When talking to a local about the magic of California, Big Sur will inevitably find its way into the conversation before too long, And it can't not: Big Sur may be the most special place of all, ever, in California or the whole world: Picture grand, ancient trees and a breathtaking coastline—the kind of scenery that will basically make your Instagram explode with likes.
We'll take Big Sur however we can get it, but with a side of good food seems the best way to enjoy this well-traversed patch of California coast. The food offerings in Big Sur proper are well known and worth exploring (more on that later), but much of our culinary excitement comes from the spots we can stop on the speedy drive down and the slow, leisurely drive back to SF. With Presidents' Day just around the corner, here's how we'd set up a three-day weekend itinerary.
San Francisco to Big Sur via Saratoga
Hit the road Saturday morning and head straight to Saratoga, about one hour south (via 280 or 101). This charming little town has no shortage of cafes and wine bars, but the real gem is Indo Cafe. The no-frills Indonesian restaurant is hidden in the back of a parking lot and has casual outdoor seating and some of the best Indonesian-style street food we've found in the state. The portions are huge, and the combinations fantastic: We love the Padang rice combo ($11), which includes melty beef rendang, a salty-spicy chili egg, chicken skewers and young jackfruit curry. 14443 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Break up the two-hour drive to Big Sur with a stop at the taproom at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. The selection of Belgian-inspired, barrel-aged brews will help you digest and have you primed to appreciate the beauty of your remaining drive down the coast. 103 Kennedy Dr., Capitola
Big Sur: Eat, Sleep and Explore
Arrive in Big Sur and check in to the Treebones Resort: The gorgeous ocean-side spot includes campsites with views ($95 to $130 a night); cozy, well-appointed yurts ($263 to $355 a night); and, best of all, a human "nest" ($150 a night), accessed by a ladder and made of woven wood. 71895 Highway 1, Big Sur
Keeping in theme with top-notch views, have dinner at Nepenthe, a classic restaurant tucked in the mountains, with a view of the ocean. There may be no better place in the world to enjoy a burger ($15) topped with "ambrosia sauce." 48510 Highway 1, Big Sur
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If you're game, stay up late for a 1 a.m. jaunt to Esalen, a legendary destination for spiritual healing and natural hot spring tubs perched on an ocean-side cliff. The baths (which are clothing optional) are open to the public from 1 to 3 a.m., and are limited to 20 people–you can make reservations ($25, same-day booking only in the winter) at 831-667-3047. 55000 Highway 1, Big Sur
Save Sunday for a big hike: Big Sur's coastal trails are all worth exploring, as are more mountainous treks into the woods. The Andrew Molera loop is about eight to nine miles and hugs Big Sur's bluffs. Stock up on goodies from the Big Sur Bakery for a mid-hike picnic lunch. 47540 California 1, Big Sur
Reward your efforts with a luxe, prix fixe dinner at the much-revered Post Ranch Inn. Sample a four-course tasting menu ($125) with dishes that might include abalone dore and honey ricotta fritters, or go all-out with the nine-course Taste of Big Sur ($175, plus $110 for wine pairings). 47900 California 1, Big Sur
Esalen Institute | Photo: Cameron Jordan
Back to San Francisco via Santa Cruz, Pescadero, and Portola Valley
Sleep in on Monday (you've earned it) and head back up the coast in the late morning. You'll want to go straight to the Point Market and Cafe for an alfresco brunch in Santa Cruz. Perched next to one of the top surf spots in town, Point Market makes the best breakfast burritos we've ever had. It has eight-plus filling options, but it's hard to beat the Barrel ($6 for a small, $7 for a large), a perfectly griddled flour tortilla stuffed with tender scrambled eggs, cheese, avocado, bacon and fried potatoes. Sit outside, watch the surfers and don't be shy about adding Tapatio. 23040 E. Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz
Continue north to the Highway 1 Brewing Company in Pescadero. The brewpub is right next to a gas station and is reminiscent of an old-school diner. Grab a spot outside and enjoy a pint of the French Mexican War, a French-style saison laced with a subtle hint of fresh jalapeño. 5720 Cabrillo Highway, Pescadero
You'll still be full from your burrito (trust us), but plan on one final stop before cruising back to the city. Head east from Pescadero along 84 and get to the Alpine Inn (aka Zott's) in Portola Valley. There, you can post up at a picnic table under the trees, enjoy a pitcher of beer and banter with local bikers (of both the cyclist and motorcycle variety). If you're feeling peckish, the no-frills burgers ($5) and crinkle-cut fries ($5) make a winning accompaniment to a cold one. 3915 Alpine Rd., Portola Valley
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