City and Country: 72 Hours in San Francisco and Big Sur
We like our weekend getaways to be a little bit country, a little bit urban with a pretty drive along the way. And there's no better place to combine the two than in California. Leigh Crandall maps out your route from San Francisco to Big Sur.
Kick off the day with a visit to Golden Gate Park, 1,107 acres of gardens, lakes, trails and more. Start at the Japanese Tea Garden and wander its stands of Japanese maples, bamboo and, in the spring, flowering cherry trees. Sit for a quick cup of tea and dorayaki—pancakes filled with red bean paste from the garden’s teahouse.
Continue on to the de Young Museum, the city’s oldest, housing an impressive collection of American art in a stunning Herzog & de Meuron-designed space that includes an observation floor offering panoramic views of the Bay Area.
Next, head to the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero for lunch at Charles Phan’s award-winning Vietnamese The Slanted Door. Opt for the prix-fixe menu to sample dishes like barbecued pork spareribs, organic claypot chicken and wood oven-roasted local rock cod. Walk off your meal with a browse through the Ferry Building’s market, with stalls featuring products from local farmers, cheese and winemakers. Queue for a scoop at Humphry Slocombe, the SF-based ice cream company founded by pastry chef Jake Godby and business partner Sean Vahey that’s developed a cult following thanks to the ever-changing, out-of-the-box flavors (Guinness Gingerbread and Strawberry Candied Jalapeño are among our recent favorites).
Take a short stroll back to your home base, the Hotel Vitale, a modern waterfront sleep done up in soothing neutrals that serves as a luxe escape from the city action. Spring for a suite with floor-to-ceiling windows featuring views of the Bay Bridge. If you need an extra pick-me-up, head to their penthouse level spa for a massage and a dip in the soaking tub, or join the hip locals sipping Cali wines on the patio of the Americano restaurant.
In the afternoon, make your way to the Mission District. The neighborhood is known for its street art scene, best explored with a private tour conducted by muralists who paint here via community arts organization Precita Eyes.
Spend an hour or two browsing the Mission’s standout shops—menfolk should check out the new, limited-run collections released each week at Taylor Stitch and the manscaping products at Fellow Barber, both on Valencia Street, while women can browse indie designers from across the globe at Mira Mira on 22nd Street. Other spots worth a stop: Press: Works on Paper for out-of-print and first edition art, fashion and design books, and Aquarius Records, the longest running indie record store in the city, for stack after stack of vinyl.
For dinner head to David Barzelay’s buzzy Lazy Bear, where a fixed menu of modern American fare is served around one long, communal table (note: the restaurant uses a ticketing system for its two nightly seatings, so be sure to purchase your spot ahead of time). Cap off the evening at Trick Dog, where the potent cocktails are named for city landmarks. We’d order the “Alcatraz,” made with Four Roses small batch bourbon, apple, lavender, kombu and horseradish.
Spend the morning hiking Lands End, a park at the northwestern corner of the city that takes visitors by the ruins of the Sutro Baths and offers stunning views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge and of the Pacific along the way.
Begin your drive south along Highway 1 for about two-and-a-half hours to Pebble Beach. Stop for an al fresco lunch cozied around one of the fire pits at The Bench, situated right on the famous golf course’s 18th hole with stunning views of the Pacific. Next, follow the red-dotted line on the road along the 17-mile Drive, one of the country’s prettiest, that takes visitors past sights including the Lone Cypress and the Fanshell Overlook, where you’ll spot harbor seals during the pupping season between April and June.
Continue south along the PCH and have your camera ready—this is one of the road’s most scenic stretches. It begins with the iconic Bixby Bridge, about 15 miles south of Carmel. Pull over to pose in front of it before you cross, then continue on half an hour to the adults-only Ventana Inn and Spa in Big Sur. Spend the rest of the afternoon unwinding with a massage at the hotel’s spa, lounging around its pair of outdoor swimming pools (the one on the west end is clothing optional) and taking advantage of their afternoon wine and cheese reception. Head to dinner at the Restaurant at Ventana, where the well-priced tasting menu from Executive Chef Paul Corsentino features dishes like house-made squid ink spaghetti, Monterey Bay sardines, and cinnamon donuts with banana ice cream, dulce de leche and caramelized honey. End the day in one of Ventana’s Fireplace Rooms, with cozy wood-burning fireplaces, comfy king-sized beds and private decks overlooking the forest, meadow or ocean.
Wake up early and head to Big Sur Bakery, a charming ranch house turned café serving strong coffee and baked goods. Continue on to Andrew Molera State Park, which features 4,800 acres of hiking trails that wind through flower-filled meadows, hidden beaches and Redwood groves. Or, see the area via horseback via Molera Horseback Tours, which offers four daily rides through the park. We’d opt for the hour-long “Beach Bonanza” along a mile-long trail that ends with a ride along the beach ($48/person).
Fuel up for an afternoon of hiking with lunch at the Big Sur Roadhouse, where California cuisine is served in an airy, rustic space that includes outdoor patio seating. Next, head to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, famous for its giant redwood trees. Hike the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, an easy trek through one of the park’s most picturesque redwood groves that ends overlooking the 60-foot high waterfall. For a more challenging hike, choose the Valley View trail, a two-mile walk which takes visitors uphill to a scenic overlook with views of Big Sur Valley and Point Sur.
For the last adventure of the day, drive 12 miles south to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Hop on the McWay Waterfall Trail, another easy hike that takes visitors to an overlook facing McWay Falls, a stunning 80-foot waterfall that drops directly onto the beach. In December and January, you’ll also have a good chance of spotting gray whales as they migrate southward.
You will have earned your dinner tonight. So make your way to iconic Big Sur restaurant Nepenthe perched high on the hills above the Pacific. Order their signature “Ambrosia Burger” and a glass of wine, and grab a seat on their outdoor patio for a straight shot of the sunset.
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