Big Sur may just be one of the most beautiful places in the country. The landscape seems more like Patagonia than America. The water is a bright vibrant blue, not the hazy, thick brown of the Atlantic off the coast of Charleston. Living in a coastal city, it is easy to develop a sort of immunity to what used to be a breathtaking view. I drive over the Charleston Harbor every single day, and it used to be a delight watching the sunrise over the water, rays of sunlight pushing through the ropes and sails of the boats docked there; now my first thought is “I better not be late because of this stupid draw-bridge again”.
It is hard to imagine that anyone might cross the famous Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur without taking pause to note the beauty around them, but such is the glory of travel, I suppose. Highway 1 is breathtaking for most of the drive, in fact. Parts of it still have not been repaired since falling into the ocean, leaving a bit of one-lane road that swerves perilously around the edge of the mountains, adding a bit of excitement to the drive from Carmel on the way to lunch at Nepenthe Restaurant.
I struggle with how to describe Nepenthe. A gift from Orson Welles to Rita Heyworth, where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton danced during the filming of the Sandpiper, and once home to Henry Miller, the place feels exactly as magical as it should with such a rich history. The building is beautiful, in a California hunting cabin kind of way. (Do people in California hunt? I feel like this impression is the Southerner in me being projected on architecture across the country.) It’s very “log cabin meets James Bond villain hillside lair “, with its crescent shaped main building wrapping around the mountain, half-hanging off the edge. I don’t remember a legitimate wall in the entire building — it’s simply encased with windows looking out over the landscape and the multi-tiered deck built into the rocky hillside.
Underneath the restaurant, there’s a fairly large shop called The Phoenix, that smells like hippies (um, I mean incense) and sells everything from books, to scarves and long, flowing patchwork dresses, to art, to jewelry. A little hippy-dippy-trippy for my tastes, but neat nonetheless.
Here’s where I struggle, though: The food just wasn’t that great. I wanted it to be great; heck, I would’ve settled for good. Unfortunately I think we attained “edible”. The server, though, was great. They were busy. I mean really busy, but our waiter was totally on top of it. So in spite of the marginal food, I’m glad we went, and if I were to return to Big Sur, I would be sure to go back. The wine list was decent and reasonably priced (by California standards, at least), and the view was phenomenal. (As in, see-this-place-before-you-die phenomenal).
So go to Big Sur, make your driver… err, father…. stop every half mile of highway to take pictures, convince the entire group you have just seen a whale (and then realize it’s a rock), and have a glass of wine, or bubbly at Nepenthe.