48 Hours in Big Sur

By Laura Braden

Drive four hours in any direction from Sacramento and you’re going to run into a lot of awesomeness: Tahoe, San Francisco, Carmel, Sonoma, Stinson Beach and Yosemite to name a few.

Thus, we’ve decided to add a new feature to the website – “Wanderlust.” Wanderlust is that “cabin fever” feeling you get when you’ve been stationary too long. It simply means the love, the desire, the impulse to…well…wander the planet. And since most of us have crazy lives, and even crazier work schedules, we’re condensing our advice into 48 hours – perfect for the weekend trip or if you find yourself somewhere short-term for work.

First up: Big Sur.

My first trip to Big Sur was the first time I truly understood why people are so passionate about living in California. Big Sur is why we endure fires, earthquakes, budget deficits, high taxes, proposed bans on plastic bags, Heidi Montag and crazy politicians. It is, in a word, breathtaking.

View from Nepenthe’s patio

Distance to Sacramento:

Roughly 220 miles. Be sure to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway for the best experience – but the roads are extremely curvy. I never get car sick, but even I’ve had my moments on these roads.


Cliffs, oceans, Redwood forests, fog and rolling hills all rolled into one.




Not really, check with your lodging before you bring the pooch.

Hungry, Thirsty:

Sunset from my table at Nepenthe

Nepenthe – (48510 Highway 1) My absolute favorite. Open since 1949, the restaurant is situated 800 feet above the ocean with unobstructed views of the water and cliffs. It has a cozy/romantic/laidback vibe (complete with fire pits). Any time of day is great, but the sunsets are spectacular. Go early to get a good table near the edge. Oh yeah, and the food/wine lists are great too.

Redwood Grill – (47200 Highway 1) Redwood Grill is “fancy” comfort food. Caribbean spiced tri-tip, smoked bay back ribs, seasoned fries and buffalo burgers galore. The blackened wild salmon salad is delicious too, but really, this place specializes in the heartier fare.

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant – You’re one-stop-shop for brunch. Mimosas and traditional fare with fresh ingredients. Be sure and try the 9-grain pancakes with seasonal fruit or the wood-fired bacon and egg breakfast pizza.

A Place to Lay Your Head:

Treebones Resort– (71895 Highway 1) Ever stayed in a yurt? What is a yurt? Yurts are like giant, sturdy tepees. Treebones’ yurts are clean and spacious with a wood frame, pine floors, big cozy bed, heat, sink and electricity. Sort of like fancy camping. Showers and restrooms are shared (but clean). They also have fire pits, a masseuse, heated pool and hot tubs onsite. ($160-290 (various sizes) – plus camp sites for $65-75)

McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Big Sur Campground and Cabins – (47000 Highway 1)  This place has cabins, tent cabins, camp sites and RV sites depending on whether or not you like to camp or “fake camp.” Right on the river, it’s great for those with kiddos – they have a playground, grocery store and laundry onsite. (Cabins, $140-385 (various sizes) – plus camp sites for $40-55)

Post Ranch Inn – (directions) For those not on a budget, check out the Post Ranch Inn. Each room has either an ocean or mountain view, fireplace, indoor/outdoor spa tub, and beautiful furnishings. They even have houses for rent on the property. Bonus – they have “complimentary activities” for guests including yoga, guided nature hikes, meditation and cooking classes. ($550-$2185 (various sizes))

VRBO – (various) Looking for an oceanview with private hot tub on a cliff? Traveling with a large party and need 2 cabins right next to each other? Or a house with rustic charm? Then you should check out VRBO. It’s a great resource where you can rent privately-owned houses and condos. Most have minimum stays, but you can also barter on price and arrangements.


Horseback Riding–  Molera Horseback Tours’ are affordable and diverse. The trails vary from 1-2.5 hours with rides through beaches and Redwood forests. I realize serious equestrians hate trail rides, but this one deserves a chance given all the scenery.

Waterfalls – They belong in the hiking section since you have to hike to reach them, but I broke them out because they really deserve their own category. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. The best time to see them is December through May. Click here for a list of options (and the best trails to reach them).

Redwood forest

Hiking – A number of trails (diverse in length and skill) are available. Check out more information here.

Chill-laxing – There’s nothing better after a long hike than a trip to the spa – but you’re going to pay for it. Ventana and Post Ranch Inn have beautiful and tranquil spas with massages ranging from $120-260. Luckily, most hotels and cabins have (in some cases private) hot tubs perfect for star gazing at night. One place I’ve always been curious about, but never had a chance to visit, is the Esalen Institute. Founded in 1962, Esalen is everything we Tennesseans think of when we think of California – “an alternative educational center devoted to the exploration of what Aldous Huxley called the “human potential,” the world of unrealized human capacities that lies beyond the imagination.” Right on. Offering workshops in massage and counseling, they also have amazing hot springs that are open to the public (with reservation) from 1am-3am, 7 days a week.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What’d we miss? What are your favorite restaurants, shops, sights and places to stay in Big Sur? Submit your advice below or email us your own “48 Hours” profile to girlsonthegrid AT gmail DOT com.

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  1. Chantel Elder says

    Whoo this is just what I needed! Greg and I were thinking of a tiny quick honeymoon since we went to London and Ireland in December! Thanks!!

  2. Robin Swanson says

    The Ventana Inn is indeed lovely. Just reading your post made me more relaxed…

  3. Sarah Wilt says

    This sounds awesome! But I’m not to sure how I feel about VRBO. I usually use MetroFlats.com for my travels. But I really want to go it sounds awesome.

  4. laura braden says

    Sarah – Just checked out MetroFlats.com – looks amazing. Will have to try it out the next time I’m in NYC or San Diego. Too bad they only serve a few cities – and only one (San Diego) in California.

  5. Randolph Boughner says

    Thank you for sharing this information. We’re always looking for smart resources to share with clients and the accounting community, and this article is definitely worth sharing!

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