Truly unique by any standard, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn provides a visceral look into the history of California. The establishment dates back to a tent beside Castro Canyon Creek in the 1930s.
At that time, Helmuth and Helen Haight Deetjen were living there while constructing a barn with reclaimed materials from Cannery Row in Monterey to the north. Upon completion, they began inviting travelers to stay there, even before SR 1 opened in 1937.
Over the years, they constructed more buildings and converted the main building to a restaurant. Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn became a stopover point for many visitors, including such notables as Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Peter Sellers, John Denver, and Joan Baez.
In 1990, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Today, it continues to offer an experience as close to the Big Sur of the 1930s as is possible in 2023.
Thick coastal fog created an air of mystique (or mist-ique) during my visit to Deetjen’s historical coastal outpost. Moody, obscured roads, punctuated with brief flashes of sunlight through a dark canopy of coastal redwoods eventually led to the semi-paved entrance.
The rustic sign was the first hint of the nature of the place. Some uncertainty crept in after I pulled my check-in instructions out of the drop box outside the reception.
First, there was no key. Second, after finding the room, my initial impression was that I shouldn’t go in, due to the highly “original” nature of everything making it feel like one of those roped-off “Do Not Enter” areas at a historical site.
As it turns out, I was half correct. Although I could enter, this was indeed a decidedly historical building.
The lack of door locks, heat provided by a wood-burning stove, and furniture of unknown age all bolstered the feeling that I’d just walked through a time portal and traveled back in time multiple decades.
Only the creaking of the hand-built wood floor accompanied the dim forest light pouring in through the curtained windows. Looking into the trees from the window opposite the two-part doorway provided a view that has remained virtually the same since the 1930s, with only a short span of a bridge on SR 1 interrupting the scene.
Other guests arrived later in the evening, and stayed in the small second-story room. The sound of the wooden structures under footfalls must be similar to the sound of an old ship. Ironically, the overwhelming tranquility of the place overcame any “rustic” details and resulted in arguably the best sleep I’d had in a week’s worth of traveling.
- Scenic, authentic Big Sur experience
- Located directly on SR 1
- Park directly in front of the room
- Easy contactless check-in and check-out (and no key to worry about)
- Authentic vintage environment, including a wood-burning stove
- Free coffee available in the mornings
- Bixby Bridge
- Cannery Row
- SR 1
- McWay Falls
- Andrew Molera State Beach
Even with the closure of SR 1 at Lucia to the south, all businesses up to that point remain open and the road remains the world-class drive it is known as. Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn is positioned in the heart of this most beautiful stretch of pavement, and postcard views are available in any direction on foot or behind the handlebar.
The famous Bixby Bridge to the north is worth a stop to take in the view to the beach below. At the north end of the bridge, the Old Coast Rd begins its unpaved journey south, until reconnecting again with SR 1 at Andrew Molera.
Like several roads in the Big Sur region, this unpaved option is closed for repairs at the time of writing.
$130-$435 / night
48865 CA-1, Big Sur, CA, (831) 667-2377