The surreal beauty of the Big Sur coastline in Monterey County hits you as soon as you turn off Highway 101 and start winding up Highway 1. We drove up from LA and after 6 hours on the road the first glimpse of the mighty Pacific with stunning cliffs tumbling down to the ocean felt very much like food for the soul.
This place is more an experience than a destination. The word “dramatic” is often used to desribe impressive scenery, but until you arrive on the Big Sur coast you probably won’t have seen anything quite so dramatic.We know for certain that this area has been inhabited for at least 3,000 years starting with the Esselen people who were eventually wiped out by disease brought by the early Spanish settlers in the mid to late 17th century. The same Spanish settlers christened the area el pais grande del sur (the big country to the south).
The homesteaders were the next to settle here arriving from the early 20th century and mainly working in the local lumber and cannery industries. A short lived gold rush in the 1880s attracted more people. During all these phases Big Sur still remained pretty isolated due to lack of reliable roads. To get around the problem local industry instead built small boat landings at coves along the coast such as Bixby Landing, the site of the famous Bixby Bridge today.
This was all about to change in the early 1930s when construction finally began on what would become Highway 1. This road dramatically altered the local economy and brought the outside world closer. The beginnings of a tourism industry was kick started by the amount of writers and artists attracted to and writing about the area including Jack Keroac, Hunter S. Thompson, Henry Miller and Robinson Jeffers. Jeffers poetry remains some of the most evocative of the area and it is this dream that most visitors today seek to find.
Glen Oaks Big Sur on Highway 1 is in the business of providing guests with the Big Sur dream. Set on 20 acres right on the Big Sur river, this place has been a destination and stop off point for tired travellers and those looking to escape the “air conditioned nightmare” of modern life since 1957.
Staring life as a traditional adobe motor lodge in the 1950s, the original owner visited the coast every day for a year to make sure she choose the sunniest part of the coast as the location for the hotel. This attention to detail is still in evidence today. The property has changed hands only twice over the years and the current owners and management have created a very special retreat from day to day life, while immersing you in the best of reality.
Each freestanding cabin comes with its own separate kitchen equipped with full cooker with gas stove top, microwave, fridge and all the equipment and utensils you could possibly need. The bedrooms and living area are designed and finished to perfection by San Francisco designer Steve Justrich in his distinctive “homegrown modernism” style. Sustainability is a big part of the ethos at Glen Oaks Big Sur and this runs through all the design choices from the original adobe brick walls to the Coyuchi organic cotton bedding and fluffy bathrobes. The walk in showers use natural river stone from the Island Stone company and the range of bathroom products complete the feeling of luxury in the woods.
The attention to detail continues outside your door where you will find your very own fire pit which is set up ready to go, just strike a match and settle in. This is the perfect way to while away an evening surrounded by giant Redwoods, making delicious smores which are available to buy on site or just enjoying the isolation, which you might have to share with the odd deer – if you’re lucky.
Although your cabin will be set up for eating in, we recommend you take at least one night away from the kitchen during your stay and check out the delicious on site restaurant, Big Sur Roadhouse.
Not really what you expect from a single story freestanding building on the side of Highway 1, chef Matt Glazer from New Orleans has come up with a fresh take on classic California Cuisine melding a delicious Cajun style with the Glen Oaks ethos of fresh locally sourced organic ingredients.
We recommend starting with a cup or a bowl of Big Sur seafood gumbo or the Monteray Bay Seabass Po Boy followed by either the Wild King Salmon or the New York Strip Steak – all perfectly fresh and cooked to perfection. Breakfast and Lunch are just as good here and you can drop in all day long for a selection of small bites.
Glen Oaks Big Sur is perfectly located to explore this stretch of coast and some of the essential Big Sur sights are right on your door step. Two state parks are within a 4 mile drive with breathtaking scenery and lots of marked hiking trails from a casual stroll to strenuous exploring.
We can’t finish without mentiong Nepenthe. Perched on the edge of the continent high above the Pacific this very special restaurant has been treating visitors to the best burgers and views on the coast for almost 60 years now. The property itself was previously owned by Orson Welles and his then wife Rita Hayworth who fell in love with the views on a day trip to Big Sur in 1944 but never spent a night here. Lunch or dinner here is essential.
Long time resident Henry Miller summed it up perfectly when he said of Big Sur in 1957 “The place itself is so overwhelmingly bigger, greater, than anyone could hope to make it that it engenders a humility and reverence not frequently met with in Americans. There being nothing to improve on in the surroundings, the tendency is to set about improving oneself.” It’s still the same today and we think a trip there is one of the best gifts you could give yourself.