How the Industry Is Dealing With Big Sur Closures From February Storms
Iconic retreat Ventana Inn & Spa has temporarily closed, while Post Ranch Inn will soon begin offering helicopter transportation to its property.
California's severe February storms did more than stress out awards show producers — they led to severe flooding and the crumbling and closure on Feb. 15 of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on Highway 1, which previously connected the two sections of Big Sur, one of Hollywood’s most beloved getaways. It has left iconic retreats unreachable, threatening the town’s critical tourism industry.
Original Henry Miller haunt Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn was damaged so badly that its very existence is now at risk, prompting a GoFundMe effort of $80,000 for repairs to the historic hideaway, more than half of which had been pledged at publication. Although the northern part of the idyllic coastal favorite is accessible — including Big Sur Village; Bixby Bridge, site of a classic Big Sur shot featured in Big Little Lies; and wildflower- and calla lily-carpeted Garrapata on the west side of Highway 1 — it doesn’t make up for the closures of the most sought-after southern destinations. (A just-finished foot trail, open during daylight hours, connects the two parts.)
Angelenos were surprised to receive emails from the legendary Post Ranch Inn that their trips would need to be rescheduled. Indeed, the temporary shutter of the exclusive, incredibly private property — where Anne Hathaway, Daniel Craig, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jack Black have spent time — is the biggest blow dealt by the bridge collapse. "We have been going to Post Ranch Inn pretty much since it first opened around 25 years ago," says film producer Robert Bloomingdale, who loves the ultra private rooms, beautiful views and romantic setting. "Of course it will survive the road closure as it has in the past," he says.
"We have reservations coming up in early May and they sent an email saying they think the road will be open by then," says Bloomingdale, adding that if he and his wife can’t reach it, they will go to Santa Barbara's Four Seasons The Biltmore (from $895/night). In fact, the Post Ranch now is planning to reopen Thursday, bringing guests directly to the property by scenic helicopter flight from the Monterey Regional Airport; heli flights from San Francisco and L.A. are in the works, too. (The "Escape Through the Skies" package, available for stays of two or more nights through May, is $1225/night plus $500 per couple, which includes helicopter transportation plus daily breakfast, light lunch and four-course dinner at Sierra Mar.)
The dreamy Ventana Inn & Spa — where Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied were married, as were billionaire Sean Parker and Alexandra Lenas — is another temporary loss for Hollywood. "Due to storm damage both south and north of Ventana on Highway 1, [the property] is temporarily closed," says GM Catherine Becker. "We are taking direction from Caltrans on the repair schedule and the road’s estimated reopening." For its part, Caltrans has announced the new bridge will be open Sept. 30.
Despite these setbacks, "Big Sur isn’t a big enough market to create a real spike elsewhere," says Tiffany Bowne of All Star Travel Group, whose clients include award-winning and A-list television producers, actors and entertainment executives. Her clients’ current coastal itineraries are still centering on the area and simply include more time in Carmel, Monterey, Pebble Beach and up north to San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. "The Big Sur vista views are iconic California, so missing that piece does affect those trips," she acknowledges. Still, "When speaking to other Southern California properties, most don’t realize there is an issue that severe at Big Sur and aren’t noticing any spikes."
Big Little Lies, shot entirely in Big Sur, Monterey and Carmel, made the region look especially alluring. "Monterey is one of the more beautiful areas in the world," says show executive producer Gregg Fienberg, "and probably the most beautiful spot on the California coastline." Ventana’s sister property 20 miles north, Carmel Valley Ranch — where Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Mel Gibson, Minnie Driver and Billie Lourd have all stayed — is the top accommodation there (prices from $425/night). Becker says some Ventana guests have already rebooked there.
Meanwhile, Bowne has been adding The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and The Lodge at Pebble Beach to itineraries, and she’s advocating for the Oregon Coast as a Big Sur alternative, specifically the five-star Allison Inn in the Willamette wine country, where prices are $405 and up. Though not in the state, Bowne says Utah’s Amangiri (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie once vacationed there and DiCaprio and Portman are rumored to have stayed at the resort, where rooms start at $2,000) offers the same extraordinary experience with exceptional service and ultimate privacy as Post Ranch Inn and Ventana.
Esalen Institute, the hippie haven first popularized by Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac in the 1960s (and revived by Mad Men; more recent visitors include the likes of Orlando Bloom and Penelope Cruz) is planning to reopen June 9, "based on the assumption that the public will have reliable access to the south of us from Highway 1," according to a communications rep. When it’s back in business — for workshops, meditation and unstructured visits to the farm, garden and baths — Esalen will offer a shuttle service to guests landing at Monterey Regional Airport (rooms range from $405 to $1405, including workshops). In the meantime, devoted yogis can escape Hollywood at industry-friendly, wellness-oriented favorites closer to home: Selma Blair’s favorite The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu, the Chopra Center in Carlsbad and Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (rooms start at $349), where Drew Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson have been guests.