A car will come in handy for cruising down the coast. The curvy, cliff-edge Highway One is breathtaking and beautiful - you'll want to stop often, so it's a good idea to be in charge of your own vehicle. The region is roughly 130 miles south of San Francisco, and 300 miles north of Los Angeles.
The region's main hub is in Monterey. United Airlines (www.united.com) fly from San Francisco; American Eagle (www.aa.com) will get you there from Los Angeles. If you're coming here to drive, aim for an international airport in LA or San Francisco and then pick up a hire car.
There's an Amtrak-served station in Salinas, which will hook you up with Napa, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego (www.amtrak.com).
Country code for the US: +1. Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey: 831.
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac; anything by Henry Miller; Down to a Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck; Day Hikes Around Big Sur: 80 Great Hikes by Robert Stone.
Do go / Don't Go
In summer, it can be foggy in the morning, though this usually clears by afternoon. Beware of tailback traffic, which might spoil your ocean drive, between Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September). For the clearest views, opt for spring or autumn. Remember, the elevated coastal position means it can get quite cold, even for California.
All produce in this land of the healthy is locally grown and organic, with fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance and excellent quality meat and fish. Watch out for Latin American and Mexican influences in the cuisine, such as the double-fried plantain chips you'll get in roadside cafés.
There aren't many streets you'd walk along flagging down a cab - it's far wiser to ask the hotel to book one for you. In Carmel, call +1 831 624 3885.
20 per cent for food and at least 10 per cent for everything else.
US dollar ($).
The beach is always a hike away, so discard your flipflops in favour of sturdy shoes; you'll be grateful for a windbreaker once the waves start crashing in.
Big Sur's literary hero, Henry Miller, has a memorial library in his honour, with a sculpture garden outside (www.henrymiller.org). During the summer, there are live music, poetry, circus and art events. Small art galleries dot the coast - call in at the Hawthorne Gallery for contemporary paintings and metal masterpieces (+1 831 667 3200; www.hawthornegallery.com) and Local Color for arts and handicrafts (+ 831 667 0481; www.bigsurlocalcolor.com).
This region of elite estates is home to William Randolph Hearst's 165-room mega mansion, Hearst Castle. Built on Mr Citizen Kane's wealthy whim in the 1920s, it's a palatial pastiche styled on all of Hearst's favourite European buildings.
Nature beats man-made every time in Big Sur, but if you do fancy some splurging, head to Carmel, a town where chains and franchises are banned, to browse its unique boutiques. Fill your pockets with Big Sur jade, a traditional charm against kidney disease, at the Big Sur Jade Company (www.bigsurjadeco.com).
The hairpin highway has jaw-dropping views as you wind your way along the cliff's edge, but the particularly windy Hurricane Point will feel like you're standing on top of the world as you look down to the blue waters and try to calm them.
Wrap up in windbreakers then go along to spot the huge elephant seals on the beach at the Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of Hearst Castle.
June Snoop around some of Big Sur's prettiest private grounds during the Hidden Gardens tour for horticulturalists (http://bigsurarts.org/hiddengardens). October Don your sneakers and run your way through the redwoods on the Big Sur River Run (www.bigsurriverrun.org); celebrate the ocean-washed green rock with arts, crafts and free music at the Big Sur Jade Festival (www.bigsurjadefest.com). December-March Stand by the roadside and watch for whales as the mass migration takes place.