Whenever I plan holidays and things, I always have an image in my head of things going like they always seem to do in travel magazines or Sunset: Well-appointed but reasonably priced independently run lodgings, organic, locally-sourced food served in whimsical settings, one or two big-name tourist traps just to punctuate the trip, and everything timed just so. Usually, though, reality tends to serve crappy hotels (or else forbiddingly expensive ones), lackluster food (or else the food is fine but the service is sullen), there aren’t any decent tourist traps and there’s too much boredom between stops.
Apparently, though, the thing I’ve been doing wrong all this time is not going to Big Sur. Apparently this is the place where yuppies go. Most of it is either a national forest or else a cliff face, so the amount of business that can be run in the area is minimal. They’re also fairly old, meaning that you’ve got the locally run, bijou going for you. The clientele (presumably mainly the San Francisco/LA crowd) are yuppified enough to keep the granola aspect afloat, and it’s far enough away from the cheesy to keep the obnoxious and ignorant away (they made it to the big-name tourist trap though, which was enough). The whole weekend was lovely. Even the rain was properly done: The rain doesn’t mess around on the central coast, no sir.
Hotel: Glen Oaks Big Sur. The staff are the kind of people who’ll take good care of you but want to stop for a chat about The Prairie Home Companion. And might accidentally give you the keys to the wrong room. The rooms are individual cabins across the highway, behind a gate, with indoor stoves (controlled by thermostat) and outdoor fireplaces (well stocked with fire starters, logs, and nests of shredded newspaper), all beautifully designed in a modernist, rustic sort of way. Organic bedding, Jenga on the coffee table, outdoor bathtubs, no TV. Oh and heated tiles in the bathroom. A microwave and sink, all lovely, but no stove.
Food: Lunch at La Bicyclette in Carmel, Breakfast at Ripplewood Resort, Dinner at Deetjen’s, Breakfast at Big Sur Bakery. I think Deetjen’s would have to be the highlight. La Bicyclette was SO GOOD tho. And Big Sur Bakery was THE BEST COFFEE. And the Ripplewood breakfast was just really good and straightforward and homey and all. (We ate a ton so tended to do every other meal and have leftovers in between.)
Tourist Traps: 17 Mile Drive (god there’s some tasteless crap going on in the first half but then it improves wildly), Carmel, Hearst Castle (I tweeted at length about the idiotic way they’re running this poor building, and if anyone wants to hear my rant about the quality of tourist, do let me know), Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Driving Route: Highway 17 to Highway 1, thence to 17 Mile Drive, through Carmel (stop for lunch and a wander), back to 1 and down into Big Sur. Next day down 1 into San Luis Obispo County to see Hearst Castle, stop to see the seals snoozing on a beach a little north of San Simeon, shopping at Nepenthe, dinner at Deetjen’s, back to hotel. Next day, down to Big Sur Bakery, up to Monterey, then home again.
Quick note: In Carmel, the art is amazing (and I’ve seen a lot of sh.tty art gallery towns in my life), but the gift shops are crap. In Big Sur, the art is crap (that is: normal), but the gift shops are amazing.