You don’t need to be a guest at the gorgeous Ventana to enjoy a fine gourmet dinner at Cielo (Hwy. 1, 831/667-4242, www.ventanainn.com/dining.aspx , daily noon–3:30 p.m., 6–9 p.m., $28–38). The spacious dining room boasts a warm wood fire, an open kitchen, and comfortable banquettes with plenty of throw pillows to lounge against as you peruse the menu.
If you’re visiting for lunch or an early supper on a sunny day, be sure to request a table outside so you can enjoy the stunning views with your meal. The inside dining room has great views from the bay windows too, along with pristine white tablecloths and pretty light wooden furniture.
Even with such a setting as Cielo has, the real star at this restaurant is the cuisine. The chef offers a daily-changing spread of haute California cuisine dishes, many of which feature organic or homegrown produce and local meats. To go with the seascape theme, Cielo’s menu is heavy on sustainable seafood offerings.
Be sure to tell your server if you’re a vegetarian or have other dietary limitations—the chefs can whip up something special just for you.
The best value at Cielo is the prix fixe menu, from which you can choose several courses. If you can possibly afford it, get the wine pairing with each course, and be sure to save room for dessert.
When you dine at Nepenthe (48510 Hwy. 1, 831/667-2345, www.nepenthebigsur.com , daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., $30), be sure to ask for a table outdoors on even the partly sunny days. That way you get to enjoy both your Ambrosiaburger and the phenomenal cliff-top views. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers a short but tasty menu of meats, fish, and plenty of vegetarian dishes.
Outside, the seasonal Café Kevah at Nepenthe (breakfast and lunch Mar.–Jan., $10–12) patio offers a similar sampling at slightly lower prices. Just remember to keep munching on your Benedict or sandwich as you drape your arms over the wrought-iron railing and stare out into the mesmerizing blue-gray of the Pacific below and beyond you.
The Sierra Mar (47900 Hwy. 1, 831/667-2800, www.postranchinn.com , daily 8–10:30 a.m., noon–3 p.m., and 3–9 p.m., $100) restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn offers a decadent four-course prix fixe dinner menu in a stunning ocean-view setting. Lunch and snacks are served all through the afternoon to casual travelers, but expect to put on the ritz for a formal, white-tablecloth dining experience at this over-the-top-of-upscale restaurant.