Mountains or ocean? At Big Sur’s Nepenthe restaurant and bar, you don’t have to choose which gorgeous setting you prefer. You can have both as you dine.
If you’re traveling along Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, don’t miss dining at one of California’s best restaurants, and the spectacular coast’s most iconic restaurant.
Nepenthe, at 48510 Highway 1 about 50 miles north of Cambria, opened in 1949 as one of the first restaurants and bars on the rugged coastline. As soon as you arrive, you’ll see why it’s remained so popular for seven decades.
Every breathtaking view from the open-air, three-story building and rooftop patio is Instagram-worthy. The views of the southern coastline of Big Sur, where the mountains dissolve into the sea, are simply picture-perfect, with lush colors and textures.
But you’ll have to post your photos once you leave: Wi-Fi isn’t available and cell service is limited, making Nepenthe a place to truly unwind and unplug with good food and good conversation.
Being one of the best restaurants in Big Sur also means being the busiest, so be prepared for a leisurely wait if you dine here on a summer day. (Reservations are available for parties of five or more.)
A one-hour wait is pretty standard, but you can enjoy a cocktail and appetizer on the bleacher-style seating’s colored cushions or at the bar while you wait — and soak in the views wherever you are. Pop into Café Kevah for a light snack and coffee, and, of course, more amazing ocean views surrounded by lush greenery.
Spend some time browsing in the eclectic Phoenix Shop where you’ll find artful, handmade pieces from décor to jewelry by artisans like Coach’s latest collaborator, Kaffe Fassett. A ping-pong table and giant chessboard also make for a fun way to pass the time — if you can break your gaze away from the gorgeous view.
Once you are seated, Nepenthe’s service is efficient and friendly, and you’ll enjoy an unpretentious dining experience with more luxurious views.
Nepenthe has been a family-run restaurant from the start, and you’ll feel like a part of the family with the sort of hospitality and care the staff provides.
The vibe is casual, so come as you are and relax. However, Nepenthe is also a perfect special-occasion restaurant and, if you want to celebrate something exceptional, you’ll feel right at home here. If you just fancy a drink and a nice view, you can do that here. too.
Nepenthe started as a steakhouse and remains true to its roots with premium, naturally raised beef on the menu. The most popular dish is the Ambrosia burger, which is available on both the lunch and dinner menus.
Beyond meat, Nepenthe is extremely veggie-friendly, with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes available. The veggie burger is flavorful and just as crowd-pleasing as the Ambrosia burger.
This is one of the most unique dining experiences in California but it’s a tremendous value for the view, ambiance and delectable food.
Since you’re near wine country, ordering a bottle or two from Nepenthe’s carefully curated wine list is essential. There are wines from top California vineyards as well as organic, artisanal and small family wineries.
You’ll be able to drink a glass of your favorite Californian pinot noir or just as easily try something distinctive and unforgettable. If wine isn’t your thing, there’s also an excellent cocktail and liquor selection.
So pull up a chair, indulge in some California cuisine, relax in a comfortable atmosphere, and enjoy a breathtaking day or a romantic sunset.
— Donna Polizzi is a travel writer and founder of Keys 2 the Coast, a trusted travel resource for the Central Coast and beyond, including sharing favorite places to “Wine, Dine and Explore.” She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Keys 2 the Coast on Facebook. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.