Get a sweet start: Arrive early for breakfast at the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, housed in a cozy ranch-style building with a peaceful patio. By noon, many of its pastries—from freshly baked croissants to the worth-a-detour blueberry strudel—are sold out. Dinnertime guests rave about the pizza. Open 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (Dinner service closed Monday and Tuesday.) 47540 Highway 1. 831-667-0520.
See the big birds: Sign up for a two-hour weekend condor tour with the Ventana Wildlife Society in Andrew Molera State Park, 23 miles south of Carmel. North America’s largest flying bird had disappeared from Big Sur for more than 100 years before it was reintroduced in 1997. Today, about 90 condors live in the area. Guides use radio telemetry to track the birds, so tour-goers have a 95 percent chance of spotting one, says the society’s Kristy Markowitz. $75 per person. 831-455-9514. Option B: Head to mile marker 41, roughly 3 miles south of Nepenthe, in the late morning—“the birds are not particularly early risers,” Markowitz says—and look for condors in the trees around the can’t-miss A-frame house on the prominent point.
Beach yourself: Pfeiffer Beach attracts crowds, so if you’re pining for your own patch of sand, consider hitting less-visited Garrapata Beach in Garrapata State Park, Molera Beach in Andrew Molera State Park, or the half-crescent Sand Dollar Beach, about 4 miles north of Gorda.
The Beat goes on: Dine at Nepenthe, the popular cliff-side restaurant with jaw-dropping Pacific views where Miller, Kerouac, and other artists famously hung out. Order the Famous Ambrosiaburger, which Kerouac once praised as “marvelous hamburgers (huge with all the side works).” If the restaurant is full for brunch or lunch, you can hit the lower-level outdoor Kevah Café. The attached Phoenix boutique stocks hippie-meets-hipster clothing, jewelry, and other items. Don’t leave without admiring the wood-framed building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Rowan Maiden. 831-667-2345.
Sleep here: Options abound, but consider staying at quirky, historic Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn (pictured above), which has rustic cabin-style rooms. Singles start at $115. 831-667-2377; deetjens.com.