Food & Fun in Big Sur
June 6, 2013 11:32 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I will be celebrating our anniversary with a weekend in Big Sur, and while the idea is mostly to just enjoy some time to ourselves, we'd also like some suggestions for stuff to do. We're particularly interested in: nice places to eat, gorgeous places to explore, and--is there swimming? Fun places to stop for food or views on the way down would be great, too, especially south of Monterey (we're familiar with the attractions up to there). We'll be staying at the Ragged Point Inn (AskMe favorite Deetjen's was booked, sadly), which on the southern edge of things, and know we'll probably have to drive a bit to get to... well, anything.
posted by rhiannonstone to Travel & Transportation around Big Sur, CA (20 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I've spent lots of vacation time in Big Sur (we usually rent a cabin at the Big Sur Campground and Cabins, but you've got that covered.)

Can't help you much with food (our cabin always included a kitchen and a firepit) except to say: Nepenthe is hella expensive (but the view is incredible); the dining room at the Big Sur River Inn is lovely, the menu interesting, the food good (as of five years ago).

For fun.

Hike the trails at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (this is a small trailhead/parking lot a few miles south of Big Sur). Do the same at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (this is the big campground just south of Big Sur). Do still more trail hiking at Andrew Molera State Park, which is just north of Big Sur. There's horseback riding nearby, but we've never done that.

A little further north is my favorite -- the Point Sur Lighthouse. Tours of the lighthouse and buildings are available on weekends.

If you decide to make the drive north to Monterey (it's only 45 minutes and beautiful), and want to learn a lot about Cannery Row, consider taking one of this guy's private walking tours. Tim's a retired archivist and historian who grew up in the area, and his knowledge is wide and deep, as is his enthusiasm.
posted by notyou at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2013

The eclectic Henry Miller Library is wonderful and hosts all sorts of events that are perfect for whiling away an evening under the stars.
posted by platinum at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2013

Seconding Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - it's a nice short walk out to the waterfall view, and it's lovely. We had late lunch/early dinner at Nepenthe, which could have had crappy food because the views are AMAZING but instead had quite good food. My husband raved about the burger. Watch out for the birds, though, they literally stole a guy's burger off his plate right next to us.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:06 PM on June 6, 2013

Esalen hot springs are amazing - only open to the public from 1-3am by moonlight, and you have to make a reservation. They are built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean. TOTALLY worth getting up at midnight (or staying up late) to go.

Note that they are bathing-suit optional and most opt for none.

I love Nepenthe for lunch.
posted by amaire at 12:10 PM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looking at the map I see we'll actually be closer to San Simeon and Cambria than the rest of Big Sur, so suggestions for those places would be great, too. (Other than Hearst Castle, which I know is there but isn't in the books for this trip.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2013

Go see some elephant seals!
posted by Daily Alice at 1:04 PM on June 6, 2013

Cambria: I had an amazing dinner at Black Cat Bistro. We randomly found it via Yelp, and it ended up being one of the high points of the trip. Good food & wine, and really nice people. Such a great experience.

On a different trip I stayed at Treebones (the yurts.) There's not a lot of dining options when you're in that part of Big Sur, so you may want to check out the two restaurants at Treebones. We ate at both the sushi place and the main restaurant.

Elephant seals: interesting, but kind of icky, loud, smelly, and violent. Worth a look, though.
posted by soleiluna at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2013

Also, if you like driving around and visiting wineries, the area around Paso Robles is beautiful. I had a spectacular Italian meal at Il Cortile in Paso Robles.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:10 PM on June 6, 2013

Ragged Point is a little closer to Morro Bay/SLO than Monterey, so I'm gonna recommend going there for good food. There's pretty much nothing between Cambria and Monterey, foodwise, but going more into town you'll find much better places.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2013

Kayaking in San Simeon Cove with Cubby is EXCELLENT. He leads great tours, and is super knowledgable about wildlife & local history. Google "kayak cambria" to find him--I can't recall the website.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paso Robles is kind of a long haul from Ragged Point. Morro Bay is marginally closer.

All of my recommendations above are a long haul from Ragged Point, and I should have paid more attention to that part of your question.

Cambria will have something (it's got that bed and breakfast vibe).

Sometimes there are zebras grazing near the Hearst Castle gate.

The (abandoned) Piedras Blancas Motel, which is midway between Ragged Point and Cambria, has an interesting history. My dream is to retire there and realize my utopian vision.
posted by notyou at 1:55 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do mean ocean swimming? Because I don't think there are any swimming beaches in Big Sur (too cliffy) but there are beautiful sandy beaches in nearby Carmel. Just be warned the water may be cold!
posted by hellameangirl at 2:27 PM on June 6, 2013

I like the restaurant at Ventana.
posted by Right On Red at 3:56 PM on June 6, 2013

I wouldn't recommend Ventana for anything right now.
posted by rhizome at 5:29 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're near San Simeon, the elephant seals are incredible and a must-see, IMO.
posted by naoko at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2013

You have to be tough to want to swim in the Pacific's California current. The ocean temperature is California's big letdown for me.
posted by anadem at 10:18 PM on June 6, 2013

Sea Chest or Robin's in Cambria
The Manta Rey in San Simeon
beach near the willow creek bridge . people surf there and ocean swim north of the creek mouth.
water temps Happy Aniversary
posted by hortense at 11:24 PM on June 6, 2013

One of the nicest hop out of your car walk 2/10ths and be awed hikes that I know of up there .
posted by hortense at 11:28 AM on June 7, 2013

Lunch at the Post Ranch Inn is fantastic, and surprisingly affordable considering the quality of the resort.
posted by woodman at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2013

Just got back and had an amazing time, much in part due to y'all!
  • Sunday brunch at Robin's was amazing, posibly the best meal of the whole weekend
  • Dinner at Black Cat Bistro was delicious (OMG! Fried olives!) and perfectly romantic, and I loved their wine selection
  • Deetjen's Restaurant is super-adorable and makes a tasty breakfast (excellent homemade granola)
  • The Henry Miller Library was a real treat to visit, and an especially nice way to get out of the rain for a bit today. Grabbed some awesome coffee, talked to some bike tourists and other travelers, and bought a copy of Kerouac's Big Sur there.
  • We saw the zebras grazing and it was coooool. I wouldn't have even known zebras were an option if notyou hadn't mentioned them, but when I saw a bunch of people pulled over near the Hearst Castle somewhere there wasn't an official Vista Point, I thought to look and lo! Zebras.
  • We saw hundreds of loud, smelly, violent, and utterly fascinating elephant seals
  • We scheduled a kayak tour with Cubby, but sadly had to back out due to weather and timing issues this morning. But he was a blast to talk to and that's definitely the first thing I'm doing when I go back.
So thanks, AskMe!

I offer this in return: Ragged Point Inn is a fantastic place to stay. More comfortable than the rustic cabins and yurts everywhere else, but much more reasonably-priced than the ultraposh places like Ventana and Post Ranch Inn. Lovely grounds well worth exploring (including a private beach at the end of a short but steep nature trail), a fantastic view, and a restaurant, espresso bar, and mini-mart on the property for when you don't feel like driving half an hour to get to anything else.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:03 PM on June 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

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