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Jamal Hammadi


Taking A Break In Big Sur (PHOTOS)

Posted: 08/23/2012 7:00 am

Big Sur is a place that I go often to reflect, to breathe the air. When I find myself off balance, or even slightly out of tune with the world around me, I just jump in my car and head north.

I become centered as soon as I'm driving up the coast.

Big Sur is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It is spectacular. And each time I drive up it is a fresh adventure, a new beach to check out. I just fell in love with Fess Parker Inn in Santa Ynez, which is a great place to stop for breakfast. Try their homemade Greek yogurt and granola, it's the best ever! All the vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley are worth their own day's adventure but it can be a great spot for lunch and maybe one wine tasting, just to enjoy the beauty of the area.

One of my all time favorite hikes is up behind the Ventana Inn in Big Sur. Drive up Coast Ridge Road, behind Ventana and just park and walk along the road until you find the trail head. The flowers and views are so gorgeous, and you might even come across an enclave of butterflies. After a big hike, I have to stop by the Big Sur Bakery for an organic latte and to pick out one of their wonderful homemade jams.

It's remarkable to think I've traveled only a few hours from my home and seen so much beauty and such different geography... that really makes me a proud Californian. I often think with our busy schedules and harried lives that we don't realize what is in our own back yard. We are constantly traveling somewhere else to relax instead of taking advantage of all the homegrown beauty that is so close to us. I travel so much for my work, that getting in my car and exploring all that my home state has to offer is so appealing, so liberating! And no place is more peaceful and rejuvenating than Big Sur.

This year has been particularly travel heavy for me and all I would think about while boarding a plane for yet another long flight was just getting in my car and driving to Tassajara in Carmel Valley. Tassajara Road is so beautiful in and of itself, particularly in the early morning or when the sun is setting, it is spectacular to see.

Tassajara is an incredible place where there are stunning hot springs deep inside the heart of the mountains. It's actually a Buddhist monastery school but from April to September it is open for guests. They have Zen meditation and retreats about Buddhism, Qigong or Zen in the Workplace (who doesn't need that), so much to offer! It's my spiritual heaven. It's where I can hear myself and listen, I don't have to talk. The trails, the hikes, the baths along the stream, the natural hot springs all heal me. It is as simple as that. I want to be a conscious human being and Tassajara is a place for some guidance through life by breathing and observing without judgement. And I have to mention the wonderful bread that they serve with every meal, they're famous for it!

I often go to Esalen in Big Sur. Great food, and incredible workshops on everything from Enneagrams to Improvising Our Lives, it's amazing what they have to offer. They have wonderful hot tubs, that are fed from the natural hot springs, that overlook the ocean. I can sit in the hot tub and listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs below. For me, this is heaven. And it reminds me of the Mediterranean, where I also feel very rejuvenated. My family is from the Mediterranean and I believe that our heredity has a lot to do with the places that we feel most comfortable or more centered.

Another place that I love to stay for a night when I feel like splurging, is the Post Ranch Inn. It's also a great spot for lunch. The dining room and patio have absolutely stunning ocean views, and the food is divine. But if you can swing a night there it is almost otherworldly. All the rooms are little cabins either built into a tree or into the side of the cliff. And there are beautiful slate soaking tubs in each room, most with stunning views to look at while you relax in the tub. There's also a very luxurious spa, but I find the beautiful walks, the dramatic views and the morning yoga all that I need to feel completely revived.

Whatever may be the cause -- the air, the beaches, the views, the hot springs or heredity -- the fact is I find myself the most grounded in Big Sur.

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  • The Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. California Living! July 30th, 2012... The start of my journey to Big Sur.

  • Another gorgeous California moment driving up the PCH...

  • Along the way, I always find something beautiful that inspires me...

  • This is just off Highway154 as you enter into Pismo Beach. Love all the signs! There are great thrift stores here, too so check them out.

  • I discovered this location on the way up north on Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo. These grounds will be a state of the art, super eco-conscious, green beyond green spa and hotel! The food sounds like it will be amazing, too. But we have to wait and see... So, check out Moonshadows Spa sometime in 2013.

  • This room inspires me to use boulders for interior spaces. Moonshadows Spa, under construction. San Luis Obispo.

  • On Highway 1. I love the motorcycles along the way. I imagine the person behind me here thinks I'm HOT and is following me...

  • This was The Piedras Blancas Motel, north of Cambria. It went out of business, sadly. It looks like it would have been an offbeat, fun place to stay for the night.

  • One of my favorite spots along the highway to stop is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. It's just 14 miles north of Cambria. There is a great observation deck to walk along and watch the beautifully funky elephant seals playing on the beach or relaxing in the sun. If you want to see the little babies go during the birthing season which starts in mid December and last until early February.

  • The Visitors Center at the entrance to Hearst Castle, which is a MUST SEE. The place is so big that there are three completely different tours and it takes all day if you go on all of them. One is enough. Even the shuttle ride up to the Castle is worth it the price of admission.

  • I love this spot, I immediately thought of Edward Scissorshands (as I would!). Find it on Highway 1, about 15 minutes north of Hearst Castle.

  • A Zen moment. We all need a few...

  • I love the Northen California beaches... This is Mill Creek Beach, about 25 miles south of Big Sur. Or about 35 miles north of San Simeon, if you coming that way!

  • Beautiful Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur.

  • Henry Miller lived in Big Sur for 20 years and the Henry Miller Library seeks to preserve his legacy. It is also a fabulous performance space hosting musicians from The Arcade Fire to the XX as well as readings by renowned poets and authors. There is also an amazing bookstore. I always check out their calendar before any trip through Big Sur.

  • A beautiful walkway on the grounds of Esalan in Big Sur. Esalen is a MUST. Just to experience the hot spring baths while staring at the stars at night is magical...

  • A hot spring bath with a gorgeous view at Esalen.

  • The view from the baths at Esalen.

  • The morning sunlight slipping through the trees at Esalen.

  • McWay Falls on Julia Pfeiffer Beach is absolutely gorgeous. There is great hiking in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that this beach is in. It's really worth exploring.

  • Gorgeous Carmel Valley. Another reason to love California, just a short drive in from the coast and you find such a dramatically different, equally beautiful landscape.

  • On Tassajara Road in Carmel Valley. I feel like I am in heaven with all the clouds. A trip to Tassajara is an amazing, spiritually grounding experience.

  • Beautiful Tassajara Road.

  • There are natural springs here at Tassajara that are so beautiful and clean. This is the men's side, where there are hot plunges, a steam room, showers and sun decks.

  • I got up super early this morning to watch the sunrise... And here it is reflecting so beautifully through the trees along Tassajara Road.

  • Leaving the Los Padres, saying goodbye to a lovely stay at Tassajara. And starting my journey home...

  • A gorgeous farm in Carmel Valley. Sometimes driving home from up north, I take highway 154 for a couple hours. This route provides an inland perspective and is as equally gorgeous as the coastal drive.

  • A beautiful farm in Carmel Valley.

  • Yet another type of landscape to admire in Carmel Valley. This looks straight of a spaghetti western to me, where's young Clint Eastwood?

  • Just another one of those beautiful coastal California vistas. Lucky cows, right?

  • But after all the driving and exploring, eventually I just want to be home... so, like the window says, LA or Bust!