The highlight of my California road trip in the summer of 2014 was Big Sur, the jewel of the Pacific Coast Highway. About a two hour drive south of San Francisco, this sparsely populated slice of heaven in California has a hippy dippy vibe with a Hollywood gloss. Don’t expect to just pitch a tent here and have a barbecue. It’s a highly desirable spot with a handful of pricey hotels and restaurants – but it’s worth a stay versus a drive-by along the 90 mile stretch of highway.

Heading north from Santa Barbara to Big Sur

Hotel hideaway – I blew my hotel budget at the Ventana Inn and Spa, a five star rustic-inspired getaway tucked up the hill in the centre of Big Sur. ( There’s no central village here, just a sprinkling of hotels and restaurants along the Pacific Coast Highway. The rooms at Ventana were cosy with heavenly beds, soaker tubs and patios.  

Wander along a forest path on your way to the pool and spa. The Restaurant at Ventana offers locally sourced dining and includes breakfast (worth it!) The hotel also offers a shuttle service to the various restaurants in the area. Smart thinking, especially at night, when the winding roads are dark and parking is impossible to find.

Condors on the roof at The Post Inn

Where to eat: One of my favourite spots was The Big Sur Bakery for their wood-fired pizza and take-away treats. I loved the scenery at The Post Inn which is perched on a cliff high above the ocean. From the restaurant, we watched whales in the water below and snapped a couple of rare California Condors on the roof above us at dinner. The big disappointment was the food – tiny portions at huge prices. 

Watching the sun set at Nepenthe

After our tiny meal, we beat a quick path to the terrace at Nepenthe close by for a second dinner and dessert – and to watch the glorious sunset. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Don’t plan to do a lot. You’ll want to check out the local parks, such as the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but the best part for me was hiking the local paths and flaking out by the pool. Parking anywhere in the area is a challenge.

Don’t miss breakfast – Eggs Benny in particular – at Deetjes Big Sur Inn, one of the first hotels in the area. It opened in the 30s before the PCH was completed in 1937. 

One of the most heavenly days on any road trip is when you do absolutely nothing. The pool at the Ventana Inn, with food service in minutes, was a great way to relax before moving on. If you’re going north, stop in Carmel. If you’re heading south, don’t miss Hearst Castle in San Simeon.