A 24-Hour Guide To Big Sur

September 6, 2019

Big Sur holds a special place in my heart. Most summers growing up, my parents and our family friends would take a quick two-hour road trip to Big Sur. We would stay at the Big Sur Lodge or camp under the stars. While the parents partied (hey, it was the ’80s), us kids would run wild around the Nepenthe grounds. We would play in the sand at Pfeiffer Beach and then lounge in the river that runs along the Big Sur Lodge. I remember it feeling so free; like a totally different way of living. There were no phones or devices, simply beautiful nature and our imaginations.

I’ve been eager to head back to this magical place as an adult, but it kept slipping away from me. I daydreamed of my kids wading in the river and looking out at the vast horizon at Nepenthe. However, my husband and I got the opportunity to do a quick 24-hour visit for our anniversary and while it wasn’t the family trip I had imagined, it was just as magical.

Here is my guide to all the spots you must squeeze into a quick trip to the beloved Big Sur. Almost all photos were taken on 35mm film.

The Road Trip

The iconic road trip on Highway 1 into Big Sur is definitely one of the best parts. Mile after mile, the road hugs tight onto the rugged terrain filled with epic ocean views. Many of the stops are picture-perfect filled with bright blue ocean and sprawling wildflowers. It’s a photographer’s delight. If you want a soundtrack to accompany you on your journey, download my Big Sur playlist. Wi-Fi is spotty along the way, so downloading it is your best bet!

Bixby Bridge

One of Big Sur’s most recognizable landmarks is Bixby Bridge. It’s one of the world’s highest single-span bridges (and very photogenic).

Where To Stay

Like I mentioned, there are some great affordable ways to stay in Big Sur, like camping and Big Sur Lodge or the Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, but since this was a one-night stay for our anniversary, we decided to splurge! Every year, we plan one fancy hotel stay using our American Express points. This time, we chose Ventana Big Sur. We absolutely adored it. It was so beautiful and relaxing. It felt like we were somewhere really far away. Next time, we may try its glamping option, which looks really fun!

Where To Eat

Heading into Big Sur, we stopped at Big Sur Bakery for brunch. I fell in love with this charming place and the food was equally as delightful. I liked it so much that we went back for lunch on our way out the next day. I recommend the chicken salad sandwich. I also took home delicious granola and a ceramic mug for memories.

Deetjen’s is another great breakfast spot. It’s filled with charm and character. My husband and I enjoyed walking along the property admiring the cottages (where you can also stay) and the epic redwood trees.

Nepenthe really reminds me of my childhood. I don’t particularly love the food, but the atmosphere and the view are worth it. It’s funny, heading back it felt much smaller than I remembered. I can vividly remember running up and down the winding stairs with my childhood friends at sunset as a little girl. 

We ate dinner at Ventana’s Sur House. Because we used American Express points for our stay, we had a $100 credit to use toward any room charge! We used it toward a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary. We chose to eat at the bar that overlooked the epic sunset.

What To Do

With only 24 hours in this wonderful city, you won’t have a lot of time to explore, but there were a few places I had to check out when I wasn’t lounging by the pool. One was The Henry Miller Library. I adored this place. It’s not actually a library, but it does have books for sale and some special vintage finds. It’s more of an experience. You can explore interesting art, have a snack and coffee while reading on the deck, see a film outside amongst the redwoods, and discover new music.

Pfeiffer Beach is another childhood favorite. It’s a unique beach off the beaten path. You drive down a two-mile single car road, but it’s worth any trouble getting there. It’s picturesque with its huge rock formations over the ocean. If at all possible, stay for sunset.

If you live close enough to Big Sur for a 24-hour stay (or you want to make it a stop on a California coast road trip), I highly recommend it. It can be done! Of course, I would love to stay longer, but I’m happy that I can even enjoy this special place for one night.