Easy Trips: Big Sur, California
For decades, travelers have journeyed to this 90-mile stretch of Central California coastline seeking communion with the wild.
Last year, powerful winter storms caused landslides and a bridge outage in Big Sur, cutting off residents and businesses from the rest of the region. But the reopening of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in October reconnected Big Sur to areas to the north. While a large chunk of Highway 1 remains buried in the southern part of Big Sur, most of the major sites are accessible and open for business. This gasp-inducing section of the California Coast is ready to welcome visitors.
1. If you want to stretch your legs for the day, head to Andrew Molera State Park. While the park is laced with trails, the 8-mile loop offers great views of the coastal bluffs and access to several remote beaches. It’s passable most of the year, except in winter when the footbridge over the Big Sur River has been removed for the steelhead trout migration, so check before you go. (hikinginbigsur.com).
2. Spend an idle afternoon at the iconic Nepenthe Restaurant (nepenthe.com). Nepenthe – its name means “no sorrow” – was built to be in harmony with the surrounding environment and to provide a sanctuary for the artists, poets, vagabonds and lovers who found themselves in Big Sur. It remains one of the region’s busiest gathering places. Sip a glass of wine while enjoying a round of ping-pong, or ask for the binoculars kept behind the bar and see if you can spot some whales far out at sea.
3. Big Sur has been the muse of writers, artists and performers for decades. The Henry Miller Memorial Library (henrymiller.org) plays host to works of all kinds that were brought to fruition within these environs. This small, wooden structure nestled in the redwoods has a bookstore filled with progressive and thoughtful writings from the Beat Generation through modern intellectuals. Starting in May, theater companies perform and bands both worldrenowned and local play intimate sets on the library's lush lawn.
4. On the ocean side of Highway 1 near mile marker 37, you’ll find a metal gate. Head down the steep Partington Cove trail through a tree-lined canyon and a 60-foot tunnel to a rocky beach. Here you can watch the crashing surf and feel the spray of salt on your skin. Back at the top, on the other side of the highway the Tanbark trail follows the Partington Creek up into the towering redwood groves. (hikinginbigsur.com).
5. Soaking in a stone bath on the edge of a cliff can repair and restore any ailment – physical or mental – at least temporarily. Esalen Indians used the cliffside hot springs for ritual and healing purposes, and now the nonprofit Esalen Institute continues the tradition at Esalen Hot Springs. Take part in the public night bathing and enjoy communion with the stars and sea. Sameday booking applies and reservations are required ($30 per person; esalen.org /page/esalen-hot-springs).
The last word in luxurious coastal getaways, the exclusive Post Ranch Inn (from $875; postranchinn .com) pampers guests with slate spa tubs, wood-burning fireplaces, private decks, loaner vehicles and walking sticks for coastal hikes.