I haven’t been to all 50 states, but I recently drove 3,500 miles across a (relatively) huge chunk of it and nowhere was my jaw on my lap more than during the soaring stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway. Heavy storms and landslides in the spring of 2017 caused the destruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, but the roads have since reopened and Big Sur is back in business.
If you’ve come for the redwoods (probably the second-most famous thing about this stretch of Pacific coastline), you won’t be disappointed: the rooms are scattered in the shadows of the towering trunks, with half overlooking the ocean and the rest facing the sloping forests and Santa Lucia mountains. Wildlife to look out for includes wild turkeys, condors, raccoons and the mysterious mountain lion, which may sound terrifying but you should actually be pleased with yourself if you do spot one: many Big Sur locals are still searching. Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar is a destination in itself, with a sommelier highlighting the best California’s vineyards have to offer, along with wines from Oregon and of course some from the Old World (choosing from his 2,500-bottle-strong cellar). Next to the chef’s garden and bee hives, the hotel has an expertly curated mercantile, where you can stock up on the plates you ate your dinner off at Sierra Mar, along with pieces of California-sculpted jewellery.
For more cliff-edge coastal dining, head to Nepenthe, a family-run favourite with a sunset-showcasing patio and detour-worthy dishes such as the famous Ambrosiaburger, which has a special signature sauce. The Pacific Coast Highway has plenty of spectacular stretches as it wends its way along California, but the twisting and turning track around Big Sur is without a doubt the highlight.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park gets busy so go early if you want to glimpse the famous cove; you might even spot migrating whales if you’re lucky, and it’s December or January.
And don’t leave California without embracing your inner hippie: the Esalen Insitute practises all manner of “healing arts”, the highlight of which is undoubtedly a magical midnight spell in the hot springs.