Big Sur

Roughing it in Big Sur

This is the California of your dreams. Highway One wind in your hair, Pfeiffer Beach sand in your toes, the heart of the Pacific in your eyes. Unadulterated landscape, perfection in wild spontaneity, absolute beauty in absolute roughness. Big Sur cannot be done true justice by words or any sort of secondhand account. It is a magnificent and tangible piece of art that lives daily in the crash of every wave, nature’s sacred cathedral.

The construction of Highway One in the 1930s transformed Big Sur, making its beauty accessible to all rather than just the most intrepid. The highway opened Narnia’s door to the exclusive few who were privy to Big Sur’s existence. The town grew organically, welcoming tourists, writers and artists alike. Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston…to name a few. Wanting to save Big Sur from corruption on the coast, it was decided in the 1960s that you could no longer build along Highway One, only renovate existing structures.

That means there are fewer than 300 hotel rooms on the entire 90 mile stretch of Highway One between San Simeon and Carmel, only three gas stations, and no chain hotels, supermarkets or fast-food outlets. The lodging options are mostly sold-out rustic cabins, motels and campgrounds, or costly, exclusive five-star resorts, with little in-between. That’s where the lovely Glen Oaks comes in.

Big Sur is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look  –Henry Miller

The 1950s-era motor lodge is anything but your typical motel. Artistically renovated with recycled materials, the 16-room eco-friendly ‘motel’ is a beautiful combination of nature and modernism. Glen Oaks décor is fresh rustic minimalism, drawing inspiration from the cliffs that it neighbors. An electric fire pit outside your mossy patio is the perfect place for late night organic s’mores, and a well-appointed wine only ‘mini-bar’ reminds you that you are not so far from Napa after all. The absence of a TV helps to preserve the tranquil ambience and lets you focus on really getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

A quick drive or bike ride away is the effervescent Pfeiffer Beach, a place of timeless beauty and Pacific fury.  Amethyst sand sprinkles the landscape and quartz struck rocks tumble along the cliffs. Each breath of ocean mist calms the heart and soothes the soul…romantic nooks and crannies abound, making it the perfect rendezvous for a lover’s hike or stroll.

After a morning communing with nature among sand and sea, hit the only hot spot in town; the historic Nepenthe restaurant. Nepenthe stands on the site of The Log House, Big Sur, 808 feet above sea level. Lolly and Bill Fassett took over the property in 1947 with their five children. Out of the feeling that the site and its magnificent vistas were too vast, too wonderful to keep to themselves—“no individual can own it, it belongs to everyone,” said Lolly—grew the idea of Nepenthe, an isle of no-care.

The cosmic Bohemian café was famous even before it opened for its unique architecture and incandescent views. People came, not just from the ridge-tops and canyons, but from all over the world: vagabonds, poets, artist, lovers. Nepenthe is known today for its family hospitality, legendary guests (Dylan Thomas, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood…) and irresistible “Ambrosiaburger.” The burger is a classic from the original menu, and tastes just as good as the day Lolly and Bill debuted it.

In Greek, Nepenthe means a place to find surcease from sorrow. So Big Sur continues to be for travelers today. A place to stop, to dream, to lift a cup to kindness… a place that inhabits your psyche, and can haunt you for a lifetime.