With a summer camp-like atmosphere, the absence of certain modern conveniences and rustic accommodations, Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds may not be suitable for every visitor to the Monterey Bay area. But for those seeking a quiet respite from an often-stressful daily lifestyle, Asilomar might just be the idyllic setting they’ve long been searching for. It’s also one of the most fascinating hidden treasures in the Monterey Peninsula.
Asilomar Conference Grounds
800 Asilomar Ave.
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Asilomar State Beach
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Located along California’s spectacular Central Coast in Pacific Grove, Asilomar is a derivation of two Spanish words – “asilo”, which means retreat or refuge and “mar”, which means sea, and combined, is literally and appropriately translated as “refuge by the sea”.
Designed by the famed architect Julia Morgan, best known as the designer of the iconic Hearst Castle further south, Asilomar was originally built as the YWCA’s summer camp and conference center in the early 20th century. Construction across the original 30 acres lasted between 1913-1928 and several of Morgan’s original structures still exist, which represents her largest collection of California Arts & Crafts styled-architecture. These iconic structures include the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall (1913), Mary Crocker Dining Hall (1918), Visitor’s Lodge (1915) and Mary S. Merrill Recreation Auditorium (1928).
Since 1956, Asilomar has been owned and operated by California State Parks. Today the property covers 107 acres including the acclaimed namesake state beach, known for its sweeping vistas, thriving wildlife and coastal sand dunes. Asilomar is just one of a handful of properties managed by the California State Parks that offer alternative camping, such as lodging and cottages.
Asilomar’s dining, lodging, hospitality and conference services are managed by Aramark, a Fortune 500 company and a leader in the managed services industry whose other listings include Chicago’s Field Museum, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the Philadelphia Zoo, Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Zephyr Cove Resort in South Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.
How To Get There
Asilomar State Park and Conference Grounds can be reached via California Highway 1 to Highway 68, towards Pacific Grove. Eventually, Highway 68 turns into Forest Avenue and then intersects with Sunset Drive on the left. A few minutes past Pacific Grove High School, signs will direct visitors to the entrance of Asilomar Conference Grounds. Visitors wishing to continue to Asilomar State Beach simply stay on Sunset Drive a few minutes more to the coast.
Alternatively, visitors can reach Asilomar via Ocean View Boulevard or Lighthouse Avenue from Cannery Row, then left onto Asilomar Avenue (Highway 68).
Asilomar features more than 300 guest rooms from three room types: historic rooms designed by Julia Morgan, standard rooms and cottages with one to four bedrooms. Each of the rooms types also includes complimentary parking.
Historic and standard rooms come with one or two beds, a private bathroom, living room with fireplace, free Wi-Fi and a balcony or terrace. However, these rooms do not come equipped with a TV, telephone or microwave, although a refrigerator may be available upon request for a nominal fee. Moreover, the standard rooms are quite rustic and have often been described on TripAdvisor as “outdated” and in need of “renovations”. Still, Asilomar’s overall rating on TripAdvisor is “very good”, a clear indication that the majority of reviewers enjoyed their stay here.
Related: Best Rooms With A View In America
There are four cottages available for reservation, from the one-bedroom Forest Lodge suite with a living room with fireplace, free Wi-Fi, TV and kitchenette to the Guest Inn Cottage with four rooms, two bathrooms, living room with fireplace and a full kitchen.
Pets are not allowed in any building at Asilomar and are not allowed to stay or sleep in a vehicle parked on the property. However, service animals are allowed and it is permissible to walk a pet through the property on a leash of up to six feet.
Asilomar features two dining facilities: the historic Dining Hall and Phoebe’s Café, located inside Hearst Social Hall.
One of the signature structures of Asilomar, Crocker Dining Hall can accommodate up to 750 guests and specific times are set for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu boards are posted daily at the dining hall and the front desk and menus typically feature meats and seafood from local distributors, fresh organic produce and vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options. Additionally, guests have the option to request custom planned menus that can be served in one of the 20 special events rooms inside the Dining Hall.
Phoebe’s Café is open daily and features freshly baked goods, coffee and tea, and lunch items, in addition to beer, wine and spirits.
Visitors can shop at Asilomar’s Park Store, located inside the Phoebe A. Heart Social Hall. The store features additional refreshments like coffee and espresso, snacks, sundries, gifts and clothing. Additionally, the store offers tickets to the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as bike rentals.
In addition to a heated outdoor pool that open daily and year round, Asilomar is also acclaimed for its array of outdoor activities, including biking, hiking and bird watching. The property also offers a beach volleyball court, a pool table inside the Social Hall, self-guided and ranger-guided state park tours, surfing at one of the area’s top surfing spots and last but certainly not least, a convenient, .25-mile boardwalk that connects the Conference Grounds to the State Beach.
Off Property Activities
Off the property, the Monterey Bay area offers several other popular activities, such as the aforementioned Monterey Bay Aquarium along historic Cannery Row, whale watching from reliable tour operators at Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf, wine tasting at award-winning spots like Bernardus Winery and Folktale Winery, world class golf at places like Carmel Valley Ranch, the Links at Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the upcoming U.S. Open golf championship, and the world famous 17-Mile Drive, with its Pacific Grove entrance just minutes from Asilomar. Even more activities and attractions are available, like horseback riding, scuba diving and Sea Car tours, not to mention a visit to historic Carmel Mission, Monterey State Historic Park and the extraordinary Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, known as the “crown jewel” of the California State Parks system.
Among the suggested off property restaurants are the C Restaurant & Bar, Grasings, Lucia Restaurant & Bar, Old Fisherman’s Grotto, Valley Kitchen and Aubergine, who just today was awarded the only Michelin star in the Monterey Bay Area in the brand new Michelin Guide California.
Available for meetings and special events like team building, reunions and weddings, Asilomar’s Conference Grounds offers 30 event spaces with 65,000 square feet of event space.
Outdoor barbecue areas are also available for outdoor events, in addition to a central meadow and the picturesque state beach. Audio visual services are also available, in addition to a high speed fiber optics internet service and wireless service in all meeting rooms.
Asilomar Conference Grounds is currently hosting its annual Sunset Music Series on Friday nights. Among the upcoming featured artists are Fred McCarty June 7, Taylor Rae June 14, Zack Freitas June 21 and Johan Sotelo June 28.
Asilomar hosts other special events throughout the year, including a lavish Thanksgiving dinner and dining/activities during the holidays.
About The Author:
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University and a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).
He is a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.