Tucked in forest, perched alongside coastal sand dunes and a brief stroll from the California surf in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula rests the Asilomar Conference Grounds. It’s owned by the people of California as a California State Park, but the conference facilities and lodging is managed by Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts, the same company that manages other accommodations in some spectacular environs including the Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.
You don’t need to be a conference-goer to experience the grounds or even bed down in the rustic, immaculately clean, and camp-like accommodations. Besides being a conference hot spot, ecotravelers can stay as leisure guests. Many also come to Asilomar to celebrate their wedding, share a family reunion or host a corporate retreat — especially if they’re trying to do it more green.
Upon arriving with my family, two Black-tailed deer greeted us just before we passed between Asilomar’s welcoming stone columns at the entrance. The hub of Asilomar Conference Grounds — which includes 313 secluded guest rooms housed in a unique collection of historic cabins and lodges, many with fireplaces, balconies or private decks — is their Social Hall, with outdoor seating, wireless access, board games and ping pong. During our stay, a complimentary Jazz ensemble in the Social Hall provided a relaxing way to wind down the day. The spacious guest rooms are designed for the tranquil enjoyment of nature, so TVs, radios and telephones are refreshingly absent.
Rightly deserving its “refuge by the sea” namesake, the 107-acre Asilomar Conference Grounds both inspires our appreciation of nature and is inspired by it. The grounds got its start in 1928 as a Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA) camp, created, built and funded by women. California’s first registered female architect, Julia Morgan, designed the buildings on the grounds in the Arts and Craft style which embraced harmony, community and natural beauty. Every building has a face to the ocean. I found every door opened to the outdoors (try that at your typical convention center).
When constructed, most of the building materials were secured locally, including the omnipresent river rock that make up the fireplaces and other facades. Today, renovations focus on environmental stewardship, employing some of the latest innovations in energy efficiency, water conservation and waste management. To elevate their environmental awareness to a level consistent with the stature of the special places where they do business, Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts adopted GreenPath, a tool to minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities. During the past few years, as a part of Asilomar’s GreenPath program, the oceanfront conference retreat has reduced water consumption by seven million gallons, saved 174 million watts of electric energy, saved 50,000 therms of natural gas energy, reduced trash disposal by 67 tons, and recycled 79 tons of cardboard. In the Social Hall, we found waterless urinals, compact fluorescent lighting and recycling bins everywhere.
While we’ve enjoyed Asilomar as a conference attendee during a National Audubon Conference several years ago, our stay on this trip was to use it as a natural base camp in order to visit the Monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, depart on jaunts along Highway 1 into Big Sur, and explore other parts of Monterey Bay. For rates that start at $142.70, double occupancy, and which include a delicious and hearty breakfast, it’s the kind of deal made for budget travelers and ecotravelers alike. Of course, their breakfasts include Odwalla orange juice and fair trade, shade grown coffee.
Most guests find their way into the Asilomar Dunes easy enough, but don’t miss their complimentary Asilomar Audio Tour that narrates your walk past the buildings (on the National Historic Register), the dunes, and coastal tide pools. The abundance of flora and fauna is a credit to the effective conservation work undertaken over the years.
We enjoyed viewing the Menzies’ wallflower, one of the rarest plants in the world, listed as both a federal and state endangered plant. Growing in only a few locations along the California coast, the Menzies’ wallflower is among the first to bloom in the spring from January through March.
In a matter of minutes, the boardwalk brings guests down to a pristine sandy beach, a great place to catch the sunset or watch surfers ride the waves.