Luxury and boutique hotels in Big Sur

Beloved by artists, writers and beatniks, Big Sur – the stretch of California coastline between San Simeon and Carmel – is the rugged, redwood-lined reality of your American road-trip dreams. Car fans will recognise commercial star Bixby Bridge, but it’s nature that rules over man around here: beaches and bluffs, canyons and coves are backed by the towering trees and sloping forests edging the Santa Lucia mountains. Pacific Highway One – a famous free-love freeway, and possibly the most scenic drive in the world – twists and turns to the tune of the ocean crashing way down below. Keep watch inland for wild turkeys, raccoons and the elusive mountain lions; and stare skywards to spot those swooping Cali condors. There are bakeries, galleries and artisan-jeweller pit-stops to break up your drive, healing hot springs for hippie-approved midnight dips and scenic state parks to stretch your legs in. Henry Miller loved Big Sur so much, he stayed 18 years – it’s ‘the face of the Earth as the creator intended it to look’, after all.

When to go

Tailback traffic might spoil your ocean drive between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so travel outside of the peak summer period if you can. To be in with a chance of spying whales cruising down the Pacific coast, aim for December and January. This may be California, but Big Sur’s elevated coastal perch means it can get chilly (layers are wise). Summer fogs usually clear by the afternoon.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Monterey has an airport, where flights touch down from California’s main hubs, as well as other US cities (including Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Las Vegas) – but this is one of the most glorious stretches of tarmac in the world (with the car-commercial creds to prove it), so fly in to San Francisco or Los Angeles and hit the road.
  • Trains

    Salinas, around 50 miles north of Big Sur, has an Amtrak station; the Coast Starlight service calls in on its way down from stops including Portland, Sacramento and San Jose en route to San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and more. Hotels can book taxis for you.
  • Automobiles

    This is road-trip nirvana: your own set of wheels is practically compulsory. Plus, they’ll facilitate regular stop-and-stare breaks. Big Sur is about 140 miles south of San Francisco, and 300 miles north of Los Angeles.
  • Taxis

    There aren’t many streets you’d walk along flagging down a cab – it’s far wiser to ask the hotel to book one for you. In Carmel, call +1 831 624 3885.