2 Days At Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, California

You don’t always have to know the exact history of a place to feel it. That’s certainly the feeling the moment you pull off the busy but beautiful Highway 1 into Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, perfectly tucked into California’s central coast.

The Deetjen buildings were built by Helmuth Deetjen with his homeland’s traditional Norwegian techniques. Along with his wife Helen, they created this magical refuge amongst the redwoods in the late 1930s, which is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Deetjen property nestles within Castro Canyon, and has been a haven for couples, celebrities, artists, and families since its opening.  It has a loyal clientele, and it’s easy to see why immediately.

My partner TJ and I drove by Deetjen’s once, about 5 years ago, going the scenic route from San Francisco back home to Los Angeles. We made a pact to stay there one day.

The day turned out to be two days for my 34th birthday. It’s become a tradition throughout the years to choose a new place to explore every year, and this year, it was almost Kauai, almost Washington state,  almost New Mexico, almost a lot of places.

I needed a break from my commute down to my photography studio in downtown Los Angeles (80 miles one way), I needed a break from client emails, deadlines, computer screens, studio operations, my dirty house. Not special in that regard, it’s a common problem, especially the self-employed who feel like we’re always working.

Deetjen’s, only 4 hours from my house, seemed the reasonable quick getaway.

I’ll get to the photos and experience. You’ve probably already heard about Deetjen’s and are searching the internet for more photos, which is what I did, too.

There’s a lot of information I won’t repeat in this blog, because there are writers out there that have already done the job perfectly.

First and foremost, Deetjen’s website: http://www.deetjens.com/
Call for reservations.

Secondly, check out Anita Alan’s book “The Deetjen Legacy” (better yet, buy it from the inn when you stay): https://www.amazon.com/Big-Sur-Inn-Deetjen-Legacy/dp/1423600126

And, I’ve found this really lovely article by Anna Journey about the guest journals at Deetjen’s: https://lithub.com/a-close-reading-of-the-greatest-guest-book-in-the-world/

We stayed January 17 and 18th, 2019. It’d been raining heavily for days (much needed here in California), and Highway 1 was shut down due to mudslide precautions, so we drove the extra half hour by way of HWY 101 north to Monterey and circled back down south on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Deetjen’s. On the way back, HWY 1 was open again, and it’s always the more scenic of the two routes.

Be sure to check your drive before you leave. Big Sur has a long history of mudslides and road closures. Deetjen’s was cut off from the outside world back in 2017 for months when mudslides shut down the highway on either side of them (and they lost two of their beautiful buildings during this time: the Creek House and Stokes Building).

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Driving west on HWY 46 toward Paso Robles
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Dropping down south on HWY 1 from Monterey going toward Deetjen’s.

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Arriving at Deetjen’s:
Spencer at the front desk helped us several times throughout our stay. Nothing was too much to ask of him, he went above and beyond (more about him later).

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“I and my wife are here in pursuit of happiness as we exist for good.”
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Standing in the driveway of Deetjen’s.
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Library nook
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The library nook.
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Library nook.
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Library nook

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Inside the main building
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Inside the main building
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Hayloft building
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Property map
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13th room (bottom) and Top Antique. Grandpa’s Room is directly to the right.

Grandpa’s room is a ground level corner room near the entrance of Deetjen’s in “The Row.” There are a few parking spots next to it, and being so close to the road, you’d think it would noisy, but it didn’t bother us. Silent at night, too.

The room is spacious and cosy, and with the addition of a record player and Grandpa Deetjen’s vinyl records, it’s pretty perfect. We made a fire, cracked open the windows to let the smell of redwoods seep into our room, and hunkered down for the rainy evening.

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Outside Grandpa’s room (ground level)

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You might ask why we have an old newspaper: it’s kindling for the fire, but served as good reading material, too.
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Grandpa Deetjen

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Making ourselves at home

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Looking from the alcove (single bed) back into the main bedroom of Grandpa’s room

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View from bed
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Just before check-out (noon!)

Second evening: Castro Cabin:
Grandpa’s room was  incredibly cosy with its record player and wood burning stove,  and we thought we might miss both at Castro Cabin, but we didn’t. The only stand-alone cabin sits at the back of the property down the short track, right at the bridge over Castro Creek. I was expecting a lot of lookie-loo’s since it’s the prime photo spot, but the hedges around the deck kept things private.

We had a full moon and my god: I could get very poetic here, in true Deetjen’s fashion, but I think the photos of this place speak louder:

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Blurry moonlit deck photo

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Full moon

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Early morning

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Looking out the bathroom window

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Dinner:
The first evening, we had dinner reservations at 7p, and we got the prime table next to the fire place. The server was incredibly friendly and upbeat — and thank you for the complimentary birthday champagne!

The second evening, we made reservations just for desert and appetizers. We had a little table next to the front desk, but it was lovely, and Spencer gave us complimentary ice cream of their newest flavors. He hooked us up so much — we’re still not sure what we did to deserve such treatment, but my guess is that they just treat everyone like this. We were over the moon and over-stuffed.

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Breakfast: Both mornings, we sat in the same room, at the same table, and ordered the same thing …. because it was too perfect to change it.

We had met one of the long-returning guests outside our room previously, and he suggested the eggs benedict (he swore it was the best out of the thirty something B&B’s he’d tasted at). It didn’t disappoint (it’s a bit spicy — unexpected and addicting!).

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Other photos from the property:

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13th Room window seat
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Chateau Fiasco
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Chateau Fiasco
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This used to be the Stokes Building. It was damaged during storms in 2017.
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Looking back at the Row

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Castro creek

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Steps up to the Honeymoon room
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The old Stokes Building

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The old Stokes Building
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Taking the road up to the viewpoint bench above Deetjen’s (turn RIGHT at the upper bridge)

Other sites around the area, although we pretty much stuck to Deetjen’s are below. We did drive up about 30 mins north between check-ins to get cell service. There’s wifi at Taphouse, though, which also had great fish tacos.

If you walk up the road behind Deetjen’s, take a right at the upper bridge and follow it up to the viewpoint bench. We woke up early on the morning we had to leave, trying to make the most of our time there before we headed back to the land of bustle and deadlines.

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From the viewpoint above Deetjen’s, looking down on HWY 1
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Some very lucky horses, as seen from HWY 1
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McWay Falls

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Lunch at Big Sur TapHouse
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Loma Vista Gardens

IMG_8072I gotta say, after reading so much about the “Deetjen Magic,” I was a worried it was all hype, but it absolutely is not.

I can imagine it being a very big change to what most guests are used to in 2019 (the rustic non-wifi charm) and maybe it’s other-worldly for them in that regard. It’s like stepping back in time, which I think we need more than ever, to unplug and yet reconnect.

For myself, it felt very familiar, having grown up on a ranch that still has no cell service and only recently solar power (previously on a generator). It also has hints of European flair, which was the perfect combo for someone who feels more at home in the UK than anywhere else. I can’t wait to go back during the spring when the flowers are in full-bloom.

If you have the chance to splurge, do it.

11 thoughts on “2 Days At Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, California

  1. Your article perfectly sums up the feelings, smells and sounds of this most magical place. It was 30 years ago on March 6 that my then significant other and I stayed at Deetjens. I had borrowed a book out of the library that had a picture of the cabin way up high above the Inn
    …not even part of Deetjens property. It looked charming. I made the reservations by phone and when we aarrived we were so happy to stay in the Upper Creek house. It was perfect! As we were still on Eastern Standard time as we were from Ontario Canada we woke very early and went to find the beach. A beautiful drive down Sycamore Canyon Road and we arrived at Pfieffer Beach. We walked enjoying the rough surf crashing against the rocks ..anyway long story short my love proposed to me with a little shell ring he had purchased the day before in Carmel. I lost my hearing for some strange reason! We went back to the Inn for a fabulous Eggs Benedict and Champagne! I even.had one of the resident kitties sitting on.my lap. It was heaven. We have returned many times for breakfast in the last 30 years and are still in love with each other and this most magical place. Thanks for the happy remembrance!

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    1. That’s a wonderful story, Dawn! Except for losing your hearing. Hah! Very strange. Glad to hear you’ve made it a returning trip several times over in the past 30 years. We plan to do that same.

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  2. While stationed at Ft. Ord in 80s, my son, husband, and I would go stay in River House at Deetjen’s for a long weekend. I hope you hiked up to the bench overlooking the Pacific. That view is 5 star rated. I was there recently after the horrific storm took down some giant redwoods and destroyed some cabins. Spirits at Deetjens’s remained high. Very interesting comments from locals about the wonderful silence they enjoyed, not to mention sound of birds when Hwy 1 was closed to traffic for months.

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  3. What a treat to see your photos and writing about Deetjen’s. I was so excited to see how many pictures I could pleasurably scroll through to reminisce about one of my favorite places. When we created our Airbnb, I continually thought of this special place and how I wanted to make my visitors feel as welcome and enchanted as I had felt at Deetjen’s. Thank you so much for this amazing photographic tour. Delightful.

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      1. It’s in Venice, CA. It is nothing like, or anything near the charm, of Big Sur Inn; nevertheless, I had it in my mind to try and emulate the feeling I got when I went to Deetjen’s. Anyway, here it is: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/29465238?s=67&shared_item_type=1&virality_entry_point=1&sharer_id=15640334

        Thank you again for your travel photos and description! We just went t0 Edinburgh and Lake District in June so having fun looking at your other posts.

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  4. Outstanding write up and photographs of the “Deetjen Magic!” My wife & I have returned twice to be subdued by the charms of not only the construction craftsmanship of the cabins, but of the attention to detail the Staff provides to obviously everyone! We like you, make a bee-line to open all windows to let those magnificent redwood smells waif through our room…. and with all the ribald reading in those leather bound guest room registers, who needs TV?? Thank you for allowing da ja vu thoughts to surface once again….I’m looking @ my calendar as I write this!!

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  5. My husband and I spent the second night of our honeymoon at Deetjens, believe it or not Feb. 1960! We can’t remember what cabin we stayed in. The place was not anything like it is today. We remember the people in the “office” being very beatnik (this was pre-hippie times), they had no key for our door, dust bunnies all over our cabin floor and an old chianti wine bottle with a dripping candle on our table! We will be RV traveling up there this month and plan on stopping in to reminisce and maybe have breakfast and take the tour. Loved looking at your beautiful pictures. They got us inspired to venture back!

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