Nepenthe, Big Sur, California

On the spectacular central California coastline of Big Sur lies a mid-century landmark restaurant that boasts arguably the best views of any restaurant in the world, Nepenthe (a Greek word for an antidepressant; the word was used in Homer’s Odyssey for an ‘anti-sorrow drug’). In 1947 Bill and Lolly Fassett bought a log cabin on the site, which was built by the Coastland Trails Club in 1925. They purchased it from Orson Welles, who bought it in 1944 and planned to live in it with Rita Hayworth (but never did). Henry Miller (the author) and Lynda Sargent rented the cabin until the Fassetts bought it. The Fassetts hired Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect Rowan Maiden (1913-1957) to design a modern restaurant adjacent to the old cabin in the Organic architectural style. Nepenthe opened in 1949, and quickly attracted the attention of many bohemian writers, artists, and celebrities who lived in or visited Big Sur, including Henry Miller, who became a regular customer.

Nepenthe is still thriving, an accessible oasis in an area that unfortunately has been somewhat invaded by over-priced lodging and exclusive spas. Big Sur is still a wonderful  place to visit, but my recommendation is to avoid it during the Summer, book a historic cabin at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn or a campsite in the Fall (Andrew Molera State Park walk-ins are a favorite), or stay nearby in Monterey/Carmel. With the money you save eat at Nepenthe.


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The prices are a bit higher than on this vintage menu reproduction! In fact they are pretty high, but not too expensive considering the setting.


please click on image for legible version

The ‘Ambrosia’ hamburgers are good – a ground beef patty, fresh ground daily by Carmel Meats, cooked over a brazier, on a soft toasted steak roll with Ambrosia sauce (salsa, tomato sauce, and mayo), served with salad and great shoestring fries ($16.50). And after your meal you must try their specialty ‘C & C’ (Chartreuse and Cognac, which isn’t on the menu anymore so you may have to explain it to the waiter). Takes the chill off the night air!

The restaurant is popular, so be ready to wait. Not really a big deal with a beer, glass of wine (the local wines are excellent), or cocktail in your hand as you soak in the view. They have tables both inside the building and outside, which probably have the best views but you don’t get to experience the mid-century architecture as much.

Here’s a home movie that shows Nepenthe in 1956, as well as Deetjen’s, which also still exists.

There is a scene in The Sandpiper (1965) filmed at Nepenthe, which you can see in this video at 4:30. Dig the sixties hippie vibe!

48510 Highway #1, Big Sur, California 93920
(831) 667-2345
Open for lunch daily 11:30a-4:30p, dinner 5pm-10pm everyday except Thanksgiving and Christmas

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