Hot Springs in Big Sur

Esalen Hot Springs
Nate Bolt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Most visitors to California's Big Sur Coast are looking at the scenery, but that vast ocean view isn't the only thing the area's visitors can enjoy. In Big Sur, natural hot springs provide the perfect place to relax other than your hotel.

At Big Sur, you can hike to a remote outdoor mountain spring, soak in a natural pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or enjoy a Japanese-style hot springs bath house at a Zen meditation center. Any of them are excellent places to spend some relaxing time while you're visiting Big Sur. And they're unique enough that you can amaze all your friends by telling what you did.

According to the Monterey County Weekly, the following listed are the only hot springs open to the public in Monterey County. You may read about others, but Paraiso Hot Springs near Soledad is closed and unlikely to re-open. The National Geophysical Data Center also lists a hot spring in Seaside, but it's buried somewhere underneath a home improvement store.

Hot Springs in Big Sur

Hot Springs at the Tassajara Zen Center

The Tassajara Zen Center is a Buddhist monastery in the mountains above Big Sur. During their "Guest Season" from May through mid-September, it opens its facilities to visitors. That includes their Japanese-style hot springs baths which you can enjoy during a day visit.

You need to bring towels. You can either take a picnic lunch or buy a meal in their dining room. Get more information at the Tassajara website, but you need to call 831-659-2229 to make a reservation, no more than two weeks in advance.

Hot Springs at Esalen Institute

Esalen Institute has spring-fed hot tubs on their property, situated on the cliffs above the ocean. It's a stunningly beautiful location above the Pacific Ocean.

Unless you're staying at Esalen, you'll have to stay up late to enjoy their springs, though. Eslaen is a retreat and learning center, and the hot springs are not a mere amenity, nor is it a public resort. Most of the time their hot springs are open only to people staying there.

If you want to drop in, the general public can visit by reservation from 1:00 to 3:00 a.m. You'll have to reserve your time slot the morning of and slots sell out quickly.

The Esalen springs have two levels with restrooms and two sides, a "quiet" and a “silent” side. Tubs are indoors and outdoors, and clothing is optional. You can get more details about their hot springs at their website.

Sykes Hot Springs

Sykes Hot Springs is the only outdoor hot spring in Big Sur. Unfortunately, it closed after the Soberanes Fire in 2017 damaged the trail to reach it. You can get current information about the re-opening of Sykes Hot Springs at VentanaWild.

When Sykes re-opens, you'll find two stone-lined natural pools there, each about the size of a small home hot tub which can hold four people. The temperature averages about 102 degrees but varies by season.

You have to hike to get there, about 10 miles through the Ventana Wilderness on the Pine Ridge Trail. It's a strenuous hike with a maximum elevation gain of about 1,000 feet - and lots of ups and downs. It takes about four hours to hike it hours one way. That means you're not likely to be hiking in, soaking, and hiking out on the same day.

Some people who have been to Sykes Hot Springs say it's a relaxing way to end your day of hiking. It's also incredibly popular, with lots of people camping around it on a busy weekend. Some online reviewers complain that it's sometimes too busy, with as many as ten people trying to get into the same small pool. 

Hot Spring Tips

  • Don't stay in the water too long. You can get too hot.
  • If you have any conditions that might be aggravated by soaking in hot water, consult a doctor before you go.
  • The water is nice to soak in, but don't drink it.
  • You may want to bring along some cold water to drink. The pools can get a little hot, and it will help regulate your body temperature.
  • If the weather is cool, take towels to dry off with.
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