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Isolated Big Sur Businesses Stay Open with Helicopter Access and ‘Island’ Luaus

The massive Mud Creek landslide was the latest blow to tourism

Nepenthe via Facebook

Isolated by the Pfieffer Canyon bridge failure this spring and the massive Mud Creek landslide last weekend, struggling Big Sur businesses are getting creative in order to keep business coming in their doors. With the bridge to the north gone until a replacement arrives in September and a significant portion of Highway 1 to the south now buried under 40 feet of rubble, “a lot of people have come to refer to Big Sur as an island,” says Nepenthe general manager Kirk Gafill.

Gafill estimates about 400 Big Sur residents have access to the Nepenthe property — they’re the regulars, and they make up less than half his usual customer base. The neighboring Post Ranch Inn is getting hit even harder, with about 25 to 40 tourists at a time, Gafill estimates.

In response, The Post Ranch Inn is offering an “Escape Through The Skies” package, flying guests to the hotel via helicopter at rates starting at $4,291 for a 2-night stay.

via the Post Ranch Inn

Meanwhile, Gafill is throwing an “Island Fever” Luau on June 3. It’ll be a “mini-version of Trad’r Vics,” with roast pork, Mai Tais, and grass skirts. Following that, Nepenthe has plans for locals-focused events every week. Last Saturday was a ping pong tournament, held on the table where Big Sur poet laureate Henry Miller was once wont to play.

“We’re spending more money than if we were staying closed — at least in the short term,” Gafill admits. “But in the long term, this is invaluable for us. We know we’re going to have a dramatic resumption of business levels as soon as access is opened.”

Until then, it’s a bit of a throwback. “This is what [Big Sur] was like in the ‘40s and ‘50s, before the area became as popular,” says Gafill: A bit like it was when his grandparents opened Nepenthe, in 1949.