Perched on a rocky granite cliff at the northern gateway to Big Sur, off Highway 1 and just six miles south of the storybook town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Hyatt Carmel Highlands is the perfect place to set up camp if you’re not the tent-and-dirt-floor type. The hotel will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. Californian pioneer J. Franklin Devendorf established the property, then known as The Highlands Inn, before Highway 1 was even built.
The original lodge, which now houses the lobby, restaurant, and a few suites, invites you in with pitched-beam ceilings and wall-to-wall windows overlooking the Pacific. The hotel has been undergoing extensive renovations, including a new outdoor dining deck that feels like it’s at the end of the world and revamped rooms that channel the area’s upscale coastal ambience (read: white linens and driftwood sculptures).
Just north, the recently redesigned Hotel Carmel offers 27 cottage-style rooms and suites in the heart of Carmel Village.
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is very fairy-tale, very Fern Gully—with a much-loved brunch to boot. And for big spenders, the Post Ranch Inn offers plush, Oprah-level accommodations.
The 90-mile stretch of forest-meets-ocean scenery provides plenty of opportunity to work up an appetite—or work off a meal. Hit the Ewoldsen Trail in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a steep, 4.5-mile climb of 1,600 feet through an old redwood forest to sweeping views. On your way out of the park, cross Highway 1 to the path that overlooks the obligatory Instagram fodder of McWay Falls.
Then, change scenery with the Partington Cove Trail farther north on Highway 1—the descent down an old dirt road leads through a canyon to a 60-foot tunnel, which opens up to a rocky cove once used by bootleggers during Prohibition.
Get a dose of cultural history with a stop at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a hippie museum-meets-bookstore in an old house tucked away in the woods that honors the countercultural writer and artist who spent almost 20 years working in the area. You might catch a reading, lecture, or live music on their outdoor stage.
To immerse yourself in Big Sur’s kumbaya vibe, head to the Esalen Institute, an oasis of mineral baths, gardens, and breathtaking seascapes that’s been a haven for yoga and mindfulness retreats since 1962. The property is only open to registered guests, so if you’re not on a retreat, there are two ways to check it out: make a reservation for one of their trademark massages, or night owls can access the institute’s mineral baths during their public hours, between 1 and 3 a.m. daily. Spots are limited, so plan ahead, and be forewarned—clothing is optional.
For a leisurely day of a different variety, traverse north to charming Carmel-by-the-Sea to compare pinot noirs (the county’s specialty) from 15 different wineries—all of which have tasting rooms within a couple of blocks, making it easy to sip and stroll. The Wine Tasting Passport ($65, carmelchamber.org) gets you up to four 1-ounce pours at nine wineries of your choice.
Fuel hiking adventures with a latte and pastry from Big Sur Bakery, where croissants and strudels are baked daily and stuffed with local seasonal fruit.
But save room—the Big Sur Food and Wine Festival is a three-day smorgasbord of food, wine, music, and innovative events (November 3–5). There are themed parties, like the New Orleans Wine and Swine, where chefs present pork-centered dishes; the Pinot Walkabout at the Post Ranch Inn; and the aptly named Hiking with Stemware, giving hikers the sweet reward of a chef-prepared meal and wine pairing at the ridge. Plus, there’s a host of winemaker dinners and educational panels throughout mainstay restaurants in the Big Sur area, like Ventana, Deetjen’s, and Big Sur Bakery.
Before checking out, stop by Pacific’s Edge Restaurant in the Hyatt Carmel Highlands. Executive Chef Chad Minton has reinvented the menu, primarily sourcing ingredients within a 100-mile radius to complement the refreshed space, which includes design details like a communal table made from a fallen Monterey cypress, timber frames, and a heated, glass-walled dining deck with the best view in the hotel— all of which makes it feel a little more hip and a little less, well, Hyatt-y.