur was one of the most popular ways to visit as travelers drove along the Pacific Coast Highway simply to enjoy the views. Accommodations here do not include television, and pets are not allowed. All rooms offer many comforts of home and a great way to explore the forested areas of Big Sur and the Big Sur River. Everything about Glen Oaks is like stepping into the past, without sacrificing all modern conveniences. There are three types of guest rooms:
Adobe Motor Lodge
- Fireside Lodge-Queen: features queen bed, gas fireplaces, refrigerator, heated stone floors in the bathroom, eco-resin twin door to the bath, modern large shower for two people, stone walls, vessel sings natural materials in an open plan design. Earth tone interior décor and surrounded by the forest.
- Fireside Lodge-King-recycled peroba wood furnishings, private yard and outdoor seating, wardrobes for clothes, heated recycled stone floors in the bathroom, contemporary and mid-century modern décor in warm, natural tones and materials.
Oak Tree Cottages
- The Cottage- a one bedroom house with a private deck and views of the woods. Natural furnishings in mid-century modern style, a kitchen with retro enamel countertop and sink, gas range, microwave, orange fridge. Quilted bedding, cast iron fireplace, rattan wing back chairs, and warm toned interiors. Nestled in the forest.
- Archies- a studio cottage with a porch and fenced entry yard, cast iron fireplace, king size bed, kitchenette and modern bath. The décor is mid-century modern and rustic. Front porch with seating to view the surrounding woods.
The Redwood Grove- a selection of cabins nestled under the redwood trees across from the Big Sur River. These cabins are outfitted with a variety of amenities such as soaking tubs, private courtyards, kitchens with eating nooks, modern bathrooms, and warm earth tones for décor. These are noted for their spaciousness and views of the surrounding forests.
The Big Sur Roadhouse offers California cuisine Mondays through Sundays from 8AM to 2:30PM. The menu is seasonal, featuring locally ingredients, often organically sourced. Steve Justrich, designer from San Francisco, has created a unique spot for dining at the Roadhouse, with a focus on his own version of “homegrown modernism”. Guests are welcome to visit for coffee, wine, snacks and meals when passing by.
Rooms start at $250 per night for the Adobe Motor Lodge and range to about $600 per night for the Big Sur Cabin.