THE VIBE : Two full days of hikes, food, and relaxation along California’s wild coast
THE STORY : It’s tough for my friends to believe but I’d never been to Big Sur. I’d done Carmel a ton and even the towns on the central coast a few times, but never Big Sur.
So after a lifetime exploring the outdoors of Northern California and traveling all over the world, my first trip to California’s famous wild coast came last month. It was during the COVID-19 outbreak and it was just a quick trip, but even with just two nights from our home in the SF Bay Area, my husband and I got hooked on this gorgeous stretch of Golden State.
Sadly, the Dolan Fire of 2020 attacked the Santa Lucia Mountains shortly after our visit. The massive wildfire charred the hills from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park all the way down to the town of Lucia. Luckily, as of publication, firefighters have achieved 25 percent containment, saved most structures and kept the blaze far from the village of Big Sur.
A getaway to the area this autumn will be a great way to support the Big Sur community during what has been a challenging year.
THE HOTEL :
We considered splurging on one of the high-end spots like Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Big Sur, but alas, they were booked. I’d also always wanted to stay at the yurt/glamping spot, Treebones, but again, no availability. This pushed us back 40 minutes up the coast to Carmel – not too far for a lot more lodging options. The Getaway in Carmel Village looked fun but we ended up staying at Carmel Mission Inn. Though not nearly as charming as the name might suggest, it was perfectly fine for our needs – and it had reasonably-priced rooms in August on short notice! Conveniently located on Highway 1 next to the Barnyard and Crossroads shopping centers, the “inn” is really a renovated “retro” motel but was clean and comfortable and had everything we needed.
We did a lot of research and packed a lot into our stay. We loved our midweek visit, which was a bit less expensive and crowded. Here’s our itinerary for the perfect intro to the Big Sur area from a base in Carmel.
We left our home in Marin County at 8:30 a.m. for an easy drive south. By noon, we had a seat at the iconic Nepenthe cliffside eatery in Big Sur, enjoying the views and the famous Ambrosia burger. We lucked out and didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes, but it was getting very crowded when we left.
Our next stop was the Andrew Molera State Park. We walked south along the Bluff Trail for about 2 miles, then a right turn onto Spring Trail and voila, we hit the beach! It was a beautiful walk back along the water. Once back near the trailhead, we enjoyed some time on the main beach, although it was not nearly as scenic as the beaches we’d walked by which are less accessible.
Back in the car traveling north, we took in the views along Hwy 1, including the famous Bixby Bridge. You’ll see all the cars parked along the road so people can get the Insta-worthy Big Sur shot.
We tried to stop at Rocky Point for a drink, but it was closed so we returned to the hotel in Carmel to get cleaned up. We then ate an early dinner at Sea Harbor Fish Market (more of a take out place – it closes at 7!) of clam chowder, fish tacos, and a Crab Louie salad.
We slept in and then walked over to Lafayette Bakery in the Barnyard shopping center for some delicious French pastries. Picked up some picnic supplies and headed south to Point Lobos State Park. Started out on the South Plateau trail, which we followed all the way to Gibson Beach on the southern edge of the park. Then curved around on the Bird Island Trail and started our way north again, following the coast along some pretty beaches, tide pools, wildflowers, etc. We even managed to see sea lions, seals, and a group of otters. Followed the trail along the perimeter of the park, and finally stopped for our lunch at Whaler’s Cove where we watched SCUBA divers launching into a kelp-filled bay. Left by 2:00 p.m. and it seemed like crowds were arriving fast!
We headed back up to Carmel and made a quick stop at the Carmel Mission. The basilica was closed, but we enjoyed seeing the gardens. We then headed to Carmel River Beach for some sun. It’s a nice alternative to the beach in downtown Carmel. Following a siesta and showers, we headed for a cocktail at Mission Ranch, but it was too crowded (too bad since that’s a great spot!) So we returned to Carmel Village instead, walked around, and ended up sitting outside at Enzo for a yummy Italian dinner.
We thought about taking Highway 1 all the way home but realized Saturday traffic would be tough and we didn’t want to spend the entire day getting home. So we enjoyed the drive up the coast to Santa Cruz but then popped over Hwy 17 to 280. A nice alternative, if you have time (and preferably not on a weekend), would be to take 1 all the way up, through Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, and Pacifica. That will be another trip I guess 🙂