Cruise up California’s central coast in Rolls-Royce’s confident new convertible
Highway 1 is one of the few places in America you can drive within yards of the ocean’s edge for hours at a time. And if you’re planning to glide through Big Sur, the breathtaking 75-mile stretch along the state’s central coast, you’ll want to draw in as much of the experience as possible. It’s convertible country.
The 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn is the carmaker’s first new droptop in decades. At $339,850, it has space for four, a generous trunk, a silkysmooth transmission, and enough Canadel paneling to outfit a yacht. Top speed is 155 miles per hour, and the 6.6-liter V12 engine will hit 62 mph in a respectable 4.9 seconds. With the roof up, the cabin is cocooned in quiet and security; the massive brakes are firm like a vise. With the top down, you feel free. Forget gliding—you’re going to fly.
Start your trip in leafy, manicured Santa Barbara and drive northwest past the perplexing hulk of Hearst Castle up in the hills near San Simeon. Ocean breezes toss wild orchids and chaparral alongside the road, while far below, you can spot elephant seals sunning themselves on spits of sand. The bright blue water, marbled by strings of white surf, makes a lovely, slow-moving backdrop.
On my last trip, I stopped for a break at the Whale Watchers Cafe in Gorda, a tiny outpost with good iced coffee (and, yes, whale watching). Recharge there, then drive 40 minutes farther up the coast to the Esalen Institute (esalen.org), the historic retreat renowned for its alternative education workshops and the healing powers of its hot spring baths. A visit to nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (parks.ca.gov), where winding footpaths lead you down to quiet ocean coves, is also worth an hour.
Put the car’s precise handling to the test along the second half of the journey— that’s where you’ll find the most hairpin turns and steep inclines. In some spots, you’ll need to slow down as a precaution, and that’s fine, because you’ll want to admire the view. Be aware:
Other travelers tend to make sudden sightseeing stops along Highway 1. By the end of the day you’ll probably be one of them.
The Post Ranch Inn (postranchinn.com), a 100-acre resort perched on a waterside cliff deep in Big Sur, is the perfect place to end your trek. The famously exclusive spa, where rooms start at $825 a night, is a magnet for Hollywood executives and Silicon Valley types. Some cozy suites occupy cantilevered houses on the bluff’s edge; the wait list for these can stretch to longer than a year. A ninecourse tasting menu at the hotel’s Sierra Mar restaurant features local ingredients such as Monterey Bay squid and desserts flavored with California bay laurel.
Give yourself the better part of a day to do this trip, and you’ll reach Post Ranch just as the sun dips below the horizon. As you pull up to the warmly lit inn, the last of the sunlight will be fighting against the area’s trademark mist, lighting up rocks and trees in alternating grays and greens.
Your farm-fresh dinner— and a cocktail—await. Just remember to put the top up on the car before heading inside.