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An Asilomar Retreat

by Gale Randall

silomar, a conference center with Alodging in Pacific Grove, California, has been welcoming visitors ever Asince its founding in 1913. I first visited as a young teen and have been lured back many times. Comprising 107 beachfront acres of pristine rolling sand dunes, Monterey pines and coast live oaks interspersed with historic Julia Morgan and more recent buildings, the center offers to busy travelers a refreshing retreat.

Julia Morgan, educated at UC Berkeley and l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was California’s first woman architect. Her shingle-style Craftsman buildings at Asilomar are mostly clustered in its center, with newer guest accommodations scattered in the hills. All Asilomar buildings have names—ours was Longviews, offering, of course, spectacular ocean views. Our room was simple but comfortable, with two double beds, bathroom with hairdryer, but no tv, phone, or coffeemaker. We spent one evening reading in the Phoebe Hearst Social Hall, an immense room sporting comfortable Craftsman-style chairs, pool tables and the indelible Morgan touches of burnished woodwork, an immense stone fireplace and soaring beamed ceiling. A church singles group was gathered nearby and we enjoyed eavesdropping on their exchanges.

All Asilomar buildings have … spectacular ocean views.

There’s so much to do on the Monterey Peninsula it’s almost mind-boggling, but the star attraction these days is the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, just north in Pacific Grove. It’s a good idea to allow at least a few hours for the aquarium, as there’s a lot to see on its two floors featuring enormous tanks of darting and swirling sea creatures — as usual, the sea otters were predictably adorable.

Our visit to the peninsula was for only a few nights, so we didn’t have time for a drive south to spectacular Big Sur and a stop for ocean gazing at the famous Nepenthe Restaurant.

We did, however, sample a few Pacific Grove restaurants, including the Fishwife, just across the street from Asilomar, and Fandango, which specializes in Mediterranean food.

A full cafeteria-style breakfast in the beautiful Crocker Dining Hall is included in room rates at Asilomar and the center does offer various packages, including a Romantic Retreat package and a Monterey Bay Aquarium package. Lunch and dinner are also available in the dining room. You don’t have to be part of a conference to stay at Asilomar — when conferences don’t fill the place up they’ll accept individual reservations. Asilomar has a heated pool and offers guided nature and architectural tours of the grounds, where you might spot a grazing deer or scampering squirrel, but if you don’t have time for organized walks you can explore on your own — there are many paths and boardwalks on the property and tide pooling is always fun. On our next visit maybe we’ll spend some time at Point Lobos State Reserve, south of Carmel, and do a little shopping in Carmel Village. The peninsula always beckons as a perfect vacation spot, with Asilomar topping my list of favorite lodgings.

Asilomar: www.VisitAsilomar.com.

Gale Randall is a travel writer based Palo Alto, CA.

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