+ Best Things to Do at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds is quiet, cozy, and the perfect escape from the daily grind. We also think it’s a great place for those of you who may be interested in hosting an event here (it’s a beautiful spot for a wedding), or even attending an event here. We happened to be on the property while two different educational conferences were going on and it seemed like both groups were having a wonderful time. There’s plenty of common ground for groups to meet as well as separate buildings for breakout sessions and of course, tons of outdoor activities to enjoy for when you have a free minute. And if you’re not here for work, get ready to relax and enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer.

Follow in our Footsteps

Before arriving in Asilomar we visited Zephyr Cove at Lake Tahoe, went to Venice Beach and even had a little bit of time to explore Big Sur. Prior to that, as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation, we’ve explored Olympic National Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park.

We also managed to visit Crater Lake, Smith Rock State Park the Oregon Coast and Mount Rainier along the way!

General Info for Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Phone Number for the front desk: 831-372-8016


First off, it’s pronounced Uh-Sill-Oh-Mar. And it means “refuge by the sea.”

Asilomar is located on 107 acres of land that includes an incredibly beautiful beach, a one mile coastal trail and even a boardwalk that winds through the dunes. In addition, the buildings on the grounds are worthy of attention. They are built in the Arts and Crafts style and date back as early as 1913 when the YWCA created the conference grounds. They are a true treat as they are easy on the eyes. Those of you with an interest in architecture are going to love this place. In fact, the original building, designed by Julia Morgan, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Best Things to Do at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Relax on the beach

The sand at Asilomar is bright white and very fine. Visiting the beach is one of the best things to do at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds. It’s a treat to walk barefoot on. It’s a great place to lay out and enjoy the sun or relax with a book or even just do nothing at all. The coastline here also has some rocks that make for a good picture for those of you who like to Instagram. It’s actually a State Marine Reserve and is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary so be sure to leave what you find so that the next person can enjoy it.

Don’t like saltwater? Guess what, there’s a heated outdoor pool on the property!

Go for a walk

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Early morning walk down to the beach!

Your choices for a walk (or run) are seemingly endless at Asilomar. We recommend exploring the Coast Trail. It’s a fairly level, one mile trail (2 miles round trip) and gives you grab views of the ocean. If you’re visiting for the day, there are parking lots along sunset Sunset Drive. Guests staying in one of the buildings on the property can take the boardwalk from the Conference Grounds down to the trail (look both ways when crossing Sunset Drive!). The boardwalk is a treat in itself, offering sweeping views as well as an up-close look a the fragile dunes. (Please stay on the boardwalks!)

Ride a bike!

Visiting Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

We met our tour guide, Anne, of Adventures by the Sea in the Hearst Social Hall one afternoon and set out on a 17 mile bike ride. (She brought bikes and helmets for us). It was the longest either of us had ridden in a long time and while we were pretty sore the next day, the experience was totally worth it. Anne took us along the historic 17 Mile Drive and though we drove it the day before, seeing it by bike was even more amazing. We pulled over and took a break at many of the highlights along the route including the Restless Sea, Bird Rock, Seal Rock, Cypress Point Lookout, the Lone Cypress and Stillwater Cove. (The cove is the halfway/turnaround point in the ride.) Is there a bathroom along the way? Yes! At Bird Rock.

Take a tour!

Another one of our top picks for best things to do at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds is to take a tour! There are almost always park programs for guests to attend. Look for the signs inside the Hearst Social Hall to see what may be happening while you are visiting. The most popular tour is the Asilomar Ramble which gives an overview of the history of the property including insight into it’s unique architectural history. It’s first come, first serve and lasts for a little more than an hour.

In addition, California State Parks staff also takes guests on a free tour through the grounds to learn about the most common birds at Asilomar. This tour is also free and first come, first serve. We didn’t know this until we visited, but Monterey is actually one of the top birdwatching areas in the United States!

Want to take a tour but can’t make one of the dates or times? No worries, there’s a unique and self-guided cell phone tour. There are 61 different stops and topics include everything from wild animals to cultural and natural history to forest habitat and architect Julia Morgan, to name a few. You can visit all 61 stops or even just a few, all at your own pace. To learn more, head on over here.

Play some pool

Any billiards players here? There are two pool tables in the Hearst Social Room!

Best Place to Stay at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

We stayed on the second floor of the North Spindrift which is located near the dunes and the boardwalk. The room is equipped with a Keurig, a refrigerator, a large bathroom with two sinks, a beautiful outdoor patio area with a table and chairs and a comfortable king sized bed. Our favorite part, however, are the vaulted ceilings and the wood paneling that make the room feel spacious, cozy and welcoming.

In addition to the North Spindrift building, there are several other places guests can stay, including four cottages.

Where to Eat at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Crocker Dining Hall

Crocker Dining Hall is a great place to have a meal while visiting Asilomar. It’s quick and efficient and though there are many people converging on it at the same time, the lines move quickly. The dining hall can accommodate up to 750 people but it feels more like a banquet hall than it does a cafeteria. There are candles and succulents on each table and the entire atmosphere is warm and cozy. The tables seat 10 with a lazy susan in the middle making it feel like a family dinner. The menu changes daily and is created with as many local, organic ingredients as possible. Two protein options are available each day as well as a vegetarian option. (Gluten free options are available by request).

One of the things we like most about what they’re doing at Asilomar is that they’ve partnered with The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program to only offer seafood items that are on the “Best Choices” or “Good Alternative” list and not the “Avoid” list. In doing so, they’re helping you to eat with peace of mind knowing that your seafood is a sustainable and healthy choice.

Phoebe’s Cafe

Another great option for grabbing a bite to eat at Asilomar is Phoebe’s Cafe. It’s open from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm and has not only a coffee station but several beers and a nice wine list to choose from. We also enjoyed their tomato, mozzarella and pesto panini as well as their vegetarian cheese tortellini.

In addition, there are numerous other places just a short drive for you to experience a great meal. It’s one of the perks of being in this area!

Top Tips for Visiting Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Best Place to Stay at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds

Be sure to save a little time for exploring. There are some great spots on the property.

Check in time is 4:00 pm and check out is at 11:00 am. If you are wanting to check out late, see the front desk as it may be an option.

Campfires are not allowed on the beach but there are two fire pits on the property that staff light where you can make s’mores! Pro Tip: You can buy a s’mores kit in Phoebe’s Cafe.

A beach wheelchair and walker can be reserved for free. Call 831-372-8016 to receive them. Also, the boardwalk and parts of the coast trail are handicap accessible.

Dogs are allowed on the property but must be leashed. Unfortunately, due to State Park regulations, pets are not allowed in any of the buildings overnight.

Sustainability is a big deal at Asilomar. They compost their food waste and even have an option for guests to compost their food. The bin is tidy and unassuming and is located near Phoebe’s cafe. They also go to great lengths to reduce their water waste. You can help by reusing your towel more than once, taking a sailor shower and filling up your re-usable bottle. In addition to waste and water management, Asilomar also works with the non-profit group Clean the World, which collects soaps and shampoos, re-sanitizes them and then sends them to developing countries.

There’s a park store located inside the Hearst Social Hall. It’s open daily and is a great place to pick up a souvenir.

Since the property is so large, Asilomar has “jitney” service that will help to transport you around the property. See the front desk for more details.

Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds Recap

There are a number of reasons why a person might choose to visit Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds. A work conference might bring you here or even just the desire to get away in a beautiful location for a few days (or more!) Whatever your reason, we hope our suggestions for the best things to do at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds is helpful!

Have you been here before? If so, what was your favorite part? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below!

+ California Road Trip || Big Sur

Road Tripping through Big Sur, California

If you’re thinking of a west coast road trip but aren’t sure where to start, look no further than Big Sur. It’s got incredibly scenic views and is one of the most stunning places to drive. In fact, Highway 1 is listed as a designated American National Scenic Byway and a California Scenic Highway. In this post we talk about our top tips for a road trip through Big Sur, California!

Where is Big Sur?

Big Sur doesn’t really have hard boundaries. Most consider it to encompass the 71 mile portion along Highway 1 (California State Route 1) between Malpaso Creek near Carmel Highlands (north) and San Simeon (south). In addition, the Santa Lucia range in this area is also considered part of Big Sur.

Top Tips for Road Tripping through Big Sur

There’s very little cell phone signal in Big Sur.

Even though when we’re writing this, it’s 2018, there are few places where you can get a signal. As a result, we recommend plugging any destinations into your phone or GPS well ahead of time.

California Road Trip || Big Sur

Take time to see all the sights!

Go slow!

The road winds and curves in many sections. Pay attention to the posted speed limit. It’s usually 55mph but sometimes is 30 mph or lower. Pay attention to the signs, use your turn signals and watch for other cars and bicyclists (please share the road! Mudslides have impacted the area, most recently in 2017 but it was re-opened in July of 2018. There is often road construction so keep your eyes peeled and watch for cones, temporary traffic signals and flaggers.

Fuel up before you go.

There are a handful of gas stations in this stretch of highway but they are really expensive. If you’re in a pinch, look for the Shell near Pfeiffer Beach. It’s next to the bakery and post office.

Parking along the road is prohibited.

Unfortunately for all you van lifers out there, there is no roadside parking. Read on to see where we recommend staying for the night.

Bathrooms are free.

You can find a public bathroom in any of the state parks along the route. The best part is that there aren’t any day use fees to enter those parks. So, you can pee for free!

Where to Stay in Big Sur

Secure your lodging ahead of time. We often like to figure our lodging out on the fly but that can be difficult without a cell phone signal. When traveling through Big Sur, if you plan on staying overnight, be sure to figure out your lodging ahead of time. There are several different campgrounds to choose from, both state park campgrounds, National Forest Campgrounds and private campgrounds.

All of the state park campgrounds were full the day we drove the Big Sur coast. We weren’t really surprised but we were a little bummed to find out that the Kirk Creek Campground in Los Padres National Forest was full. There are some sites there that are absolutely stunning with views that look right down over the water.

Luckily we did find a great spot at the Big Sur Riverside Campground and Cabins. There are 34 sites for tents and RV’s (and vans!) as well as 12 cabins. The entire grounds are set among tall redwoods which gives the place a really beautiful, calm feeling to it. The bathrooms were super clean: three sinks, two showers (coin operated, $.25 for 3 minutes). There’s also laundry facilities on the premises. They’re located 22 miles south of Carmel and 68 miles north of San Simeon (check your odometer before setting out – remember, no cell signal in Big Sur!)

There were picnic tables and fire pits at each campsite as well as access to the river. Some of the sites have water and 20 amp electric hook ups. We stayed at Campsite 19 and it was level and easy to park at.

Best Things to Do in Big Sur

Drive Highway 1!

California Road Trip || Big Sur

Quiet van life moments along Highway 1.

Driving Highway 1 is easily one of the best things to do in Big Sur. There are numerous places to pull off and enjoy the view. Routes like this are one of the main reasons we are so into van life.

Go for a hike.

There are numerous places to go hiking in the Big Sur area. One of the most rewarding hikes with the least amount of effort is the McWay Falls trail. It’s about .6 of a mile and will give you views of the waterfall without much effort. I did this hike in flip flops and while I wouldn’t recommend that, it’s doable!

(Also check out the trails in Andrew Molera State Park, just north of the campground that we stayed at.)

The most popular place to access the coast is Pfeiffer Beach. Look for the only unpaved, undated road west of Highway 1 between the post office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The actual road is called Sycamore Canyon Road but it’s unmarked.

Practice your photography.

California Road Trip || Big Sur

Caroline shooting with the Fuji XT-2 and 35mm lens.

Big Sur is a really special place no matter the time of day or even the time of year. If you’re looking to snap some really great photos, however, we recommend going looking for photographs during golden hour and blue hour. (The ‘hour’ part is a bit misleading though. We had about 30 minutes of incredible light).

Though we most often shoot with a 16mm lens, we both found ourselves using the 35mm lens here. To learn more about our photography gear and what we’re taking pictures with, head on over here.

Picnic with a view.

This isn’t just any old meal by the road, this is one of the most incredible places to picnic in the entire United States. You can either buy some food along the way at one of the little camp stores and make it out of the back of your van or you can load up at a grocery store before heading out. (There’s a Whole Foods in Carmel for those of you coming from the North.)

Tour the Historic Point Sur Light Station

Take a tour of the historic Point Sur Light Station! It’s located 19 miles south of Carmel and offers a beautiful view of the coast below. Construction on the lighthouse started in 1887. It took two years to complete but the result is a beautiful reminder of the past. Admission is $15 for adults and kids 6 to 17 are $5. (Kids 5 and under are free). There are also moonlight tours which are a bit more ($25 for adults and $10 for kids).

Look for migrating Gray whales

From December to May it’s possible to spot migrating whales. Post up at an overlook with some binoculars and a long lens on your camera and hope that you get lucky! Worst case scenario, you’ll get to experience the beautiful coast and possibly a sunset.

Road Tripping through Big Sur, California Recap

Road tripping through California || Big Sur

There’s something beautiful around almost every curve.

The van lifestyle that we are living often means traveling without a plan but Big Sur is one of the exceptions to the rule. It requires a little bit of foresight but it’s more than worth it.

Have you traveled to Big Sur? If so, we’d love to know what your favorite things to see and do are in the area? Please leave your comments below!

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