The view of Highway 1 from Big Sur
Growing up traveling between San Francisco and Santa Barbara on the Central Coast, I developed a deep appreciation for the many wonders of this extraordinary coastal stretch, as well as those just north of the Bay. I have many fond memories of family adventures to Bolinas, Stinson Beach and Muir Woods on weekends, and now with my friends and family I love to return as often as I can. Marshall, Inverness, Mendocino, Sea Ranch—there are so many incredible places to explore, all within scenic driving distance of each other. I'm in love with the wild natural landscape and all its dramatic diversity. The rugged coastline cliffs, sprawling estuaries, Ireland green fields, and ancient forests create so many opportunities for adventure and escape. There are many special places to eat and shop as well, each with their own unique local flavor. Because the area is so richly abundant, we’ve broken our guide down into two parts. This part one, which starts out in Cambria as our first stop and heads north through Big Sur, ending in West Marin.
Editor SOFIA FLORIMBI
*Click on the underlined links for additional info on each place below.
The walk at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
White Water - Beautiful boutique hotel with a peaceful and modern zen-like vibe in Moonstone Bay.
Moonstone Bay Beach and Boardwalk - Dreamy stretch of coastline, perfect for long walks any time of day.
Hearst Castle - Just a little bit north in San Simeon, the palatial playground of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst is as storied as it is surreal. There's a nice little beach there as well, for hanging out after!
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery - This special stretch of beach is home to hundreds of majestic elephant seals. Located only three miles up the road from Hearst Castle, it’s the only rookery in the world that’s free and accessible to the public year round.
Hidden Kitchen - Cute little cafe, perfect for grabbing breakfast or lunch, with a lovely menu of healthy brunch classics.
Fiscalini Ranch Preserve - Dramatic stretch of oceanside bluffs, wild pine forests, and grassy meadows running more than a mile down the shoreline, great for walks.
Elephant seals basking just offshore the Cambria coast.
Post Ranch Inn - Gorgeous, award-winning luxury ranch style boutique hotel, perfect for a honeymoon, anniversary or birthday weekend getaway. One of my all-time favorites.
Ventana - Fabulous adults-only lodge style resort located in an ancient redwood forest offering daily hiking excursions, two on-site pools, Japanese soaking tubs, and hammocks scattered throughout the property.
Tree Bones - For those interested in glamping, Tree Bones offers a range of luxury yurts with killer views of the ocean.
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn and Restaurant - Very cozy and romantic, old-school inn and restaurant located in a magical redwood forest. The cottages, built in the 1930s, are full of quirky irregularities and rustic charm.
Big Sur Bakery - Seriously delicious restaurant and cafe serving fresh, seasonally-driven dishes from chef Eric Piacentini with bread and baked goods from Balthazar veteran Raquel Bagatini.
Nepenthe - Iconic cliffside restaurant with fabulous views and a fun, relaxed vibe.
Henry Miller Library - Part bookshop, part woodland hangout and cultural center, the site is a must-stop for any literature lover. A gorgeous memorial to the Tropic of Cancer author, who once called Big Sur home.
Julia Pfieffer Burns Burns State Park - With its brilliant turquoise coves, vertiginous beachside cliffs and sprawling marshland vistas, it’s no wonder so many flock to this large natural preserve each year.
Esalen - Come for the mineral hot springs, cozy cabins and original hippie vibe, stay for the reiki, dance, yoga, and diverse selection of energy and healing modalities on offer.
Pelican Inn Pub - Legendary watering hole with a cozy, seaside atmosphere in Muir Beach, just south of Stinson.
Muir Woods - A truly special spot, this landmark preserve offers hundred of acres of old growth redwood groves to meander and explore at your leisure, as well as on guided tours.
Stinson Beach - Excellent beach for going on long walks, or for posting up all day with a beach read and picnic.
Parkside - Fantastic restaurant, cafe, snack bar and market selling carefully curated gourmet culinary goods, with a lovely outdoor patio dining area. The best spot to pick up a gift for your best foodie friend, or to grab a bite after a long day at the beach.
Hike Mount Tam - The central feature of Mount Tamalpais State Park offers tons of trails to hikers, all of varying lengths and intensities. Clear ocean views, dappled oak woodlands and towering redwood groves are the hallmarks of this breathtaking natural site.
Eleven - Lovely, extremely delicious restaurant in an old craftsman home with frequently changing menu of seasonally focused small plates and great list of natural wines. There are two rooms upstairs you can rent for up to a week.
Bolinas People’s Store - Groovy little health food store with a fantastic, old-school ‘70s vibe.
Bolinas Book Store - Communal bookstore run on an honor system, in true bohemian spirit.
Bolinas Museum and Bolinas Gallery - Charming art museum and gallery on the wharf with collections of art by both established and emerging artists.
2 Mile Surf Shop - Great family-run surf shop that offers surf camps, lessons, and board rentals.
Gospel Flat Farm Stand - 24/7 honor-system farm stand offering unbelievably stunning produce picked daily from fourth-generation family run Gospel Flat Farm.
The Surfboard House in downtown Bolinas.
The steps down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse - Like something out of Wes Anderson or Hitchcock, the lighthouse is located on one of the most dramatic cliff-sides on the coast. Brutal winds, blinding fog, and fierce, craggy rocks have lent this wildly inhospitable point a rich seafaring history. On a clear day, you can see the dramatic and spooky Farallon Islands home to a large shiver of great white sharks.
Olema House - Tranquil, intimate boutique hotel with nice amenities and a fantastic restaurant, Due West.
Side Street Kitchen - Casual farm-to-table eatery in a sunny, well-lit bungalow with outdoor patio seating. Don't skip out on their rotisserie chicken.
Whale of a Deli - Great throwback deli, the perfect spot for grabbing sandwiches and other goodies on the way to the beach.
Old Western Saloon - Laidback saloon and bar with a fun, easygoing vibe and live music.
Visions - Modern new-age goods and homewares, great for finding interesting gifts to take home and give to friends.
Monk Estate - Exceptional edit of antique, vintage, and contemporary jewelry from around the world.
Kehoe Beach - Large, rugged dog-friendly beach, great for walking. Be sure to take in the incredible, millions-year-old rock formations that line the shore.
View of Drake's Bay off the Point Reyes Headlands
Headed west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
JB Blunk Estate - The gorgeous home studio of midcentury artist JB Blunk feels like an extension of the revolutionary sculptor, painter, and ceramicist’s vision.
Mankas - Returning Spring of 2023, Mankas is the ultimate spot for a romantic getaway weekend. The restaurant is top-notch—worth a visit all its own.
Saltwater Oyster Depot - Lovely oyster bar and seafood restaurant with a great natural wine list, ideal way to end a day of exploring.
Tap Room - Popular local gastropub serving seasonal, organic comfort food. Everything, including the bread, is made in-house from scratch.
Cypress Tree Tunnel - Long stretch of Monterey cypress trees planted in 1930 that forms a tunnel, now a nationally preserved park. Especially worth going at sunset.
Heart's Desire and Shell Beach - The perfect beaches for swimming. These bays have beautiful views, serene waters, and remain relatively well-kept secrets.
The Cyprus Tree Tunnel
A walk in the woods of Tomales Bay State Park.
The view at Heart's Desire Beach
In Marshall, on the east side of Tomales Bay.
Hog Island Oysters - Classic spot for very fresh, locally grown and harvested oysters located right on Tomales bay.
Nick’s Cove - Casual seaside eatery serving extremely fresh seafood in a beachy, relaxed setting with a wonderful pier to walk out on and a boathouse.
The Marshall Store - Recently named one of the best restaurants in the country by the New York Times, this unassuming seafood shack is a destination in and of itself.
Tomales Bay - 2,000 acres of family-friendly hikes, trails, picnic spots and sandy beaches.
The boathouse on the pier at Nick's Cove