Post Ranch Inn

Big Sur and Central Coast, United States Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Exquisitely positioned and utterly romantic lodge on a ridge overlooking the Pacific: one of California's top hotels
The magical Post Ranch Inn occupies 100 acres of wild heath, redwoods and hiking trails in the heart of Big Sur, a breathtaking 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. You reach it by winding along iconic Highway One, passing cliffs, beaches and stunning overlooks. It's a journey to savour, trumped only by your arrival.

You are met by friendly staff, who offer champagne while your car is valet parked, then chauffeured up to the ridge where your beautiful rustic-luxe accommodation awaits. As we reached the top, a gray whale obligingly spouted far below. The 39 rooms and suites each have a private deck where you can sunbathe, and superb views of the Ventana Wilderness or Pacific Ocean. There are wood-burning fireplaces, custom-made furniture, rugs by indigenous weavers, striking sculptures and complimentary minibars.

Eco-aware architecture (think tree houses and grass-roofed ocean houses) showcases attractively rusted Corten steel, Douglas fir posts and big glass picture windows. The centrepiece is the cantilevered restaurant, Sierra Mar, with a 13,000-bottle wine cellar and delicious daily menu, focusing on sustainable fish, humanely reared meat and local produce. Between meals, bask in infinity-edged pools, enjoy complimentary yoga, or restore your wellbeing in the spa. There's even an astronomer to guide you through the clear night sky through an observatory-grade telescope. Fabulous.


  • Location: overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the west (great whale watching and sunsets) and green rippled ridges to the east, with easy access to Big Sur's State Parks and local activities
  • Exclusivity: the ranch is on 100 acres of private land, so you won't hear or see anybody from the outside world
  • Heaps of activities on site - from the charming spa to the swimming pool; from walking trails to shamanistic drumming workshops
  • It couldn't be more romantic (no-one under 18 is allowed); do not hesitate to get married in order to honeymoon at the Post Ranch Inn
  • Sister hotel to the wonderful Cavallo Point Lodge in San Francisco


  • It's eye-wateringly expensive (though breakfast and some activities are included, and sometimes special packages apply in low season), but additional activities and meals are fairly priced - and this is a once-in-a-lifetime place
  • There's no beach, and those nearby are pretty crowded in high season; console yourself in the infinity basking pools with cocktail in hand
  • You'll need a car to get here
  • Leaving

Best time to go

Big Sur is fabulous all year round. Winter storms add atmospherics, the spring flower show is gorgeous, summer is best for beaches and hiking, autumn colours are beautiful and temperatures still pretty balmy. Late winter/early spring are little visited but actually lovely with clearer coasts than late spring and summer when the dreaded fog can roll in with a vengeance and take several hours to clear. You'll not forget your time in Big Sur.

Our top tips

Big Sur can be pretty breezy all year round so bring layers. Make the most of your time at Post Ranch Inn - you will kick yourself if you don't try the infinity jacuzzis, the hiking trail, stargazing, spa and restaurant - and don't check out a minute sooner than you need to.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Lodge
  • 39
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • No kids allowed
  • Open all year
  • Heated Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service


All 39 rooms and suites - named for pioneer families in Big Sur - share a chic-rustic design, billed as 'organic architecture', in keeping with the wild beauty of the Big Sur coast. We loved the harmonious aesthetic of warm redwood and Bubinga wooden walls, polished concrete floors and sculptures (both wall and freestanding). Each room has a deliciously comfortable kingsized bed, a wood-burning fireplace (wood, kindling and fire-irons are provided), and sitting area with rattan chairs or leather sofa and armchairs.

From walking sticks to binoculars for birding and whale-watching, bathrobes, private massage tables and a digital music system, they've thought of everything. There's also a wet bar with ice bucket, and stacks of complimentary goodies (crisps, wine, coffee, juice, snacks) in the mini fridge - a nice touch. You get a half-bottle of local wine and signature water bottle to take away. There are no televisions - you won't miss it in such a setting.

The luxurious bathrooms are of grey slate and rugged granite, and have spa tubs as well as showers - top suites have twin sinks. Plenty of thick towels, refillable organic toiletries and a hairdryer are provided.

All rooms have private decks with loungers or chairs which face either the ocean or towards the mountains (there are automatic blinds in Cliff House, Peak House and Pacific Suites which block out most morning light). The 5 Ocean Houses, whose roofs are covered in wildflowers, have walls of glass overlooking the sea, and, uniquely, their fireplaces are two-sided so one can enjoy the flames from the bathtub. Cliff House has a deck seemingly suspended over the cliffs and an enclosed garden courtyard. Pacific Suites, where we stayed, are in 2-storey buildings with a curved ocean-front wall that maximises that magnificent vista. Coast House suites have a similar but smaller layout.

Mountain Suites are inspired by the redwoods and face the Santa Lucia Peaks and Ventana Wilderness. The 7 triangular Tree House rooms, built on stilts within hundred-year-old gnarled oaks, peer through trees to the ridges beyond. Butterfly Rooms have the same views and are so-called for the shape of the building with its outstretched wings.

The more expensive categories, which begin with the Peak House, have a custom-made infinity hot tub on the decks and are more spacious. For me, the ultimate Post Ranch Inn experience was birding from my hot tub overlooking the Pacific.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Binoculars
  • Cd player
  • Coffee tea making
  • Fan
  • Fireplace
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Iron
  • Massage Table
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Walking Sticks & Umbrella
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet


Meals are taken in the Sierra Mar restaurant, which is tucked, Hobbit-like, into the top of the ridge. It has an organic veg and herb garden - some grown on its roof. Floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the beauty of the Pacific.

Breakfast is a sumptuous buffet, and you are encouraged to go back for third helpings - well, that's my story anyhow. Choose from fresh fruit such as strawberry and mango, yoghurt, granola and oatmeal, home-baked breads, rolls and bagels. The latter can be fixed up with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onion and tomato. The hot dishes were sausages, garden frittata with housemade salsa and potatoes with provencale vegetables. You can have eggs and pancakes with a choice of fillings - my mushroom omelette was delicious. Beverages include fresh OJ, pink grapefruit and cranberry juices, tea, coffee and iced water.

Executive Chef John Cox presides over a partially open kitchen (I was mesmerised by the chefs' deft movements) and prides himself on his daily seasonal and local menu of Californian with French, Asian and Mediterranean influenced fare - enquire about the occasional cooking classes on offer. The lunch menu begins with sharing plates such as house made antipasti, oysters, crab cakes or mushroom and goat cheese crostini. Entrees could include sustainable salmon, pork loin chop, butternut squash agnolotti; desserts are comfy - banana sundae, apple galette and creme brulee.

The prix fixe 4-course dinner menu is where the skills really shine. I agonised in choosing, going for the cauliflower tasting (an inspired trio of bisque, ceviche and gratin) to begin, lobster bisque to follow (divine), Berkshire pork tasting (roast loin, cassoulet and confit of pork belly) and then rice pudding with poached pear. All dishes are exquisitely presented. An eight-course Taste of Big Sur menu, interpreting the Big Sur area through food, is also available.

There's also a bar serving seasonal cocktails (try the Soul Flower in spring) as well as the classics. There are over 13,000 bottles in the wine cellar.

For eating out, buy a picnic and cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway for a quintessentially Californian day trip. If you can be bothered to leave this idyll for newer pastures in the evening, across the Highway is upscale Ventana, which also focuses on California Central Coast fine dining. The more affordable Big Sur Roadhouse serves Californian-Latin American cuisine. Nepenthe Restaurant is in the former home of Orson Welles and is 800ft above the Pacific with fabulous views.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cooking classes
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu


  • Begin your day by birding on your private deck - binoculars are provided. Expect to see Turkey Vulture, White-crowned Sparrow, Western Scrub-jay and deer grazing. The California Condor is worth looking out for - Big Sur is one of only 3 places on the planet you can see them

  • Then enjoy complimentary yoga at 8.30am - daily apart from Tuesdays which has meditation instead; Sunday mornings also have Tai Chi. There's also a gym and heated lap pool for a morning workout

  • Guided Nature Hikes are every Monday and Thursday at 10am; you can also explore these beautiful 100 acres yourself - follow the signs marked Billy's Trail

  • Hike the Santa Lucia and Ventana mountains led by a PRI hiking guide - or take yourself to Partington Cove to find a smuggler's tunnel and otters swimming off the rocks

  • Visit Big Sur's world-famous retreat centre, Esalen Institute, established in 1962 next to hot springs for the pursuit of 'humanistic alternative education'

  • There are art galleries to browse along the Highway (the sculptures on site are from the Hawthorne Gallery), and the Henry Miller Library which houses the author's best known work

  • The state parks are wonderful: ford the Big Sur river at Andrew Molera through flower-filled meadows to a glorious beach (Andrew Molera also has horse riding); Pfeiffer Big Sur has great hiking through redwoods; Julia Pfeiffer Burns has mixed woods and an 80-foot waterfall which crashes onto a perfect horseshoe beach

  • The nicest beach is Pfeiffer Beach - it gets very busy so get there early to avoid a queue to get into the car park

  • Just outside the Big Sur region, in Monterey, about 50km north, you can take boat trips, play golf, go cycling, fishing, sailing, scuba diving, (wind) surfing, kayaking and play tennis, as well as visit John Steinbeck's famous Cannery Row, and the excellent aquarium; or go wine tasting in the Carmel valley

  • Return to Post Ranch Inn to watch gray whales from the infinity-edged basking pools - choose from Jade or Meditation, both kept at 104ºF. Note that in season (late winter through spring) a naturalist will join you for Mimosas and Whales on the restaurant terrace during breakfast to talk about whales

  • Relax in the spa, which has a big menu of massage (therapeutic, aromatherapy and Thai among others), body treatments - I liked the sound of Big Sur Jade Stone Therapy, which uses local jade and basalt - body wraps, exfoliation, facials, craniosacral, reflexology and Reiki

  • If this isn't hippy dippy enough, try one of the following: shaman sessions, illumination, crystal therapy, soul or destiny retrieval, fire ceremony or a drum journey

  • End your day in the company of the astronomer and his telescope; the isolation means little light pollution and a fabulous celestial panoply - every night except Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Alternative therapies
  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Stargazing
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Well being
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife
  • Windsurfing
  • Wine tasting
  • Yoga


This is an adults only retreat (no under 18s). And frankly, why not? I couldn't wait to leave mine at home to be here.

Kid Friendly: Bobcat

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