What is Big Sur? A town? A place? A state of mind? A famed highway and lore-laden outposts lure seekers of all stripes. These five days will make you want to see what’s around the next bend.


When your jaw drops at the sight of the sea crashing against wildflower-strewn cliffs, inhale: Once you’ve absorbed the otherworldly view, explore the deeply layered village that shares the name BIG SUR. Start with brunch at DEETJEN’S, a regular pilgrimage for both locals and return visitors. Then head out to a local beach to dip your toes in the Pacific on the tucked-away rocks of PARTINGTON COVE. NEPENTHE commands the best ocean view and also offers French fries and local wine. FERNWOOD RESORT is one of several woodsy, casual spots lining the Big Sur River—good for a siesta after a push up one of many trailheads into the hills. BIG SUR BAKERY somehow offers the best scones by day and sophisticated dinner by night (primo tote bags, ceramics and jam, all times), and BIG SUR TAPHOUSE is the local rendezvous. The Phoenix Shop can supply all your Big Sur vibe-related needs (sundials, etc.).

Grab local mementos, provisions and drinks at the Big Sur Taphouse. | BIG SUR TAPHOUSE


There are many reasons for a Big Sur road trip. A big one is just … driving. Highway 1 might be the most famous scenic route in America. It’s worth devoting a day to reveling in the drive and stopping to explore along the way as you head southbound.

Start off at COAST BIG SUR, a cafe and gallery south of the town of Big Sur. Built in a former redwood water tank, Coast is a modern hunter-gatherer dream of picnic fare and cortados. Pick up a few sandwiches and salads for later—and, just an idea, a soft-serve swirl for now. After 25 miles (near mile marker 16), stop at the pullout to walk down to a tucked-away cove, a place to enjoy that picnic alone with the crashing Pacific. During springtime, riotous purple and orange wildflower blooms take over the fields across the highway.


Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
The singular Central Coast classic tells a rowdy tale down by the docks of a sardine-fishing town. A garrulous tale of throwback times, but also a lasting human portrait.

Center for Photographic Art, Carmel
Traces its origins to the Friends of Photography, a society founded by Ansel Adams, Cole Weston and others. Hosts smart rotating exhibitions.

After 10 miles, stop for a stroll into Nathaniel Owens Memorial Redwood Grove, one of the last and most impressive stands of the region’s redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, at the southern edge of its range. It’s impossible to come away from a visit with these trees, so ancient, described by Steinbeck as “ambassadors from another time,” without a sense of awe. 

After 3 more miles, SALMON CREEK TRAILHEAD leads to the 0.3-mile hike to SALMON CREEK FALLS, a 120-foot cascade surrounded by shady sycamore trees.

19 miles later, arrive at HEARST CASTLE. Commissioned by the famed newspaper baron and designed by legendary California architect Julia Morgan, the 165-room mansion took more than 28 years to build. Spend a few hours on an official tour or wandering on your own, exploring the grand rooms, the ornate pools, and the grounds—and don’t miss the herd of zebras, descendants of William Randolph Hearst’s private zoo.

For more baronial feelings, HEARST WINERY, where the tasting menu goes well with tri-tip from the on-site food truck. For a return to the common people, drive 10 miles south to MOZZI’S SALOON in Cambria, a cowboy bar built in 1866. The original prospectors may be gone, but there are tall tales still get told around the two pool tables.


Even in a Big Sur context, the area locals refer to as the “South Coast” is remote and wild terrain—with plenty of worthy detours.

Unofficially, the South Coast starts about 16 miles south of Big Sur itself. The region makes points north feel like a hyperconnected metropolis. The area has no electricity grid or water system, but the distance from much of modernity adds to its charm. As well as hardy residents, South Coast is home to much of Big Sur’s federal and state land, which means it offers many of the most stunning views to be had by any and all.

South of LUCIA LODGE—site of one of the first homesteads in Big Sur and a beloved restaurant that burned down in 2019—a key sign appears, proclaiming the ”Holy Granola” of the NEW CAMALDOLI HERMITAGE, tucked away on a peak above Highway 1. Stop into the bookstore, where a friendly Carmelite monk will tell you about the active monastery and point you toward their homemade brandy-dipped date-nut cakes. During a reverent moment in the chapel, light filters in through an octagonal wooden roof, the bright blue of the Pacific churning through the courtyard window. A gentle hour-long walk along the hermitage’s Fence Loop Trail, offers a pick of contemplative benches that look out toward where the ocean meets the sky.

You can grab a fantastic plate of fish and chips at the WHALE WATCHER'S CAFE. | gordaspringsresort.com

Drive 20 more minutes along the coast to the WHALE WATCHER’S CAFE for a plate of fish and chips and a table on the patio. In summer, blue and humpback whales patrol the waters beyond.

Grab any snacks from the gas station (and use the restroom; they’re few and far between on the South Coast) before you head to SAND DOLLAR BEACH. Spend the afternoon enjoying the gentle surf and exploring the largest unbroken stretch of sand in Big Sur—and likely spotting a few sand dollars yourself.


PFEIFFER BEACH, a rare stretch of multicolored sand and dramatic rock, captures Big Sur’s wild beauty. Marine biologist and program facilitator at Ventana Big Sur, Carmel-born Katie Rose lives in a tiny cabin abutting Pfeiffer Beach—a rarity. To get there, she says: “You take a steep turn off Highway 1 going west, and drop down into Sycamore Canyon: a beautiful, plush, almost rainforest-feeling canyon. Walk two minutes through a very darkly shaded cypress grove, where a little stream meanders along the side. By the stream, there’s sand with a pretty, psychedelic, purple snakeskin-like pattern that looks sketched into the sand, and stones of all colors going down to the beach. Beyond the purple comes the finest, whitest, softest sand. At the beach access, cypress trees stop and you see huge rocks protruding out of the ocean. One is a keyhole rock with waves crashing through, perfect to watch the sunset through. In terms of getting in the ocean, it’s cold and dangerous. But in terms of marine life—oh my goodness, it has everything: whales, sea otters, dolphins and great white sharks. Every time I’m there I feel like I can picture the Esselen tribe harvesting mussels or fishing off the beach. With Pfeiffer, the mystery is grandiose. You can look at something really close up and small, but the real mystery and awe come from surrendering to the grand hugeness of it all.”


California’s Big Sur and Highway 1 region are beautiful year round, but thick fog may limit visibility, especially in summer months. Check forecasts before setting out, and make sure wiper blades and washers are in good order. Buy fuel in larger towns before entering Highway 1—gas near Big Sur is famously crazy, crazy expensive.

Headed elsewhere with rustic dreams in mind? Check out some of the best spots to combine RV’ing and tent camping.

Yoga? RVing? A match made in a higher plane? Read up!

If you’re thinking about seeking wisdom off the grid, keep up on the latest in power stations.

Wildsam’s field guide to Big Sur and Highway 1 brings special focus to the region’s amazing heritage of ocean science and exploration, with in-depth coverage of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and famed labs and expedition ships.

day 5

Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, Alan Watts—for 60 years, the ESALEN INSTITUTE has been the epicenter of the New Age movement. Founded by two Stanford grads in 1962 to bring together a community of seekers in exploration of human consciousness, the not-for-profit has welcomed tens of thousands in pursuit of inner transformation. The grounds themselves—120 acres perched between mountains and the ocean, with natural hot springs along the cliff—provide an ideal setting for Esalen’s workshops, which range from psychedelics as medicine to developing a relationship with death to the sacred feminine to yoga. Book an all-inclusive stay for a workshop (most are 3-4 days), with prices and accommodations ranging from sleeping bag space to suites. If you’re looking to stop in for a visit, you can buy a one-day visitor pass, which includes a 75-minute massage and access to the hot springs. Spaces are very limited; drop a line via email to inquire.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park | linoleum creative



Navigate California’s stunning Highway 1 like an expert with the Jayco Jay Feather. Built for extended-season camping, this travel trailer features expansive windows to take in the coastal views, and comes with an impressive suite of amenities to make life on the road as smooth and comfortable as possible. Depending on the floorplan, you can commune with as many as nine other seekers.





Fernwood Resort
Big Sur
A vintage woodsy retreat dating to the 1930s, right on the Big Sur River.



Ventana Big Sur
Big Sur
Forests and ocean blues far as the eye can see. High-living suites, plush rooms and tent cabins. Resident forager.



Henry Miller Memorial Library
Big Sur
More than a bookstore. But also, it’s an extraordinary bookstore. A nexus for all things Big Sur.



Field Notes
Waterproofed, so perfect for both poetic musings on the headlands and nitty-gritty tidepool observations on the shoreline.




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