I think the key to enjoying a stay at Asilomar is to have it very clear in your head exactly what the place is, and what it isn't. In a previous life one of my job duties was to help plan an annual conference at Asilomar, and to tabulate the results of the participant satisfaction survey. So years later, when I decided to check the place out for myself as an overnight guest, I had a pretty good idea what awaited me.
What Asilomar is:
*A former YWCA with buildings designed by famed architect Julia Morgan. The original (aka "historic" buildings) were built to be rustic like summer camp. They are 100 years old. The floors creak and the walls are thin. No, there are no televisions or telephones in the rooms.
*First and foremost it is a conference center, so their focus is not on providing the kinds of amenities one would expect in a luxury hotel. It is NOT a luxury hotel.
What Asilomar isn't:
*A resort or a spa.
The reason I decided to take a solo trip to Asilomar was that I wanted a quiet getaway for just me. I wanted someplace that was near the beach, but not a noisy, bustling beach like at Santa Cruz. I wanted something that was rustic and free from urban distractions, where I could just sit and read a book, maybe listen to some quiet music in front of a roaring fire. I had planned on getting one of the older "historic" rooms, because I'm always willing to give unique lodgings a try (and they're a bit cheaper), but the only availability was in one of the newer "Asilomar" rooms, which were built in the late 70s or early 80s, but were designed to complement the existing style. This ended up working in my favor, because the historic rooms don't have in-room fireplaces, and I very much enjoyed having the fire. Yes, the rooms could do with some updating, particularly in the bathroom. A new vanity would do wonders. But I was there for rusticity, not marble counters. My room was in a building that was across the road from the main compound. Con: walking up a small hill; Pro: beautiful wooded area. My room was large, and the stone fireplace dominated the room. Bundles of wood and kindling, as well as matches, are provided. There was a nice little balcony with a woodsy view. Be sure to get a second story room for the balcony. The first floor rooms have a little patio, which isn't as private.
Asilomar State Beach is a very short walk from the main buildings, through the dunes, and across a moderately busy road (drivers do yield consistently). The beach is great. Not too big, not too small. The sand is white and clean (except for what washes up in the tide) and the waves were better than I've seen in Santa Cruz. It is animal-friendly, and it's fun to watch dog owners play with their pets in the waves. There are some rock outcroppings with small tide pools. There is a boardwalk through the dunes that allows people to walk all the way up to the Inn at Spanish Bay, if one so chooses. I've heard they have a bagpiper there at sunset, but he must have had the day off. Signs say that bonfires are not allowed, but I saw numerous groups disobeying that particular rule-- some were even seated right next to the sign that said "No fires."
Meals are at Crocker Dining Hall. Breakfast is generally included for overnight guests, but the dinner prices are pretty exorbitant. So for dinner I chose to get take-out from the Fishwife restaurant which is across the street, well within walking distance, from the grounds. Based on my sole piccata, I would recommend them. I chose to dine in my room, with my fire and bottle of sparkling wine, but if you choose to eat at the restaurant, I advise calling ahead for a reservation. I was somewhat nervous about breakfast in the morning, because I know that seating is family-style around large round tables, and I'm kind of a keep-to-myself kind of girl. I also know that service is a cafeteria-style/family-style hybrid, and I had this idea in my head that we'd be using old-school sectioned metal trays. I don't know where I got this idea from, except that I keep thinking of Asilomar as summer camp. The reality is that they take your meal ticket and direct you to a (short) line where the entree is served on restaurant-quality white china. There is only one hot entree offered, but I was more than happy with the selection (chorizo hash with scrambled eggs). If you're not crazy about the hot entree, alternate options such as cereal, oatmeal, or Greek yogurt, with granola or other toppings are available at the counter. At the table there is a lazy Susan in the center with various pastries, fruit, orange juice and coffee. I had to hunt down tea and hot water. Fortunately I was seated with some nice people, and the conversation was pleasant. My only real complaint about the meal setup was that there are no trays to help you carry your food to the table. So balancing my entree, bowl of yogurt and glass of milk was difficult.
I have to admit, that my main issue with the place is the cost. In my world $200 a night is pretty steep. Of course, in the Carmel/Monterey/Pacific Grove area that's a decent price. If you're looking for a charming inn, there are plenty of those around. If you're interested in a unique experience, with a little history, and you've got an open mind, give Asilomar a go.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- This refuge by the sea is a tranquil oceanfront retreat cradled by pine forests and white sand beaches. Situated along the shoreline of California's famed Monterey Bay, Asilomar offers historic lodging with views of the forest, surf and sand, plus unique conference spaces. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Asilomar Conference Grounds Hotel Pacific Grove
- Asilomar Conference Grounds Pacific Grove
- Asilomar Conference Center
- Asilomar Hotel