Remote and sparsely populated, Big Sur California is the perfect retreat from the urban world with some of the biggest names in modern literature such as Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, penning novels here. The 90-mile stretch of Highway 1 running through Big Sur California is a legendary route for a road trip combining sea, mountains, and woodland with stunning views and unspoiled nature that attract visitors from all parts. There are many organic, farm to table restaurants to stop at along Highway 1 ranging from the modest to the luxurious. Here is a selection of the 10 best restaurants that will make the Big Sur trip a memorable experience.
The first thing that springs to mind when entering Deetjen’s, is rural England. With its quaint English décor and cosy fireplaces this four room restaurant has all the charm of an English countryside cottage. Since 1930, founders Norwegian born Helmuth Deetjen and his wife Helen have never ceased to give their guests a homely welcome at this rustic inn tucked behind Highway 1. Try the eggs benedict and homemade granola on the restaurant’s award-winning best breakfast menu to Chef Domingo Santamaria’s paella with freshly caught seafood brought in from the nearby Monterey Bay, or his sun-fed filet mignon. Deetjen’s prides itself in locally sourced organic products and features on the US national register of historic places.
Lolly and Bill Fassett opened Nepenthe, ‘The Isle of Care,’ in 1949 and over the years have witnessed the passage of some famous names, including Henry Miller or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who filmed scenes from the Hollywood film ‘The Sandpiper’ here in 1969. The restaurant’s signature roast chicken with sage stuffing and cranberries features on a traditional menu among Big Sur’s most succulent steaks and Ambrosia burgers, which are made with coarse ground meat from naturally raised beef. At the same address, Lolly and Bill Fassett’s Café Kevah provides wonderful views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur coast .
Big Sur’s Coast Gallery houses the biggest collection of handmade American crafts in the USA comprising the works of some 250 artists and artisans. This is the meeting of art and nature where outdoor sculptures are displayed in the natural light reflected from the sea and the mountains. Situated in a Redwood Canyon, the gallery’s unique round buildings are the result of the recycling and conversion of two large municipal water tanks. The café is at the top of one of the tanks with a flat roof overlooking the ocean and the sweeping highway. Visitors can soak up the outdoor views or sit among an array of paintings indoors while enjoying a charcuterie board or one of the café’s beautifully prepared sandwiches and salads.
Wild Fennel Crusted Albacore | Photography by Kodiak Greenwood
At 12,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean and perched on the edge of a cliff, the panoramic views from Post Ranch Inn offer one of the best places to watch the sunrise or sunset over gourmet cuisine. Post Ranch Inn features on Condé Nast’s Gold List and is considered one of Big Sur’s most luxurious resorts. Its Sierra Mar restaurant is no exception to this with its innovative cuisine and award winning wine selection. Chef John Cox experiments with a host of flavours from seaweed champagne to elk with rhubarb and pickled green strawberries. All ingredients are locally sourced and even the hams are cured and smoked on site.
Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant sets itself apart with wood fired cooking, satisfying the taste buds from brunch to dinner. Scrambled eggs are served on wood fired sourdough toast; an exciting assortment of serious meat or fish sandwiches is on offer for a lunch time treat; wood fired pizzas oozing with different flavours such as eggplant with goat’s cheese or green olive tapenade are served straight from the oven; and a simple wood fired breadboard with butter and sea salt opens the appetite before tucking into the restaurant’s seasonal menu. It is worth leafing through Big Sur Bakery’s cookbook for a taste of the four seasons according to Big Sur Bakery.
The great thing about Big Sur Roadhouse is that you can come here either to snack on a buttermilk biscuit or to enjoy a full course meal. Chef Matt Glazer’s cuisine is classic Californian with a twist of his native Cajun. Seafood gumbo is therefore to be expected along with blackened local fish or burnt sugar olive oil cake with orange and lemon curd. Cheese comes from the region’s ‘Cheeseshop Carmel’ and oysters are served either raw or in ‘rockafella’ style with creamy spinach. Steve Justrich designed the award winning interior, consisting of bamboo floors and furniture made of recycled redwood to reflect the restaurant’s natural surroundings and approach to sustainability.
Ventana Inn’s restaurant is at the end of a wooded path leading from the inn’s hotel and spa complex. After this short stroll, where the odd deer may be seen grazing, you’re ready to experience inventive Californian cuisine in the restaurant’s rustic lodge style setting with an open fire and bar. The four course tasting menu at Ventana Inn proposes creative combinations which, according to season, could include beetroot gazpacho , wild boar with falafel or California sable fish (from sustainable sources) with rhubarb. Ventana also has an award winning wine list and it is even possible to dine at a special table embedded among the wine racks. The icing on the cake is the majestic view from the outside patio overlooking the Pacific.
As Big Sur’s first hotel and restaurant, locals and tourists have been coming to Big Sur River Inn for more than eighty years to savour the splendours of traditional Californian cuisine. Tucked in the woods on the banks of the Big Sur River, guests are welcome to try the apricot chicken wings or bite into a signature black Angus burger sitting in a willow chair, their feet dangling in the water. A barbecue and live music make for a festive Sunday afternoon at Big Sur Inn and for those eager to venture further up the riverbank, great takeaway burritos and wraps are on sale at the restaurant’s takeaway Burrito Bar.
This is where the more adventurous travellers go ‘glamping’ in yurts or big round tents with wooden lattice frames. Owners, John and Corinne, have created an eco-friendly community with their own family and employees living on site, a heat recycling process and an organic farm garden, which serves the resort’s Wild Coast Restaurant. Free range chickens are fed on the restaurant’s compost and their eggs are used for breakfast and cooking. Guests can enjoy creative vegetarian and vegan dishes in the yurt-like Wild Coast restaurant or authentic sushi in the Sushi Bar overlooking the ocean, all of which are passionately prepared by Treebone’s two young and very talented chefs.
No Highway 1 road trip would be complete without a stop over at the lively Big Sur Deli store. This is where nearby residents come for their groceries and DVD rentals, where local events are pinned on the notice board and where the local lifestyle is on show for the many passers by. The friendly Big Sur Deli staff takes great care in packing lunches from the wide variety of sandwiches, tacos and burritos on offer together with the Deli’s delicious traditional muffins and brownies. Postcards, mugs, baseball caps and t-shirts are among the merchandise on sale to prolong the memories of the unique Big Sur experience.