Just 150 miles south of San Francisco, Big Sur occupies one of the most spectacular stretches of California’s coastline and is known for vast Pacific Ocean views, towering redwood trees, sun and clear-blue skies. The rugged landscape of Big Sur was much admired by Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller; "a place of grandeur and eloquent silence," he called it. Today, you can explore Miller's work at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and make time for Big Sur's adult-only spas. You are bound to have a peaceful time of it.
Founded in 1962 as part of the human potential movement, this healing retreat has been enormously influential. It is the place where the fictional Dan Draper of "Mad Men" landed when he hit bottom, pulling himself together through encounter groups, yoga and chanting. It even has a style of massage named after it (Esalen massage), and its therapists are legendary.
One of Esalen's great draws is the sulfur-rich hot springs, which circulate into hot tubs built into the cliffs. (Try to wear a swimsuit and you're the odd man -- or woman -- out.) If you're staying there for one of the weekend or five-day programs or a personal retreat, you can visit the hot springs as you desire. Otherwise, book a massage. They take place in a large outdoor treatment room with ocean views near the hot springs. While it's not the dark cubby hole you might the used too, most people relax and enjoy.
Reservations are available for nighttime bathing in the natural hot springs 1:00 AM - 3:00 AM. Property visits are limited to registered guests only. 888-837-2536.
This is the most expensive property in Big Sur, with 40 uniquely designed rooms on 100 acres of oceanfront land. Considered a leader in organic architecture, Post Ranch Inn's guest rooms and suites take full advantage of natural light and vistas. Cantilevered over the coastline are the two Cliff Houses with curved exterior walls made of recycled Corten steel and a custom-designed outdoor steel spa tub with an unobstructed view of the ocean below. The Pacific Suites, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, are positioned to perfectly frame the trees, stars, ocean and mountains.
In addition to the usual massages and facials, Post Ranch Inn specializes in "Intuitive Healing Arts" with a shaman who "engages the forces of nature and the worlds ancient wisdom to create lasting changes for physical, mental and emotional well-being." During shamanic sessions you are cleared and protected from negative influences and healed from past wounding as your retrieve your power. Tel. 800-527-2200 or 831-667-2200.
Sitting on 243 acres of meadows and wooded hillsides 1,200 feet above the Pacific, this is wonderfully quiet vacation spot. The 12-building, weathered-cedar resort was built in 1975 by writer Lawrence Spector and has aged beautifully. All the rooms have a deck or patio, and most have wood-burning fireplaces.
Extras include complimentary daily guided property walks, yoga and pilates, wine and cheese reception, access to the clothing optional swimming pool, Japanese hot baths and sauna as well as a small fitness facility.
The spa is lovely, but you can also receive treatments by the pool or in your room. One of the most interesting services is for couples, called "Connecting Through Touch". During this session in the privacy of your room, one of Ventana's seasoned therapists will guide you and your partner in the art of giving and receiving a nurturing massage. It includes a take home book so you can continue developing your skills. Tel. 831-667-2331.