The Best Restaurants & Hotels Between Big Sur & CambriaYour 17 must-stops for oysters, carne asada tacos, and ocean views on a road trip between Big Sur and Cambria.
As you get close to Big Sur, Pacific Coast Highway dwindles down to a two-lane road with both sheer cliffs and the turquoise ocean in the distance. The drive through Big Sur is 90-plus miles of winding, stunning roads—so pack some Dramamine if you’re prone to carsickness, as you won’t want to miss a moment of the drive.
There are countless places to stop along this part of Highway 1. Bring some warm layers and relax on the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach, two miles down an unpaved road but worth the bumpy drive. Stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon to take a tour of the publishing mogul’s over-the-top mansion, complete with free-roaming zebras. San Simeon also has Piedras Blancas Rookery, where elephant seals take over the beach between October and May each year.
Being so remote, there aren’t a ton of places to eat in the Big Sur area. You’ll find a handful of restaurants clustered in Big Sur Village, many of them located within hotels. Beyond that, options are few and far between until you reach Cambria, so be sure to stock up on food before leaving Big Sur Village. From quick pastries and sandwiches to a sit-down meal with a great view, here are our favorite spots to eat on the Big Sur drive, as well as a few hotels worth spending the night in.
This is a great place to stop on the northern edge of Big Sur if you want to grab breakfast or lunch before a hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It works for everything from a quick coffee to a sit-down breakfast or a leisurely lunch, and you’ll find things like burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, wraps, and tacos for around $15-20. Sit inside in their cozy cabin-like restaurant with exposed beams and bright abstract wall art, or grab a seat on the outdoor patio in the redwoods complete with an open-fire BBQ.
After a long day of dealing with people trying to park at crowded overlooks and making left turns into busy traffic, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted a frosty beer. This spot has a rotating variety of taps you can sample before you decide on a pour—on our last visit, we loved the Minesweeper IPA and Double Howzit Punch sour ale, both from Alvarado Street Brewing. Besides their beer selection, they have a large selection of nachos, wings, and sandwiches options like chicken bánh mì, cheesesteaks with onions and peppers, and hot reubens. Grab a beer and a sandwich and sit at a communal table in their outdoor beer garden—they have heaters in case it gets chilly.
The Sur House is all about the views from its terrace, the Central Coast wines, and a delicious selection of Mexican-leaning dishes for lunch like grilled fish tacos and mole chicken wings. It’s in the Alila Ventana hotel, so breakfast and dinner are reserved only for hotel guests, but it’s one of the better lunch options around. The space is elegant with leather seating and a fireplace, but as long as the weather cooperates, you can’t beat the airy terrace.
Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill is a great place to have dinner on the southern edge of your Highway 1 adventure, especially after walking along the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk. The menu is all about seafood, with things like fish and chips, New England-style clam chowder, seafood tacos, and cioppino. Moonstone Beach is also one of the few accessible beaches in the area, as most are beautiful to look at but impossible to reach, so sprawling out here after a meal like one of Big Sur’s elephant seals is a nice reward for making it this far.
If you have strong opinions on east coast vs. west coast oysters, you’ll definitely want to check out this dinner and cash-only spot that’s been open since 1975. There are several preparations of oysters: on the half-shell, in a stew, or baked Rockefeller-style. You shouldn’t really come here unless you have your heart set on eating seafood, but that’s what makes it great—share a boatful of appetizers with your road trip crew or impress your oyster-loving date. The space feels like the hull of a boat meets a steakhouse, with nautical elements combined with white tablecloths and green pendant lighting.
Dining in Big Sur often means choosing between cafes or fine dining. Once you reach Cambria, though, your options open up a bit and Boni’s Tacos will be a welcome relief if you’ve been surviving on sandwiches and salads along Highway 1. Order a bunch of tacos filled with chicken, carne asada, and pork chile verde, but don’t miss the al pastor that they cut fresh off the rotisserie spit when it reaches that perfect level of char. This counter-service restaurant is great for a quick bite on their outdoor patio, or you can swing by their taco truck on weekends, when it posts up next to the Pacific Premier Bank.
Sometimes, a restaurant only needs to do one thing and do it well. That’s exactly the deal with Hidden Kitchen, which only serves gluten-free blue corn waffles that come in both sweet and savory options. Order bacon, egg, and avocado or the turkey, cheese, and caramelized onion option, or go the dessert route with strawberry, banana, and coconut whip. If you can’t choose between sweet and savory, meet in the middle with their fried banana, bacon, peanut butter, and maple syrup waffle. While they're only open on weekends, they have another location in Cayucos that's open Thursday-Monday.
GRAB & GO
This deli is owned by the same people as Big Sur Taphouse, located just beside it on the same stretch of Highway 1. Big Sur Deli isn’t fancy, but that’s part of its charm—you’ll find rows of snacks and a straightforward sandwich counter with premade options like chicken pesto or roast beef with sriracha aioli. Grab a few sandwiches to pack for a beach picnic, after you reach the summit of a tough hike, or stash away in case of a road trip hunger emergency.
Big Sur Bakery is a Highway 1 road trip must, with an impressive selection of sweet and savory pastries and excellent coffee, as well as a sit-down menu you can order from. If you’re just making a quick stop in the morning, we love the croissants and the blueberry strudel, so be sure to buy a couple to snack on for later. Big Sur Bakery also serves a small selection of brunch and lunch dishes, but dinner is our favorite time to come here for the wood-fired pizzas. No matter what time you go, there is often a long wait, but the wild-strewn flowers, rustic wooden tables, and redwood tree in its patio area will make the time fly by.
Coast is a charming cafe, art gallery, and ice cream shop that makes for a great lunch stop while driving Highway 1. Sit on the cafe’s rooftop patio, choose from their small, rotating selection of pizzas, tarts, salads, and soups, and definitely save room for their soft serve. Try the year-round standard, the vanilla bay laurel, or opt for seasonal choices such as quince or pear —or don’t choose at all and get any two flavors as a swirl.
This is the only place to grab food on the long stretch between Big Sur Village and San Simeon, and considering most of the Patagonia-clad, hiking-pole-toting tourists don’t make it this far, it’s a good spot to escape the crowds. Take some time to wander around the hotel grounds, covered in Monterey cypress trees and landscaped flowers. The restaurant itself isn’t anything special, so we suggest just admiring the view before you move to the inn’s sandwich shop and espresso bar. Grab a cappuccino and a danish for breakfast, or a pastrami on rye for lunch, and rescue yourself from your sad stash of gas station chips and gummy worms.
Located in the Post Ranch Inn with gorgeous views over the cliffs of Big Sur, Sierra Mar is an excellent choice for fine dining with a Pacific sunset view. Be ready to spend $145 for the four-course prix-fixe menu (there’s no a la carte option), but the dishes are always interesting and well-executed. Think duck with preserved cherry and turnip, oyster and coconut zabaione, and smoked mussels with fermented vichyssoise. Time your dinner reservation here to coincide with the sunset for a special date night you’ll reminisce about for years.
Nepenthe is always busy, but with one of the best wine lists in Big Sur, ample seating on their terrace, and stunning ocean views, it’s worth getting all dressed up and coming here after you’ve spent the day hiking or beach bumming. Nepenthe’s menu is short and sweet: choose between one of three steak options, the Jidori half-chicken, the Alaskan halibut, or the diver scallops, and know that you can’t go wrong with any of the dishes. Even for Big Sur, prices are on the high end (think $40-60 for mains), but there’s no better place for a romantic candlelit dinner to follow up the sunset.
Madeline’s Restaurant is somewhere that’s perfect for date night with its dim lighting, white tablecloths, and impressive wine selection. Start with the stuffed quail or slow-cooked octopus, then get mains like filet mignon, pan-seared Long Island duck breast, and aubergine gratin. Pair your meal with any of the excellent French and Central Coast wines from their menu, including their very own bottles from Madeline Cellars in nearby Paso Robles.
Big Sur Lodge
Located in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, this lodge is an excellent choice if you’re not looking to spend an entire month's rent on a single night in a hotel (you can often get a room for around $300 to 400 a night). Stay in a spacious, cozy cabin with a fireplace and enjoy being surrounded by coastal redwoods as you sip a cup of coffee on your deck in the morning. Several trailheads begin at the lodge, including the trail to Pfeiffer Falls.
Glen Oaks Big Sur
Glen Oaks offers a variety of places to stay, from cottages to cabins in the redwoods, but for the best value, opt for the renovated roadside motel Adobe Motor Lodge. The rooms have a fun vintage style and lots of thoughtful touches, such as a s’mores package you should definitely use at the nearby outdoor fire pit. Prices start at $310 per night and up.
Big Sur River Inn
Big Sur River Inn offers two tiers of rooms: roadside motel and its suites along the Big Sur River. Both options offer a convenient location with spacious rooms in the heart of Big Sur, but the riverside suites are more peaceful, surrounded by the river and the redwoods, whereas the roadside motel is right along busy Highway 1.
Post Ranch Inn
Post Ranch Inn is a legendary hotel that feels like it sits on the edge of the world. Right on top of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, the sprawling property has been a hotel for 30 years and has gained a reputation for being one of the best in the world. The setting is magnificent, with rolling hills everywhere and that dramatic sea view that, if you’re here at the right time, might involve whale spotting. Many of the rooms are standalone and all fit seamlessly into the landscape, whether that’s a treehouse in the forest or one that feels built into the cliff. As you might have gathered at this point, this is a place for anniversaries, honeymoons, and ultra special occasions. Between the indulgent spa, walking trails, and on-site restaurant you’re unlikely to leave the grounds—which is probably a plus because you’ll be booking a room way in advance and paying four figures for it.