Big Sur, California

Photo: Joseph Plotz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Joseph Plotz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The longest winter ever—at least, it felt that way—is finally over. The sun is shining. The temperatures are starting to creep up to acceptable levels. And you’re ready to play outside. It sounds like you need a rejuvenating long weekend. Gorgeous scenery included, of course.

Big Sur has been luring people to California’s Central Coast forever. Three Native American tribes called the area home before Spanish missionaries arrived. Later, after Henry Miller moved here in 1944, writers, artists, and, eventually, hippies followed. Highway 1, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world, was built along the coast. State parks were created to ensure the pristine land would never be developed. It’s wild, peaceful, and more beautiful than any camera is able to capture.

Your drive down the coast takes much longer than planned. Between the deep gorges, the jagged coastline, the hairpin turns, and the sapphire water, you stop at nearly every pull-off point along the way. You pass by old lighthouses and over rushing rivers. And you catch quick glimpses of hidden beaches. Just when you think it can’t get any better, you arrive at your hotel.

Photo: Ventana Inn & Spa
Photo: Ventana Inn & Spa

The Ventana Inn & Spa is one of the few places to stay in Big Sur. The weathered cedar buildings sit on more than 240 acres of land filled with California redwoods and sycamores. A Red-tailed Hawk watches the entrance upon your arrival. Hammocks and hand-carved benches are strategically placed in quiet areas. The pools are heated to 80 degrees year round, though you can sit in a Japanese hot bath if that’s too cool for you. Your rustic room has a fireplace, deep leather chairs, and a deck to watch migrating whales. When you sit outside, the smell of rosemary mixes with the salty air. You feel comfortable already.

You could spend the entire long weekend right in your room, or at least at the inn, but the point of your trip was to stretch your legs. Go hiking in Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur’s largest state park. On the Headlands Trail, you’ll pass Cooper Cabin, the oldest building in the area, before finding amazing views of Molera Point, driftwood-strewn Molera Beach, and the Big Sur River. Keep an eye out for Bald Eagles. If it’s foggy, head inland to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to hike through the cool redwood forest, out to a 60-foot waterfall, or up to Mount Manuel.

Have lunch at the Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant. It doesn’t matter what ingredients go inside their delicious bread. Visit the art gallery at the Henry Miller Library, and check the event schedule in case there’s an outdoor performance later. Explore the area’s first gallery, the Big Sur Coast Gallery, deep within a redwood canyon. Relax with a glass of Pinot Noir and a California artisanal cheese plate at Nepenthe. The views—800 feet above sea level—will entice you to order a second glass of wine.

And though you’ll be tempted to stay for sunset, head down to Pfeiffer Beach, instead. The crescent-shaped beach has purple (yes, purple) sand, rock caves, and a golden reflection at sunset. You stretch your legs and breathe deeply. Spring has finally arrived.

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