Big Sur, California is one of the most amazing, awe inspiring places I’ve ever been to and a must visit for anyone traveling to San Francisco, Los Angeles or anywhere in between. I’ve been meaning to visit ever since my best friend from college did the drive down Highway 1 years ago- so when I was in California earlier this year, I decided to plan my entire trip around the same route. At the advice of one of my friends, I decided to check out Ventana Inn & Spa, an iconic property located right above the waters of Big Sur.
In so many ways, I feel that Ventana Inn embodies the rugged, organic grandeur of the town in which it resides. There is a certain authenticity to the property- from the way the buildings coexists with nature, to the genuine love of the area that their employees have, to the local ingredients used not only in their dinner menu but also in their spa menu, to the overall ambiance of wellness and peace. There is nothing engineered or over the top about this place- but rather a resort that is truly in line with their motto- the essence of Big Sur.
Ventana Inn and Spa is located right in the heart of Big Sur- just off Highway One. It is nearly impossible for anyone making the drive the miss the resort as there are clear signs directing traffic to the entrance. The Inn is actually located amidst more than 200 acres of rolling hills, hiking trails, parks and wildlife 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. While the Inn is not located directly on the cliff, there are clear views of the water and the hidden nature of the resort allow for increased privacy and space. Ventana Inn & Spa was originally opened in 1975 and quickly became a celebrity haven for movie stars such as Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. In 2009, the property completed an extensive $26million renovation and relaunched their award winning Restaurant at Ventana.
What I love most about Ventana Inn & Spa is the truly organic feel of the space. Everything from the decor to the amenities to the breakfast buffet has a rugged, authentic vibe. All the rooms are accessible by private outside entrance creating the feeling of having your own apartment. The space is designed by Big Sur arist Kipp Stewart, and the buildings are made of weathered cedar and scattered about a natural trail of redwood, oak and bay laurel trees.
While the space is very rustic and comfortable, it is also no doubt a luxury resort. Every detail is closely looked after, the service is impeccable, and the property features state of the art equipment from the athletic facilities to the most luxurious bedding in its rooms. Nothing feels pretentious, contrived or over the top but rather welcoming and relaxing.
In addition to 60 guestrooms, including suites, Ventana Inn & Spa features an award winning restaurant, an intimate bistro, a full service spa, modern fitness facilities, two pools, two Japanese hot tubs, relaxation decks and a sauna. The property also provides easy access to the beach, hiking, state parks, picnicking, whale watching and horseback riding.
Private entrance to your room
When I visited Ventana Inn, I stayed in one of the property’s newly renovated open floor plan rooms with a private balcony. The room was spacious with a large open bathroom and new furnishings and technology. The room featured an incredibly comfortable bed with a clear view out onto the balcony and ocean, as well as a fireplace, work space (hopefully no one has to use it!), and ample lounging area. The full feel of the room is best conveyed through images:
Welcome Home- to the most comfortable bed.
State of the art technology amenities featuring Bose iPod docking stations, Flat screen TVs and DVD players.
Lofted ceilings, and open bathrooms
A much needed welcome amenity after a long drive
Open bathroom with sunken tub
The most amazing lavender bath salts
A great way to snuggle up
An organic breakfast
The Restaurant at Ventana serves fresh, local cuisine with ingredients sourced from California’s Central Coast. The restaurant is open daily for all meals and includes terrace seating for a spectacular ocean front dining experience. The Restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Truman Jones, who came to Ventana from over 15 years working alongside famous chefs including Gordan Ramsey, Daniel Humm, and Sandro Gamba. In fact, Jones was instrumental in launching Gordan Ramsey’s restaurant in Ireland- which I just so happened to visit shortly after Ventana.
The restaurant also features an extensive list of wines- unsurprisingly, many are California varietals.
There is just something so good about California cuisine, I’ve discovered- and the Restaurant at Ventana is no exception. For your appetizer, try Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare- served with Sonoma Foie Gras. Or if you’re like me and a total foie gras junkie- go all out with the Foie Gras and Smoked Duck Terrine. For a hearty entree try the Duram Ranch Bison which comes with truffle mac n cheese, or the Spice Roasted Duck, uniquely prepared with Endive a l’Orange, Ravioli, Dates and Coffee.
I had one of my best massages at the spa at Ventana Inn. There is something about being pampered by the ocean in the middle of nature that just makes the whole experience that much more relaxing than a similar service at a city spa. The Spa takes a very holistic approach to wellness and each service is designed to provide a sensory experience to help you relax and find inner peace.
I tried the Essence of Big Sur Herbal Massage, one of the Spa’s signature treatments which focused on a fusion of massage styles. The treatment features the use of local hot herbal compress (much like in Thai massage) which is believed to have medicinal properties to treat the muscles. Organic and wild crafted herbs including eucalyptus, lavender, pine, sage and arnica are used to capture the essence of Big Sur- and the compress is used in conjunction with a soothing hands-on massage. The treatment combined with the unhurried nature of the spa and spacious area made it a truly rejuvenating experience.
In addition to a diverse menu of services, the Spa also offers Heart Centered Healing, Energy Work, astrology and color readings. In addition, they offer complimentary mind and body classes such as yoga, tai chi and meditation.
New exercise facilities
One of the spa pools
For me, Ventana Inn and Spa was just as much part of the experience of Big Sur as the nature itself. The property absolutely encapsulates the romantic and adventure of the California coast line. After dinner one night at the resort, I ran into a couple who said that they had been coming back to the property for over twenty years and that it was their go-to place for privacy and relaxation while knowing that they’ll still be pampered and attended to. Longtime readers of this site will know that I’m very much an urban cosmopolitan gal and I can confidently call this one of my most favorite properties. And I think its in understanding the demands of the luxury minded traveler who still seeks to have an authentic experience- that makes Ventana the success story it is decade after decade.