Today, Highway 1 reopens, just in time for your Central Coast adventure
If you’ve spent the past year locked indoors, you might be worth a getaway this summer. With the recent return of the Great American Roadtrip, what could be better than a road full of breathtaking views, cliffside retreats, and California beach culture with a touch of class? Located on the state’s central coast, Big Sur and the surrounding area will keep you inspired long after you’ve said goodbye. The best way to take in all the area has to offer is via Highway 1, which has reopened just in time for warmer weather and the end of the wildflower season. Despite storm damage, the highway will be open between Carmel and Cambria, offering local businesses along the route some relief from the challenges of last year. Whether you’re traveling for Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, or just walking past your backyard, don’t miss the restaurants, accommodations, and shops that keep Big Sur on the map and on the to-do list.
Where to stay
The central coast has hotels, lodges and inns that testify to the region’s natural and secluded position between the forest and the sea. From architecture to decoration, the following places channel the spirit of Big Sur within you. inviting to explore upon your arrival.
If you are looking to stay in the heart of the coast, Ventana Big Sur offers luxury suites, houses and cabin tents on a sprawling 160-acre estate. Located just off Highway 1, the resort promises seclusion as much as access to the region’s outdoor adventures. Start your day with a guided hike or tour of the gardens, and end it with an evening spent in the comfort of your accommodation, with a hot tub, fireplace or Japanese bath.
For a holistic experience, the Esalen Institute combines accommodations with ocean views with workshops designed to promote spiritual, emotional and intellectual health. Their unique programs typically last two to four days and include plenty of time to take in the beauty of the grounds. Upcoming classes include Yoga Nidra Retreat, Nature Meditation, and more. In addition to farm-to-table meals in the Esalen Garden, the Institute also offers exclusive access to natural hot springs just steps from the main lodge.
Where to eat
Restaurants in and around Big Sur stand out not only as foodie destinations, but also as cultural hubs and landmarks.
CTE Big Sur, located directly on Highway 1, embodies the independence and creativity of local business owners. Nestled in a former water tank, the cafe serves organic food, coffee, candy, and wine from the Central California Coast, packing the region’s finest ingredients into gourmet meals. In homage to the site’s beginnings as an artist enclave, Coast also has an art gallery and boutique showcasing local artists.
A few kilometers to the north, Nepenthe Restaurant takes alfresco dining on the upper level with a cliffside ocean view. Enjoy your lunch or dinner surrounded by evergreen trees, rolling fog, and crashing waves on the shore below you. Make sure to then head to the mid-level for specialty coffee and sticky buns at CafÃ© Kevah.
There is nothing that will bring you back to the Central Coast like a unique piece from one of the various boutiques in the area. These businesses go beyond memories, bringing you irreplaceable memories to remind you that Big Sur is still here, patiently waiting.
The lower level of the Nepenthe houses The Phoenix store, a gift shop full of global and regional treasures. The items focused on Big Sur are particularly evocative, and the store is full of little surprises. There is something for everyone among the art reproductions, jewelry and household items that the store is famous for.
Family-run cross the street Hawthorne Gallery for an immersive tour of the work of local artists, including the Hawthornes themselves. The gallery runs through interior and exterior spaces, and it is clear that the site is well cared for and maintained by generations of one family.
Just a few minutes down the highway from The Phoenix Shop is the Henry Miller Memorial Library, nestled in the redwoods as if not to attract attention. Make no mistake about it, a stop at the library is a must if you’re looking for a shopping experience that you can’t recreate. Miller’s former residence is now a bookstore celebrating the author’s life and work and selling a variety of unconventional titles you didn’t even know you were looking for. The bookstore’s selection of books on Big Sur itself is impressive, and stopping there is an opportunity to learn about local traditions and history.
If you’re heading up the coast from Big Sur and spending time in the Carmel-By-The-Sea area, you’ll have a wider variety of shopping destinations to choose from, but be sure to Bee bark and moss is on the list. True to the region’s maverick spirit, the boutique specializes in lifestyle and home items with a handcrafted twist. Many products are locally sourced and the inventory is constantly evolving to reflect innovations in fashion and furniture design.
What to do
Amidst shopping, fine dining and luxury accommodations, Big Sur’s natural beauty is always undeniable; take the time to experience it by visiting places popular with locals and travelers.
Pfeiffer Beach is one of those iconic and incredibly photogenic places that always manages to exude an air of isolation. The beach has two natural wonders that attract visitors; its sand and rock formations. The purple glow of the sand at Pfeiffer Beach is ethereal, especially if you’re there when the light is perfect. Keyhole Rock, a rock arch with a door-like opening in its center is similar in the way it lets in the last rays of the sun at dusk. This beach is more of a romantic stroll and contemplation than fun in the waves, and the location is worth the winding road that descends from Highway 1.
Garrapata State ParkAnother hidden place in the open is Calla Lily Valley. The valley and adjacent beach are located off of Highway 1, a few miles north of the Bixby Creek Bridge. The path from the parking lot leads to the coastal valley where lilies bloom in early spring. If you catch them in bloom, your walk to the shore will be lined with white flowers and other wildflowers sprawling over a blanket of greenery.
The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the Central Coast’s most sought-after destinations, and it’s easy to see why once you look through the arch overlooking the canyon. Take a moment to admire the bridge in front of the camera lens, as it is almost synonymous with Big Sur. Beauty and function don’t always go hand in hand, and the Bixby Bridge is an architectural relic that just wouldn’t be the same if it were full of traffic. Like most wonders, the bridge looks particularly mystifying at dawn and dusk.
McWay Falls, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is easily accessible from Highway 1 and one of the coast’s most amazing natural features. A path leading to the waterfall reveals an eighty-foot-high beam of water emerging from a cliff and flowing into the ocean below. It’s both surprising and unpretentious, and a great introduction to what the national park has to offer across Highway 1.
Even if you are not staying at Post Ranch Inn, treat yourself to a spa service based on traditional healing methods and activities aimed at calming your soul. the Spa the menu offers sea baths, herbal rituals, massages and more, all emphasizing the natural elements found in the area. Your spa day can be as active or as quiet as you want it to be, and your treatment will be tailored to your needs.
As much as Big Sur invites you to indulge yourself, it reminds you that the Central Coast is a natural sanctuary like no other. Its rugged cliffs, protected forests and mix of marine and woodland environments are unique to the region, and that sense of recognition unites its local community. From elegant accommodations to carefully prepared meals and art exhibitions, the emphasis remains on the hand; crafts are everywhere in Big Sur. It is as if the one who passes by remains inspired; There is a good chance that something in you is also agitated. Plan for indulgence, discovery and spontaneity as you venture off the beaten track to the California coast.