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“Zen meditation & yoga retreat” 5 of 5 bubbles
Review of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

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Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Ranked #2 of 2 Hotels in Carmel Valley
California
Level Contributor
25 reviews
16 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 18 helpful votes
“Zen meditation & yoga retreat”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 10, 2014

Tassajara is amazing and an adventure. The staff was friendly, the facilities were well maintained, the food was exceptional, and the workshops were well planned, with experienced instructors. Guests had been coming there for 20+ years. It's rustic and charming, and a perfect place to either learn or continue one's Zen training and education.

It's owned by San Francisco Zen Center with interesting and educational workshops. The environment is respected and preserved. The food is legendary and they did not falter from its reputation. The guests were of all ages and from various locations of the world.

The volunteer student staff do an excellent job of taking care of the first timers as well as the seasoned veteran. There is no electricity in the cabins or wi-fi service down in this valley, which forced--allowed--me to disconnect with all electronical devices and to truly enjoy nature, the property, the wildlife, the Zen meditation and yoga practices.

It's very comfortable for a single traveler, a couple or a group of friends that are comfortable with the traditions of Zen Buddhism.

My one suggestion is take the staff and website information seriously about driving directly to the property. It's dirt road is narrow, steep and long. The vans (stages) are much better equipped to handle the one plus hour of rugged terrain.

I can't wait to return next year and bring my husband to experience how liberating a week can be without Internet--after one gets over the trauma of the first day away from mobile devices!

Room Tip: If going during cooler nights, get a room with a wood-burning stove. Cabins along the river were gre...
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  • Stayed May 2014, traveled solo
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
4 Thank Sadiejo2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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19 reviews from our community

Traveler rating
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    2
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Rating summary
  • Sleep Quality
    5 of 5 bubbles
  • Location
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
  • Rooms
    4 of 5 bubbles
  • Service
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
  • Value
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
  • Cleanliness
    4.5 of 5 bubbles
Traveler tips help you choose the right room.   Room tips (6)
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Any
English first
McMinnville, Tennessee, United States
Level Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed November 13, 2013

Just what I was expecting, a chance to get away and step aside from all the hustle and bustle of city life. A few days spent in tranquility where you can be by yourself or in company of others if you wish. Beautiful setting and grounds.

Stayed June 2013, traveled solo
Helpful?
3 Thank Alison M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Palo Alto, California
Level Contributor
260 reviews
59 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 213 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed August 13, 2013

We evidently tend to be more discriminating than some travelers, hence the score of 4 stars rather than 5. We also found that the other reviews told us very little factually about Tassajara, so we decided to be somewhat detailed about our experience, in the hope of scoring more of those "Helpful review" votes!

If you've never been here, imagine a Boy Scout camp run in a Club Med style but with an emphasis on Zen austerity. The cabins themselves are Scout-camp quality, many evidently being decades old. Even the few newer, costlier cabins are quite basic, although comfortable. We actually enjoyed the firmness of the beds.

The emphasis here is Zen and it takes many forms. The first step in your ritual purification will be the road in. It took us one-and-a-quarter hours to cover the 14 miles or so to Tassajara. The road was paved once – just once, and decades ago. Today it varies from washboard gravel to hummocky dry dirt with embedded rocks. The road crests at perhaps 5,000 ft and then slowly descends into Tassajara. The last 4-5 miles are downhill and particularly miserable. Our 4-wheel-drive car made it OK, but bottomed-out twice with a clang, and we could smell the brakes smoking. And we were not in a hurry. (Learn to pump the brakes.) The attention required to get to Tassajara safely will entirely occupy your mind to the exclusion of all else; you will become "one with the road", or you will, ahem, become one with the road. There is of course an alternative, the "Stage", which is a big high-clearance 4x4 which shuttles guests in from Jamesburg (which consists of two run-down houses in the middle of nowhere at the end of the initial paved portion of Tassajara Rd), perhaps twice per day. But you pay for the privilege, and we're told it's still bouncy. But you pay a price for true isolation.

Your mind cleared by the drive, you arrive at Tassajara, where you have the further purification of putting your luggage in a handcart and taking it to your cabin yourself. The cabins are basic, having no electricity. There is no cell-phone signal and no WiFi, so you have a good excuse not to call your office.

The meals are held at 9, 1, and 7 and consist of good vegetarian food in sufficient quantities, served communally at big tables in a large dining hall. Everything is informal (except in the ZenDo, the learning center, where modesty is expected). The many "students" onsite prepare the food (and so on), and they eat elsewhere and earlier. Meals are indicated by gongs. The desserts at dinner deserve special mention - someone here really knows how to bake a cake! The home-made bread is also very good.

The guests and students here don't mix much, and everyone minds their own business, except for the conversation at meals. The students tend to be twenty-somethings; the guests tend to be substantially older. There seem to be a lot of psychotherapists vacationing here. We saw only one child; this is not a place for children. There is a small library devoted almost entirely to books on Zen (thousands of them). There is a proper swimming pool for guests, quietly located away from the dining hall.

But the big draw is the hot-springs-fed bath-house. It is divided into 2 sides, male and female, in which bathing is "clothing-optional"; no-one bothers with swimsuits. Each side has a steam room (108F), an outdoor hot tub (100F), and an indoor very-hot-tub (108F). You can walk right down to the stream from the outdoor tub, to cool off, but the stream level is too low for full immersion this year.

Student cleaning crews make the beds after 9 am, that is, when everyone is "supposed to be" at breakfast. However, one day the crew opened our door without knocking first before 9 am and caught us still dressing. This kind of mistake is one reason why we give Tassajara only 4 stars. There are no "Do not disturb" signs here, and here's the most "Club Med" aspect of the place: the doors have no locks. Like the old Club Med's, you trust your neighbors to respect your privacy.

But it is indeed a relaxing place to be. There is little noise besides the mealtime gongs. The quiet will be good for those older travelers who, like us, are sick-and-tired of resorts that insist on playing music everywhere. The atmosphere is isolated - you're deep, deep in a valley here, and the night sky is great for you astronomy buffs, although you might not want to subject your precious instrument to the bumpy drive in. We stayed only for a short while, and left the place wishing that we had had more time there. There is a huge variety of teas available to self-make at an outdoor "bar" at any hour.

For you wildlife buffs, you will see Stellar's jays in the daytime - and Western Spotted skunks at night. You will also experience small crawling flies called midges in the afternoons, when people tend to retreat indoors. Remember, you're way deep in the mountains here! We discovered the trick - don't spray repellent on you clothes or limbs, just rub some on your earlobes and the tip of your nose. Bring bug spray. Bring flip-flops or sandals - the grit on the paths can work its way into shoes. And bring a flashlight for walking at night - the light here is from kerosene lanterns only, and there is a "fire watch" who go from cabin to cabin late at night, making sure that people are still awake in rooms having lit lanterns. Which is only sensible.

We may return – many people here seem to be repeat visitors - but next time we’ll take the “Stage” or rent a HumVee! We have no photos to share, as photos are allowed but discouraged for reasons of privacy. Which is fine by us.

Room Tip: Get the most expensive cabin that you can afford. Preferably beside the creek, which makes a pleasan...
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  • Stayed August 2013, traveled as a couple
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
39 Thank ScienceTrip
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
San Jose, California
Level Contributor
262 reviews
99 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 192 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed August 4, 2012

Can you handle days without cell phone reception? Without internet? Without room service? Neither of these are available at Tassajara, just a single landline, not even outlets in the room. Instead Kerosene lamps at night, gentle bells in the morning, sitting meditation services in the temple, lots of good vegetarian organic food, beautiful hikes in the area, the sound of the creek in the background to fall asleep to... Tassajara is a working monestry, and in order to support the place through the winter, it is open to visitors from mid-spring to mid-fall. Accommodation choices range from relatively basic to quite luxurious. We stayed in the Courtyard, small room, two twin beds (surprisingly thin yet quite comfortable matrass). Other choices are yurts, tatame rooms with futons, or the upscale stone rooms closest to the bath house. All stays here include 3 meals a day, delicious organic vegetarian meals to reward your taste buds. You can join in for an early morning (5:40am) sitting meditation (Zazen) in the temple or one in the evening - however before you attend join a temple tour in the afternoon, to get an idea of what to expect. There are also somewhat more casual Dharma talks on some evenings. The hot springs are certainly a major attraction, with showers (complimentary shower gel / shampoo included) a very hot indoor plunge (110F), an outdoor hot tub (102F), access to the creek to cool down, as well as a steam room. Baths are separated into men's and women's side, after 8:30pm the men's side is open to ladies as well as gentlemen. Baths were never crowded (most encountered were four people at the same time in the facility) - heaven to observe the stars from the hottub in the evening. Food in served at tables of 8, family-style, so you will sit with different neighbors, and interesting conversations are bound to happen. While the monks do not drink or serve alcohol, guests can bring their own wine for dinner, and this is then often shared at the table. Guests range from dedicated 'regulars' to honeymoon newbees hiking into the Ventana wilderness (which Tassajara is part of). This is a great place to get away from it all. Hiking trails in easy to more strenuous forms are available. A very popular place are the narrows, where the creek forms a (cold) swimming hole, and adventurous souls can slide down the algae-covered waterfalldrop into the mini pool. Alternatively, just sit at and swim in the (hot-spring-fed) heated pool, read a book (even a small onsite library exists), stroll through the garden, or grab a cup of tea and find a bench. This is a very special place, bound to calm you, not easy to leave again.
How to get in and out: with a fourwheel drive the 1h dirt road across a moutain pass is probably doable for a good driver. The state of that dirt road varies, depending on weather, and there was some snow at the highest altitude next to the road. Many people take the "stage coach" (a suburban 4wd) from Jamestown where the pavement ends. However, the following cars were observed in the Tassajara parking lot: Honda Civic, VW Beetle, Toyota Prius, BMW Mini (!) - i.e. have at least made it in. This place is difficult to get to, so there is no easy way to drive out and go to a restaurant - but then again why would you?

  • Stayed May 2012, traveled as a couple
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 4 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
12 Thank usuallyhappytravels
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Central Coast of California
Level Contributor
29 reviews
15 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 18 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 5, 2012

My wife and I (in our 60s) enjoyed an outstanding weekend guest retreat. We had a workshop on Clowning with a master clown and a Zen buddhist priest. The combination of meditation, movement, and expression created an engaging experience with many useful insights for both business and personal application.

The food, redwood yurt-style cabin, and refreshing creek and baths made it a fantastic opportunity to recharge.

Room Tip: We enjoyed the new redwood yurts. They have a good location, comfortable king-size bed, etc.
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  • Stayed June 2011, traveled as a couple
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Location
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Rooms
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
3 Thank HopeAbounds
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
San Francisco, CA
Level Contributor
48 reviews
22 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 48 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed August 26, 2011

How I wish this special place were not reviewed, which means my secret of over 40 years is out.... a place where I restore clarity of mind and heart... a place to indulge in culinary delights, a place where I can care for myself without distractions....
As one reviewer stated, this is not for everyone, but if one wishes to be still and be in the moment and feel a world larger than theirs, this is the place.
And for those who might expect it to be a "resort", it is NOT! This is a Zen monastery that opens itself to the public during its guest season- a gift for us guests and a gift of sustenance for the monastery....

  • Stayed August 2011, traveled solo
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
Helpful?
3 Thank EWWSanFrancisco
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Olympia, Washington
Level Contributor
26 reviews
14 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 27 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed July 28, 2011

Nothing happening here. If you are a practitioner of Zen Buddhism you'll know what I mean.
If not, know that the food is the best on the planet, the bath houses are like something out of a dream with hot spring fed outdoor soaking pools, and if you bring your own wine there is a refrigerator next to the dining room where you can chill it. It's a place to sleep, eat, read, soak, and get a taste of monastery life if you desire. And the coffee is excellent - if that matters and it does to me. Every guest house has many kerosene lanterns for night time lighting so if you like to read in bed, bring a little reading light.
It's remote and a hair raising drive into the valley but oh, so worth it

Oh, nothing like room service in case that's your deal.

  • Stayed July 2011, traveled with friends
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Value
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Sleep Quality
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 bubbles
      Service
Helpful?
4 Thank janemccoy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

Property: Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Address: 39171 Tassajara Rd, Carmel Valley, CA 93924-9316
Location: United States > California > Carmel Valley
Amenities:
Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 2 Hotels in Carmel Valley
Number of rooms: 26
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
A temple sanctuary by the beautiful boulders and waters of Tassajara Creek, a small mountain river flowing toward the sea. Long known as a place of healing, the hot springs of Tassajara were first used by the native Esselen people, who lived among the soaring ridges of the Santa Lucia Mountains for a thousand years or more, appreciating the hot springs for their restorative properties. Today,Tassajara offers a rare opportunity to step back from the busy demands and pressures of life. Find the rhythm of your own breath supported by the sounds of temple bell and creek-song. Feel the summer breeze, enjoy delicious food, immerse yourself in the water of the hot springs and relax in the shade of maples and sycamores. Since Zen Mountain Center’s inception, the Guest Season has been an integral part of this monastery's yearly cycle in these mountains. From April until September, focus turns from our primarily inward activity of “practice period” to the work of serving the community at large, sharing the experience of Zen practice and the joys of Tassajara. Like the proprietors of earlier times, we hope you will find this valley a place of delight and renewal. Please consider yourself a part of Tassajara, for it is your contributions which make it possible for us to continue to take care of this fragile ecosystem and provide a curative, healing environment. Accommodations include three gourmet vegetarian meals daily, with bag lunch available to allow for flexible day plans. Guest afternoon tea is served daily in the dining room. The courtyard coffee-tea area is always open. Personal beverages are welcome in the guest rooms and dining room. ... more   less 
Also Known As:
Tassajara Zen Mountain Hotel Carmel Valley

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