Eat: Start your day with a tasty pastry at locals’ favorite Big Sur Bakery. Enjoy a chocolate or ham-and-cheese croissant, and then wash it down with coffee from beans roasted in the Santa Cruz Mountains. For lunch or dinner, Nepenthe is a Big Sur staple for tourists and residents alike. It’s also a common point of reference when you ask for directions. Outside the restaurant, grab a seat on the umbrella-covered patio, chow down, and be on the lookout for those big, hungry birds!
Sleep: Big Sur is among the world’s most beautiful places to pitch a tent. The problem: Everyone knows it. Campground reservations often fill months in advance. Though it’s not immune to crowds or filling-up, Andrew Molera State Park is your best bet for an eleventh-hour trip because you have to walk a third of a mile (a deterrent for many) to the 24 tent sites, and it doesn’t take reservations. The campground is also a short hike from a two-mile-long beach, hiking trails, and oceanside horseback riding through Molera Horseback Tours. If you prefer camping under the redwoods, then try your luck at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. This is a reservation campground that fills quickly, but with 218 spots, there are bound to be cancellations and no-shows. Just get there early or call ahead—and you might luck into a spot on the Big Sur River. (Dogs are not allowed at Andrew Molera campground, but they are allowed at Pfeiffer Big Sur campground. Currently the water is not potable at Andrew Molera, so bring your own.)
If you’re Big Sur–bound on Friday after work, it’s probably best to spend the night in Monterey, where there are loads of hotels. Get up early Saturday, and arrive between 9 and 10 a.m. to claim a camping spot. And if you don’t want to pitch a tent, you can try calling the Big Sur Lodge (831-667-3100) in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the Big Sur River Inn (831-667-2700), or the Ripplewood Resort (831-667-2242). They all have a 72-hour cancellation period, so call on Wednesday morning and see if anything has opened up.