A Visit to Big Sur


My friend Natalie, an SF-based floral designer, always has the best travel suggestions. She routinely goes to some of the most beautiful places in the world to work with people on (the most incredible) weddings and then extends her stay to play tourist! Today she takes us with her to Big Sur. 

Big Sur
by Natalie Bowen Brookshire of Natalie Bowen Designs 

Big Sur is one of my favorite places on this earth. Maybe it is the serene landscape with sweeping views of the ocean and turquoise blue water, or maybe it is that there is no cell coverage: either way, my energy balances and I just feel so at peace when I am in this little stretch along the California coastline. It’s no wonder writers and artists have called this area home for years. Sharing my tips on where to go, stay, and what to see in this special little corner of California has made me yearn for another trip back. Perhaps I’ll be packing my bags and heading there sooner than expected.


In the past year I’ve been to Big Sur on several occasions and I’ve found that it has been my go-to place for a quick get away. This year alone I’ve headed to Big Sur to do the flowers for two very special weddings, for the celebration of my husbands birthday, and for one rustic (for me) camping trip. I’ve packed my floral studio up each time finding myself arranging flowers in the woods for each of these memorable occasions.




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One of the beautiful things about Big Sur is that it really doesn’t change. The same businesses have been there forever and some have been there since the ’60s. Nestled into the calm and natural setting are a lot of groovy throwback moments from the time when the beatniks moved out and the hippies moved in.

Every time I go I must stop at Nepenthe where you can sip wine with a view of the ocean and the most entertaining people. If channeling your inner flower-child is what you are in to, I’d highly suggest going to Esalen for a retreat or just a massage. I hear that if you call at precisely the right time, access is given to their oceanside hot-springs to a handful of non-guests every night. I have yet to have the phone picked up at just the right time, but I know it can be done!

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When you are ready for a little less of the hippy experience, but you still want to people watch, you must go to the Post Ranch Inn. Every time I go to Big Sur, this is one of my must go to destinations. Like so many spots in Big Sur, the setting creates an experience and it is so much more than a place to have a glass of wine. This hotel is an architects dream, perfectly nestled in the hillside with sweeping views of the whale filled waters below. It is a lovely spot for dinner or a cocktail if staying in the hotel is not an option.

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I’m a girl who loves luxury, but every now and then I surprise myself and get down and dirty and do crazy things… like camp. Last year, for my husbands birthday, we camped for four nights at a highly coveted camping spot on the ocean above McWay Falls. It was not easy to get one of two spots in this location and included a frantic phone call at the exact right time six months prior to the trip. If planning this far in advance is not your style, I’d suggest Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for great car camping. Even if you don’t camp where I did, you absolutely must go to McWay Falls to see the crystal blue water that will transport you to Tahiti and a waterfall that ends ON the beach. However, don’t be disappointed when you arrive and learn that access to the beach is not permitted. This option closed down years ago, so now it is more of a viewing spot than anything else.

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Even though Big Sur is all about decompressing, you really do need a car. Big Sur is more of a stretch of land along Hwy 1, rather than a proper town so you will spend time exploring by vehicle. If you jump in your car and head North of Big Sur you’ll find two of my favorite spots for a cocktail. The Cypress Inn in Carmel, which is owned by Doris Day, is a beautiful hotel with a dog friendly bar. On your way back to Big Sur from Carmel, stop at Rocky Point where they make a seriously good Manhattan and have a plethora of outdoor tables with an ocean view. Last time I was there, I had to be dragged away long after the sun had gone down just because I couldn’t take my eye off of the remains of the sunsets and breaching whales.

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Big Sur is a magical place. It feels big enough that there is plenty to do, and even after a ten-day trip there earlier this year, I could have stayed longer. It is also small enough that you won’t be overwhelmed by feeling as if there is too much to do. Whether you are the type who likes to hike and sleep in a tree, or the type that likes to get all day massages and drink champagne, I do believe you will be happy. I hope it captivates you as much as it does me.


My Big Sur Wedding + Event List:

1. STAY at Deetjen’s. It is the cutest and truly embodies the Big Sur vibe.
2. MINIMOON at Post Ranch Inn, from where you may even see a whale or two. Stay here if it is in your budget.
3. INSIST that someone in your party stays at Treebones where they can stay in a yurt or treehouse with a view of the ocean.
4. DINE at the Big Sur Bakery: it would make the perfect location for birthday dinner for a party of ten to forty. Go back in the morning and feed your hangover with coffee and their divine baked goods.
5. PARTY under the radar at the Henry Miller Library—which is an unexpected place for the perfect rehearsal dinner. It also hosts movie screenings on the weekends!
6. DECOMPRESS at the Spa at Ventana.
7. FLY in to the Monterey Airport if driving is not an option.

Thank you, Natalie! Big Sur is incredible.

P.S. More Big Sur inspiration: A 48-hour getaway (with nights at The Ventana Inn), and some hiking tips. Also, read about Natalie’s career path to floral designer (and seasoned globetrotter).

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