This stunning stretch of land facing the Pacific south of Carmel ranks as the apotheosis of California’s Central Coast. If geography can be iconic, Big Sur does the trick. You experience it on a stretch of Highway 1 that is so dramatic and improbably twisty that you’ll use it to measure all the winding road trips of your life.
Top attractions, natural and manmade, include: Bixby Creek Bridge, the location for many a car commercial; McWay Falls, a waterfall that drops down onto a perfect crescent beach; and the rock arches and sand dunes of accessible Pfeiffer Beach.
Big Sur’s most popular restaurant, Nepenthe, and hotel, the Post Ranch Inn, offer spectacular Pacific views, especially now that it’s humpback whale-watching season (until the end of autumn). A good plan, when driving north from LA and other points south, is to stop into Nepenthe for an Ambrosia burger, then check into one of Post Ranch Inn’s ocean suites or tree houses. Light up the wood-burning fireplace and settle in under the stars (little development means little light pollution). Big Sur remains one of the state’s (the world’s?) best places to luxuriate in nature.