Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year in Big Sur

I celebrated the New Year in the most unexpected place, Big Sur, California.  I went with my family to stay at the Ventana Inn in Big Sur for the weekend and even though it stormed and was rainy, windy, and cold, we felt enveloped and cocooned by the hotel's luxurious and rustic charms.  It was truly our "shelter from the storm."  We spent two cozy days reading, eating, talking, taking photos, and being inspired and awestruck by breathtaking views, foggy roads, constant rain or drizzle, and howling winds. ( I kept on thinking of Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England where Emily and Charlotte Bronte lived and wondered if it sounded like this on the moors?  If so, that explains a lot about their writing.)


Going to Big Sur feels like going back in time, to the seventies.  I spent part of my honeymoon there, (we camped!)  and because I hadn't stayed there for many, many years, I had no idea how good the restaurants were and how luxurious the accommodations.  The Ventana Inn has undergone a major renovation and it is a beautiful and welcoming place to stay.  The Big Sur is filled with breathtakingly beautiful natural scenery, great food, inviting and quirky shops and galleries, and that ever present cosmic and bohemian vibe that flows through the area.  Highway One is the dramatic and beautiful road that takes you  there and with its twists and turns and dramatic cliffs, it adds to the remote and mysterious charms of the place.  Just getting there is an accomplishment!

Ventana Inn

Our room

Sitting area

Lots of time spent in the lobby in front of the fire in this position, while the wind howled and the rain poured outside.

The Ventana Inn has a very cozy lobby with two fireplaces that are always blazing with logs that smell so good.  We spent many hours there reading, drinking cafe mochas, talking, and of course gazing into the fire.  Around 3:00 p.m. the space began to fill up as guests found a cozy nook and waited for the wine and cheese to be brought out at 4:00 p.m.  I was surprised by the number of people that were spending the New Year in Big Sur.  There was a general sense of well-being and conviviality that imbued this meeting place.  We talked to our fellow guests, discovered mutual interests and new books to read.   Everyone was thrilled to be in Big Sur for the New Year where the biggest responsibility was keeping the fire going and choosing what to wear with your blue jeans to dinner on New Year's Eve.  

When we could tear ourselves away from the place, we had some memorable meals. New Year's Eve dinner was at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant.  The Ventana Inn provided a shuttle to take us there, which was a good things considering the weather. The ceilings were festooned with garlands and the restaurant glowed with candlelight. The place was festive and hopping.  We ate homemade brown breads served with sweet butter and Himalayan sea salt, salads made from organic greens, delicious pizzas topped with butternut squash and prosciutto, and trout wrapped in bacon.  One memorable dessert involved sticky toffee sauce.

Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant during the day

On January 1st,  we went to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant for lunch.  Perched high above the Pacific,  Nepenthe Restaurant was opened in 1949 and is steeped in history and legend.  Considered a mecca for poets, artists, travelers, and seekers of all kinds, it has a bohemian vibe that has never changed.  Not to mention drop dead views, especially if you sit outside, though we were warmly tucked inside on this rainy day.   Movies have been shot there, such as "The Sandpiper" in 1965 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; it is a place not to be missed.

Scene from "The Sandpiper" filmed at Nepenthe Restaurant

Main dining room at Nepenthe Restaurant

One of the many gorgeous views from the restaurant

After lunch we wandered leisurely through Phoenix shop which is located next to Nepenthe.  It is filled with unique and exotic treasures that feel so Big Sur.

Phoenix store adjacent to the restaurant

Quilted bedding from India

An eye-catching display, this a little holiday tree

Another vignette that catches the eye

After lingering at the shop, we drove to the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a cultural center devoted to Miller's life and work.  Henry Miller moved to Big Sur from France in 1940.  He made it his home.  He wrote "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch," a collection of fond sketches about the area.   Big Sur was an artist's haven.  It  provided inspiration to photographers, painters, writers, and musicians.  Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac chronicled the area in books, and Ansel Adams and Edward Weston captured Big Sur's beauty on film.  Robinson Jeffers described Big Sur in his poetry. 

That night we ate at the Post Ranch Inn, a beautiful hotel and restaurant, which seems to float hundreds of feet above the coastline, with magnificent views during the day, and awe-inspiring drama at night, where you feel as if you are dining amongst the stars.

Dining room at Post Ranch Inn surrounded by windows looking out to night sky

Elegant table set for dinner at Post Ranch Inn 

The next morning, this is what it looked like outside.

But we were warmly snug in Deetjen's restaurant in the Big Sur Inn for breakfast

 Table for two in a corner

The tables were candlelit in the morning

We sat next to this cozy nook

Pot-belly stove 

As we drove home to Los Angeles, we felt refreshed and restored after a wonderful New Year's weekend in Big Sur.

One of the vistas on our drive home

"The place itself is so overwhelmingly bigger, greater, than anyone could hope to make it, that it engenders a humility and reverence...There being nothing to improve on in the surroundings, the tendency is to set about improving oneself."  --  Henry Miller writing about Big Sur in 1957 

I can't think of a better thought for starting the New Year or a better place than Big Sur for inspiring self-improvement and New Year's resolutions.


  1. Loved this trip. Coziest place on earth?

  2. Sometimes, the greatest places are so close to home. I live 4 hours away and haven't been in about 30 years. Your post is so beautiful and inviting, that I think I'm going to surprise my husband for his birthday and spend a weekend there.....

  3. That looks amazing. Big Sur and all the hotel you mentioned is my favorite place in the entire world, and I live far, far away...Lucky you!!

  4. I miss Big Sur already! Your photos are amazing!

  5. Thank you, sweetie pie. Still working on it, will maybe change it just a bit more...Love your input.

  6. love love love that Henry Miller quote! and what an amazing weekend/way to begin 2011. Big Sur is such a magical place. Matt and I are going in February and, in Heather's words, I am LIVING for it!!

  7. I LOVE Big Sur!! And the Big Sur Bakery... I still dream about it. It's my favorite. What a lovely time you had!