Sunday, Sep. 28, 2008

To Big Sur with Love

As I sit here writing this, I'm still trying to cope with the fact that we had to cancel our last trip to Big Sur because of forest fires. What Nature giveth, Nature taketh away, I guess. That said, I assume that Nature will rapidly restoreth Sur to all its verdant beauty.

There's a ton of stuff to do in Big Sur, the stunning 90-or-so-mile stretch of the California coast about two hours south of San Francisco, from staring at the breathtaking view to hiking along the coast to naked hot-tubbing at famous Esalen. (Hunter S. Thompson was once a security guard here.) In fact, you'll never hot tub in a more glorious place, on the cliffs over looking the Pacific Ocean. If you're not staying at Esalen as part of one of its 400 humanist workshops, you'll have to book a massage (831-667-3002) to use the property's hot tubs during the day. Otherwise, the mineral baths are open to the public only between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., with a reservation and a $20 fee.

We usually stay at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, where you rent an efficiency cottage for $200 or less among the redwoods by Highway 1. If you stay here, be sure to have at least one dinner and breakfast. Also, read the turgid in-room diaries of past occupants' amorous adventures. People with more disposable income stay at the very posh Post Ranch Inn, where the cheap rooms start at $600 a night.

Be sure to have sunset cocktails overlooking the coastline at Nepenthe, and a breakfast pizza at Big Sur Bakery.

Also, if you're a seaquarium type of person, make a pit stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, either on your way down to Big Sur or on your return. The aquarium is about an hour from San Francisco, and well worth the detour for the shark tank alone. Likewise, the charming town of Carmel, 122 miles from San Francisco, just south of Pebble Beach, is a lovely spot to stop for lunch en route; I can't recommend any restaurant in particular here, but I've never had a bad meal either.