Big Sur, June 2021

Angela and I recently took our first vacation since last February when we visited Singapore (during the time when no one knew just how serious the pandemic would become). We drove from Las Vegas to California, visited some friends, and then spent the night close to the ocean in Santa Barbara and at an all-inclusive property in the middle of Big Sur.

After dropping Fitz at Camp Bow Wow, we set off for Ventura, CA to visit our friends. After a few hours of chatting about the pandemic and what comes next, we dined at Two Trees Restaurant And Taps where Angela and I enjoyed some delicious tacos as the afternoon wound down. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a group photo for me to post here, but I did snap a picture of our friends’ sweet dog, Ripley, whom Angela played fetched with for about an hour.

After parting ways with our friends, we made the short drive to Santa Barbara, CA where we checked in to the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. I booked us a standard room for one night from Angela’s Hilton Honors account for 80,000 points. On check-in they said we were upgraded because of Angela’s Diamond status, but I’m fairly certain we were not as we ended up in a resort view room that seems to be the default on their website. At check-in, you get vouchers for a glass of wine at the bar per person (either Chardonnay or Cabernet), two bottles of water, additional vouchers for two bottles of water per day you’re staying, and a map. Check-in was friendly but somewhat rushed because they seem to be understaffed. Parking is $30 per night. For breakfast, Gold and Diamond elite members get a $15 credit per person towards your meal. I am fairly certain this stays the same with the changes Hilton has put in place to the Hilton Honors Daily Food & Beverage Credit.

The property has both Tesla destination chargers and other electric vehicle chargers on site that are included as part of the parking fee. The room was relatively large, especially for a standard room, with a couch, desk, coffee table, king bed, and balcony. We didn’t spend much time there as we parked our bags and then went out and walked along the ocean on our lone night in town. The bed was adequate, but not great, with the pillows being extremely flat. I do have to say that the location is superb, especially after being away from the water for so long.

Breakfast tasted good, but our bill was $34 after adding tip and subtracting the credit for two coffees and two omelets – it is likely not a great value proposition to eat breakfast on property, but we were happy to get some food in our stomachs before getting a workout in. The gym on site is fairly good and I’m glad we were able to make use of it. There are the usual cardio machines, two Peloton bikes, dumbbells up to fifty pounds, a leg press, and a linked set of cable machines. Angela absolutely crushed her lift after downing eight cups of coffee.

Overall, the Hilton Beachfront Resort is a great hotel for the location and, if we spent more time there, we’d have taken advantage of the complimentary bike rental to cruise up into downtown Santa Barbara or something, but it is hard to justify the cost (in either points or cash) based on the property itself. It was awesome to be so close to the ocean, although you’re not “on” the beach, exactly.

We left Santa Barbara and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Ventana Big Sur. The drive was absolutely gorgeous as we wound along the coastline.

At Ventana Big Sur, I booked a standard room for three nights at 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night. We were upgraded to a Superior Fireplace Guest Room in spite of the fact that I do not have any meaningful Hyatt status. There is a Tesla Supercharger on site so we knew our car would be fully charged when we left. The check-in experience was extremely friendly and they even offered us welcome drinks as we finalized everything. Our rewards booking was all-inclusive which meant everything except alcohol was included as part of the stay, even gratuities. That might explain why I look so happy in the following picture.

The room we were upgraded to was awesome with a huge soaking tub, walk-in shower, fireplace, small dining area, a desk, and a private(ish) balcony with two chairs and a table looking directly out into the woods behind the property. The bed is huge and incredibly comfortable with four feather pillows by default, although you can order foam pillows if you prefer.

When you check in they ask you for your phone number and text you a short time after you get to your room. You can text the concierge at any time and ask for what you want. I ordered cookies and milk at 10:30PM one night because I thought it would be nice and they showed up about five minutes later so I could enjoy mine by the fireplace.

The food was uniformly great, although there were some items that I didn’t really enjoy that much. The apple goat cheese tart was a little too goat cheese-y for my tastes and the French toast at breakfast was delicious, but much sweeter than I expected with a ton of sugar on it. Alcohol is expensive. Angela ordered two drinks during our stay and it came out to $47. Be prepared for a sticker shock if you’re planning to booze it up. The flat iron steak with chimichurri was amazing and the mashed avocado toast with eggs for breakfast was superb. There is a 1/2 mile roundtrip walk from the rooms to the restaurant, but you can request a cart if that’s not something you’re able or willing to do. One night we got to walk alongside some deer on the way back from dinner. Here are some views from the restaurant at various times during our stay and the deer that we hung out with for a few minutes.

There is a single hiking loop on the property that is about a mile long. It was an enjoyable little walk and we ended up taking an unintended detour down a steep offshoot, over a fallen tree, and into the Ventana campgrounds. As we were coming back up, we noticed that the hiking tour was passing the location we intended to rejoin the trail so we stood and waited for them to leave (which you can see in the second photo of the following group and is why Angela has a very peculiar expression). We skipped the gym in Big Sur because it was tiny with dumbbells up to 30 pounds and very few other strength equipment pieces. We didn’t visit the pools or spas because we have those at home and we were spending most of our time just relaxing either in the meadow overlooking the ocean, on our balcony, or in front of our fireplace (which we made ample use of).

We were unprepared for a cold front that came in on our first night so we drove up to Monterey to buy some pullovers and, even though it seemed improbable, that was an even more beautiful drive than from Santa Barbara to Big Sur. It is relatively short, taking only forty minutes each way. Throughout our stay the weather swung wildly from cold (for us) to temperate.

On the day we drove home, we stopped in Paso Robles to charge and enjoyed some tasty burgers at Bronco Burgers, which I would recommend if you’re in the area and want to take a walk while your car is charging.

Overall, I would wholeheartedly recommend Ventana Big Sur but would likely not advise staying for more than three nights if you’re prone to becoming stir-crazy. I do think that we will be returning next year for another vacation, though, and I look forward to possibly booking one of the standard or premium suites and actually exploring the Big Sur area state parks.

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