Big Sur, CA - 3 night, mid-week getaway

Aug 30th, 2004, 10:59 AM
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Big Sur, CA - 3 night, mid-week getaway

I need recs for a 3-night, mid-week getaway to Big Sur. All I can find are Ventana Inn and Post Ranch Inn - all $500+ per night.... anyone have good recs for the area?

My husband and I want to celebrate our anniversary there next week... Our DC plans got canceled due to work. Boo-hoo. But, we thought the CA coast might be fun and easy to get to by car or rail. Any ideas or suggestions? Thanks!
SimoneSassett is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 11:08 AM
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Check out Deetens Big Sur Inn, We are having a meal at Sierra Mar/Post Ranch Inn soon, I can't wait! Enjoy the area!

Cielo (Ventana Inn) is very good for lunch. Dine outside on their patio with gorgeous views of the ocean. ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 12:24 PM
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there are simple cabins in the pfeifer park with fireplaces--i think costing about $125--i believe they call it the big sur lodge

napenthe is great if you have not experienced it--for a meal
youngtom2910 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 02:02 PM
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I've heard the food there is horrible, to just go for drinks or an appetizer. But the views are supposedly spectacular! ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 02:24 PM
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Big Sur is very reachable from Carmel (or Pacific Grove/Monterey). There are lots of charming little hotels/cottages/B&Bs in Carmel and PG. Monterey has the Aquarium, which may invite you to spend the night in Monterey.

Check out this forum for lots of recommendations in the Carmel/PG/Monterey area.

Happy Anniversary!
easytraveler is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 02:29 PM
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If you're not set on Big Sur, check out the Tickle Pink Inn @ at the Carmel Highlands. I'll be staying there myself, soon! ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 02:51 PM
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Forgive me for my ignorance, but where exactly is Big Sur, in relation to LA? We're coming up to NoCal from the LA area.... I just assumed all this Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel stuff is SOUTH of San Francisco right? We don't want to head more north than S.F., since we only have a few days.... Thanks!
SimoneSassett is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 03:03 PM
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Big Sur is about 20-30 miles south of Carmel. As far as places to stay in Big Sur it's either very expensive (and very nice) or moderate and rustic. The Big Sur Lodge is probably the nicest out of the more moderate priced places. Another is the Big Sur River Inn, very basic but a fun place to stay. Check out

The food at Nepenthe is good, just way over priced for what you get. Go for just a drink and the view. The food at the River Inn is much better, try the ahi salad yum.
viamar is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 03:45 PM
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Viamar, have you been to Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn? Someone described it as the French Laundry with a view!

I'm so looking forward to celebrating a special birthday there with a very special someone! ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 03:56 PM
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Food at Nepenthe is quite good, but you have to pay for the view. I figure it costs about $5 per person for the view, then the food is fairly priced. Can't say how much you pay for the view when you but a drink, since I refuse to drink when I have to drive along Big Sur.
AJPeabody is online now  
Aug 30th, 2004, 07:25 PM
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Seize the day!
Mollie is offline  
Aug 30th, 2004, 07:46 PM
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Simone, I enthusiastically endorse kimamom's mention of Deetjen's Big Sur Inn for lodging and Cielo at Ventana Inn for lunch. These have become two of my favorite places in the world.

I very seldom express a differing view from that of my much admired Fodor's friend easytraveler. (By the way, Simone, check on easytraveler's screen name and keep scrolling down on the left to find the most well written and detailed trip report on hiking the Big Sur state parks that you'll ever read.) And I have excellent reason to believe she'll accept the below to be a gentlemanly disagreement.

But--if what you want for your anniversary is a romantic few days in Big Sur, I would not stay in Carmel/Pacific Grove/Monterey. Stay in Big Sur to immerse yourself in its special atmosphere. In fact, I would resist any temptation to go up to the Monterey Bay Area while you're staying in Big Sur. The mood, pace and volume of people up there is quite different, and doing so breaks the unique romantic spell that Big Sur can cast (yes, I am speaking here with the benefit of hard experience.) That's not to say you couldn't also spend a very romantic few days in the Monterey Bay area too--but it casts a distinctly different spell. Save them for separate getaways, rather than mixing them.

That especially applies to the aquarium, which is a great aquarium but is usually full of kids and not conducive to a romantic getaway. As outstanding as it is, in my view it is not one of the things which make this area uniquely wonderful. There are other great aquariums. I would save it for another trip, and, (or in addition,) when you do take that trip to DC that you want to, travel an hour north to the greatly underrated city of Baltimore and, among other things, see the National Aquarium there, which is just as superb.

Deetjen's accommodations are loved by some of us who find them very atmospheric and romantic. One woman who accompanied me there still has drawings of the place framed on her wall (although its been a long time since she had any pictures of me there.)They are disliked fairly intensely by some others. If you were going to Paris, would you find a newly built, luxurious chain hotel near the best boutiques a more romantic prospect, or would you be more likely to choose an ancient, uniquely Parisian, supremely picturesque small hotel on the Left Bank where expatriate writers and artists used to stay at the turn of the century? Your answer will probably tell you whether you are a Deetjen's person or not.

Deetjen's is, literally, a historic landmark of old literary/artistic Big Sur operated by a nonprofit foundation. (As their web site will tell you, it was also often used for romantic getaways by Old Hollywood personalities, like Garbo, who is supposed to have had a fling or two with Mr. Deetjen.) It does require the desire to experience something unique and different, and enough sense of humor to deal with quirks such as the very real possibility that you will be marking your anniversary (as many have honeymooned)in a room named Chateau Fiasco.

Do check out their web site, which is very well done (be sure to have your speakers on) and has some beautiful pictures, information, and links re the area which you will want to see even if you don't choose to stay at the inn. Also read the reviews at (which include some from both those who have loved or hated the accommodations at Deetjen's) to help you decide if it's for you.

If you will be in Big Sur for three nights, definitely have dinner at Deetjen's one of them. Many people who don't find Deetjen's accommodations to their liking are still enthusiastic about the restaurant. The food is excellent, much better than Nepenthe's although comparably priced, and considerably less expensive than Cielo or Sierra Mar. Reserve late--after dark, dinner is by candlelight, in roughhewn wood-walled rooms, very, very romantic. Deetjen's also serves remarkably wonderful breakfasts (but no lunch.)

Cielo is, as kimamom says, a incomparable place for lunch, with excellent food and service and a fantastic view from the terrace. The view is much higher altitude and considerably different from nearby Nepenthe's. As at Nepenthe, the view is even better from the drinking and waiting part of the terrace than from the dining part, and if you eat inside, there isn't much of a view. But Cielo has my recommendation for lunch over Nepenthe. You will have much better food and service for roughly the same money, since Cielo at lunch, while not inexpensive, is surprisingly moderate compared to their dinner prices.

Nepenthe's view is, as I have noted above, at a different altitude from Cielo's but just as wonderful. I don't think the food at Nepenthe is terrible, but I agree with what AJPeabody and viamar say about it. It is good, hearty food, but unimaginative and very overpriced. Nurse a drink--it needn't be alcoholic--and maybe one of their cheese plates on the terrace. Those will be high priced too, but the view is worth it. But have your lunches and dinners elsewhere.

I also agree with viamar that a good choice for one of those "elsewheres" is the River Inn. It will offer you a quite different setting from the others, a open terrace overlooking the Big Sur river, very pleasant, good food at moderate prices. After your meal, wade out to one of the chairs and love seats they have sitting literally in the (shallow) river, and dangle your toes in it for awhile. I've also enjoyed breakfast there quite a bit. This is my second choice to Deetjen's for both moderate dinner and breakfast.

I have not yet eaten either lunch or dinner at Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn, but look forward to doing so. It may be the most special place of all for both superior food and dramatic view, from what I have read. Also, by reputation, it is very expensive at all meals.

It is sometimes difficult to get into Deetjen's on short notice, since it has a devoted following (although, particularly on a weeknight, it is worth a try.) Some comments on other moderate places:

While I like the restaurant at River Inn, I would use their accommodations only as a last resort. Charmless standard motel rooms, right on the highway and parking lots, seriously overpriced, noisy. Well, the second to last resort.

The last resort would be another place called Fernwood (it was a last resort for me once) for which all I said about the accommodations at River Inn can be tripled. The bars at these two places (which are gathering places for young people who work in the area) are loud and busy and I got very little sleep in my outstandingly drab and depressing Fernwood room.

On the other hand, there is a place called Ripplewood Resort that has much more enjoyable moderately priced rustic cabins well away from the highway, either up on the hillside or (my favorites) right in the redwood forested riverbank. At their restaurant on the highway, they serve very good breakfasts too.

Next to Ripplewood is Big Sur's best standard motel-type place, the Glen Oaks Motel. It's not much further off the highway than the River Inn or Fernwood, but I think infinitely preferable to either. Nothing exciting about it, but better rooms in my experience, and it doesn't have a loud bar on the premises or a very busy parking lot like the other two places.

One poster above recommends the cabins at Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. I have eaten at their very pleasant restaurant. From all I have read and heard, their rooms and cabins are fine, but the place is much more family oriented than Deetjen's, which, while it bans only younger children, is definitely a couple's and single's type of place, and I think perhaps better suited for a romantic getaway. But by no means would I rule Big Sur Lodge out, especially if Deetjen's is full.

Right between the River Inn and Ripplewood are Big Sur's best kept lodging secrets--if you are willing to drive through a campground to get to them. A place called Big Sur Campground and Cabins operates a few dramatic, spacious A-frames with fireplaces and kitchens on a redwooded hillside on the edge of their campground. I've spent some very romantic getaways in these, and they can also accommodate more than one couple, since there are ladders to sleeping alcoves allowing the A-frames to accommodate either four or six. (But that's another story....)

johncharles is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 06:02 AM
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Hi Simone,

We celebrated our 20th anniv last October in that area. We stayed at the Tickle Pink Inn which is right on the edge of Big Sur in the Carmel Highland.

We LOVED the TPI and found it to be centrally located to enjoy many of the parks along Big Sur, as well as Carmel, and Pt. Lobos (don't miss this park - it's great for a picnic).

More details on my trip report:

Great place to explore. Have a great anniversary!
makai1 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 09:33 AM
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Johncharles: Many, many thanks for your wonderful discussion of Big Sur. THAT goes in my permanent travel directory for our next coastal trip.

In addition to your discussion of ones' care and feeding in the area, the recognition of differences between Big Sur and the Monterey area is a salient point.

Thanks again. Wish I'd had the benefit of your insight our first time through. It would have made a great trip even better.
bookhall is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 09:42 AM
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We'll be spending a few hours in Big Sur before our dinner, after we check out of the Tickle Pink.

I've never been to Julia Pfeiffer State Park before. What is there to do there and would it be worth a couple of hours of our time? Are there beaches there to lounge on? Any other suggestions for fun things to do in Big Sur? Isn't there a bakery there that is supposed to be very good? ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 04:40 PM
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Kim no I've never been to Sierra Mar but my friend has a funny story about the place. Best not to go into it here. We usually like to camp when we go to Big Sur so I usually do the cooking. When we drive down for the day I usually pack a pic nic to eat on the beach, then we might stop for dinner at the River Inn or Deetjens.
I don't know if you are talking about Pfeiffer Big Sur State park or Pfeiffer Big Sur or Pfeiffer Beach. They are all different places with similar names. Pfeiffer Big Sur State park does not have beach access, Pfeiffer Big Sur has a beach but you can't go down to it. Pfeiffer Beach is a beach but access is also restricted so you need to get down there pretty early. All of them are worth a stop.
viamar is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 04:49 PM
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I love Sierra Mar! It is a wonderful place for lunch or dinner. Very special, however it is no French Laundry. Have been to The French Laundry twice now and it is in a category all by itself.
iamq is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 04:56 PM
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LOL, that description was actually a quote from a SF local who dines out at all the best places a lot!

He said you could have Alpo there and be satisfied! (That's a joke, folks!) ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 08:00 PM
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Hi, johncharles! Big guy! You are absolutely the best! Bet you keep all the ladies in your life really really happy! ><

I've always wanted to do a "Literary Greats in Big Sur" kind of trip - mebbe one day it'll happen and Deetjen's would be the top choice of place to stay!

kimamom: I sometimes wonder if you really have a home somewhere or do you just wander up and down the West Coast staying at the best hotels and eating at the best restaurants? (Just kidding!)

On the state parks, lemme try and see if I can help a bit. But first, a few websites: is the official California state parks site. All the parks mentioned so far: Pfeiffer Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns, and others not yet mentioned are all listed on this website. is very user friendly and has the best map to show the location of each important hotel, restaurant, state park. It also has links to all the hotels and restaurants mentioned here. So, it's like a one-stop shopping website. is a great site as well. Has good descriptions of some of the major hikes you can do in Big Sur.

ventana wilderness alliance also maintains a website which you may find useful.

Distances south of Carmel:

Point Lobos 2 miles
Andrew Molera 20 miles
Pfeiffer Big Sur 25 miles
Post Ranch Inn
Tickle Pink Inn
Ventana Inn
Nepenthe all are in sequence within 3 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur

Julia Pfeiffer Burns 32 miles

The state parks: the easiest walks are at Point Lobos and Julia Pfeiffer Burns (only the walk to see McWay Falls, not the other walks!). You cannot walk on the beach at JPB park, it's closed to foot traffic. Once you see the falls, you'll understand why. Got to keep it pristine!

The nicest beaches are Carmel Beach, Andrew Molera Beach (still pretty undeveloped, so it's good for beachcombing), Pfeiffer Beach, and Sand Dollar Beach. These are sandy beaches. For a first timer, I'd recommend Carmel Beach, which is right at the bottom of Ocean Avenue in Carmel.

The easiest hikes (wear appropriate shoes!) to see redwoods are Pfeiffer Big Sur on the way to Pfeiffer Falls, and JPB on the way to the teeny weeny falls on McWay Creek (NOT the Ewoldsen Trail!)

The best falls are: Limekiln Falls (in Limekiln SP), McWay Falls (in JPB SP), and Pfeiffer Falls (in Pfeiffer Big Sur SP). Fall is not the best time to see the falls, as there is not much water falling off the falls. Spring is much better, after the snows have melted.

There are other falls, hikes, views, but these require more serious hiking.

Enjoy Big Sur, everyone! God's country!
easytraveler is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 10:41 AM
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Thanks Easytraveler! Now my biggest dilemma is how am I going to do the JP State park in heels? LOL I'm not a big hiker, more of a swimmer/bike/weight-training girl. We have to check out of our hotel at 12:00, then we have an early dinner reservation at Sierra Mar, where I want to dress up.

Hmmm. I wonder if I could change at the Post Ranch Inn somewhere? Or just forego the hiking and have a spa treamtment at Ventana! ***kim***
kimamom is offline  

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