Checking In and Checking Out

Check In and Chill Out at Glen Oaks Big Sur, Where the Real California Is Thriving

by Jesse Oxfeld
Glen All photos courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur.

Big Sur, central California's rugged coastal gem, has unbeatable views, limited development, and holdout old-school hippie vibes. Want your taste of this groovy place? Motor on over to Glen Oaks Big Sur.

BIG SUR, California – There are many reasons Big Sur, on the California coast, is a magical place, and the awe-inspiring, unspoiled vistas are just some of them. It is also, to the California romanticist, a slice of a Golden State long gone, a largely undeveloped, slightly off-kilter spot with wood-paneled buildings, indoor-outdoor living, and a certain relaxed, groovy vibe. It’s a window onto a time when people came west to reinvent themselves, not through apps and equity grants but with open spaces and free thinking.

Perhaps because of its remoteness or its otherworldliness — or perhaps just because of some really, really stringent real estate regulations — Big Sur continues to feel not just a place physically apart but also a place out of time. There is essentially no new development here, none of the modern chain stores. You buy (absurdly expensive) gas from a couple of pumps in a front of a general store that may or may not also rent cabins and/or serve dinner. The zoning-enforced Mayberryness is adorable, for a few days of a visit, but it also makes for some interesting hotel stock. There are two spectacularly opulent mini-resorts in Big Sur (it’s an eco-friendly sort of opulence, of course), Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Big Sur. There is one been-there-forever, stolid post-and-beam hotel, Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. And there are roadside motels or cabin colonies that appear to have been unchanged, and perhaps uncleaned, in decades.

Then there is Glen Oaks Big Sur.

For about 50 years starting in the middle of the last century, Glen Oaks was just another of those unchanged-and-untouched roadside motels. Then new ownership purchased the place in 2005. And did what any modern hotelier does with a well-situated, good-bones old property: They turned it into a cute, boutique spot.

Today, Glen Oaks comprises sixteen “adobe motor lodge” rooms in four buildings on the east side of Highway 1, in the lush Big Sur River Valley. Their restaurant, Big Sur Roadhouse, is just across the across the highway, in the thick of a giant redwood grove, surrounded by a dozen cabins and a gorgeous, modernist two-bedroom house. Whether motel or cabin, these places are exactly what you’re looking for: well-designed, vaguely woodsy, neo-retro modernism. Glen Oaks is the perfect place to dip into a few days of midcentury California.

Book It

In the winter, rates can run as low as $225 on weeknights and $255 for weekends for a perfectly nice queen room in the motor lodge. (Through most of the year, those rooms start at $300.) Larger rooms cost somewhat more. Cabins start at $340 per night in the off-season and $400 the rest of the year, and run into the $500s or $600s, depending on time of year. The house is $1,800 per night year round. Weekends require a two-night stay, and the house is always a two-night minimum. Coffee and doughnuts at the Roadhouse are included, and there are complimentary s’mores supplies for each room. Cabins have their own fire pits; the motor lodge rooms share one. Click here to book, or contact the Fathom Travel Concierge if you want us to arrange the whole trip.

It’s a window onto a time when people came west to reinvent themselves, not through apps and equity grants but with open spaces and free thinking.

Checking In

Big Sur is echt California, with unbeatable views, limited development, and some holdout old-school hippie vibes. Glen Oaks is about 15 minutes south of Highway 1’s iconic Bixby Bridge and just north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, with camping and plenty of hiking. You’ll want to get into your rented convertible and cruise up and down Highway 1 as much as you can.

Hotel Style
Stylish, midcentury quasi-rustic. The furniture has clean lines, the beds have Pendleton blankets, and the bathrooms have heated floors.

This Place Is Perfect For
Big Sur visitors with high standards but not unlimited bank accounts. (The biggest spenders will want to stay just down the road.)

But Not So Perfect For
Those who can’t make their own entertainment. Rooms don’t have TVs, and cell service is spotty. If you’re happy with nature, views, and a book, you’re set.

What's on Site
Big Sur Roadhouse serves breakfast and lunch. The Big Sur river runs through the property, and there’s a small beach and swimming hole. Nighttime is for fires and s’mores. But Big Sur is sprawled up and down Highway 1. You’ll need to hop in the car for dinner, for hikes, and for Pacific views.

Number of Rooms
Glen Oaks Big Sur has 31 rooms and cabins. Each has a gas fireplace or stove and a bathroom with a heated floor. Cabins have their own firepits; motor lodge rooms share one.

In-Room Amenities
The usual: bath products, a speaker for your iPhone. The less usual: s’mores supplies and spare Pendleton blankets. And in the cabins, mini-kitchens. The Big Sur: copies of Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch and a deck of “yoga cards.”

The walls of the motor lodge are thin. The Roadhouse isn’t open at night.

Standout Detail
The standout detail in Big Sur is always Big Sur. At Glen Oaks, you can experience it from a stylish but affordable hotel.

Checking Out

Glen Oaks is in the northern part of Big Sur, 45 minutes south of Monterey and 15 minutes south of the Bixby Bridge. Most of the spots to visit in town are within a few miles south: hiking at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, great pastries at Big Sur Bakery, fine dining at the luxury hotels Post Ranch Inn and Venana Big Sur, burgers and drinks at Nepenthe, the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Esalen, the New Age institute where Don Draper dreamed up his Coke ad and there are nightly 1 a.m. clothing-optional, hot-springs baths, is about a half hour further down Highway 1. And Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, is another hour past that.

What to Do Nearby
Nature, man. And those hot springs.

Good to Know
Big Sur can feel relaxed and back-to-the-earth, but it isn’t cheap. Partially that’s because it’s far away from everything, and partially because there are a lot of luxury destinations here. But everything from gas to meals will be pricey.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
Big Sur is perched on the Pacific Coast, about 45 minutes down Highway 1 from Monterey. The closest major airport is in San Jose International Airport (SJC), about an hour north. From San Francisco’s airport, Glen Oaks is a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Getting Around
You’ll need a car. And you’ll want it to be a convertible.

Keep Exploring the Good Vibes in Big Sur

Fathom's Big Sur Guide
The 9 Best Places to Visit in Big Sur
California Hippie Chic Is at Its Best at the New Ventana Big Sur

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.