The Monterey Bay Peninsula is so much a part of the cultural wellness lexicon that when Mad Men’s Don Draper, a transplanted Midwestern boy who became a New Yorker through and through, went on a journey inward, way back in the ’70s, the place he landed was no surprise: Big Sur. Choose a day to devote to yourself, or take four days. We get you rolling on the slow road to Zen with some of our favorite stops.
A Labyrinth (With Veggies)
You may recognize the name Earthbound Farms, an organic grower based in Monterey County. Its clamshell-packaged lettuces are sold in supermarkets nationwide. Earthbound’s original site, before it hit the big time, was in Carmel Valley. While it moved operations, it left a farm stand as a way to stay in touch with the community. Fresh juices, smoothies, and salads are made in-house with organic produce. Demo gardens teach about organic practices. The labyrinth, adjacent to chamomile and lavender plantings, is a particularly nice place to reflect.
>> Tassajara is only 35 miles away but nearly a two-hour drive from Earthbound Farms. Yes, the roads are windy, unpaved in places, and not suitable for all cars. Tassajara also operates a shuttle from Jamesburg for the toughest stretch.
The $30 Buddhism Retreat
Part of the San Francisco Zen Center that includes locations in that city and in Marin County, Tassajara is an off-the-grid monastery in Carmel Valley that welcomes guests from May through September. For more than a century, people have come to take the waters of the salubrious hot springs. Tassajara opened in 1967 as a place where guests can unplug to participate in discussions of Buddhism, attend lectures, take hikes, swim in the pool and creek, and eat delicious vegetarian cuisine. Though designed for overnight stays, day-trippers are welcome, too, for $30. Bring your own food, or join the group meal. Reservations are required for the visit and the meal.
A hint of purple in the sands at Pfeiffer Beach.
Photo by Thinkstockphotos.com
A Purple Meditation
For serenity and space, Pfeiffer Beach (not to be confused with Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park) is the ticket to purplish sands, dunes, and even a rock arch, where you can take solitary walks and meditate (but no swimming - the waters are too rough). The beach is not well-marked (it’s on Los Padres National Forest land).
>> It’s a beautiful 30-minute drive from Pfeiffer Beach to Esalen.
The Mineral Pool Hot Spot
Founded in 1962, the 120-acre Big Sur coastal retreat of Esalen may not have allowed Mad Men to film on its property, but it is much more welcoming to overnight and even day visitors. Its self-actualization workshops number 550 a year and cover the bases: yoga, creative expression, dream work, the fear cure, and relational Gestalt practice - that’s just a mere sampling. The cliffside mineral pools are legendary. As is the rustic lodge, where organic meals are served and musicians like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan have played. Rolfing was created here, as was the connection between consciousness and quantum physics. To indulge for a day, book a massage and stay on to take in the baths, or volunteer at the Farm & Garden for a half day - then remain on property.
New Camaldoli Hermitage.
Photo by Sara Essex Bradley
The Soul Refreshment Stand
Derived from the monastic heritage of St. Benedict, Camaldolese monks inhabit New Camaldoli Hermitage, a 899-acre community with thoughtfully placed benches that overlook the Big Sur coastline. Visitors can join in the four daily prayer sessions (no religious affiliation required), visit the bookstore, and walk the Fence Loop trail. For those wanting to linger longer spiritually and physically, book a private room, a newly renovated private hermitage, or stay within the cloister (for males only).
Wave Street Wellness
Photo by Thinkstockphotos.com
Teatime (With Yoga)
Located in the heart of Monterey, the rustic, industrial-chic yoga facility and tearoom called Wave Street Wellness is home base for a daily broadcast of 1,000 yoga classes that are delivered around the world through Wave Street’s media production studio. Owner Rhett Smith oversees everything, including the four live classes led at Wave Street each week. The goal of the studio, says Smith, is “to elevate consciousness.” He envisions it as an emerging center for wellness for the whole peninsula. Linger after class to enjoy one of 40 teas, from white-tip jasmine and biodynamic Darjeeling to specialty wellness blends such as Throat Therapy and Tummy Tonic.
>> Ami Carmel is about a 15-minute drive from Wave Street Wellness.
A Very Good Shop
When Kimberly Theobald opened Ami Carmel, there was true intention. Theobald, a yoga instructor, wanted to create community, stillness, and beauty. Is that all? She’s done well with gorgeous pieces in the boutique. Nambe tea kettles, earthly ethereal vessels from Materia Lumina, and colorful yoga mat bags are for sale.
>> Refuge is 30 minutes away from Ami Carmel.
Modern American Bathhouse
The beautifully maintained Refuge, in Carmel, is a locally beloved water sanctuary where speaking is discouraged but bathing is celebrated. Learn the most healthful way to use the circuit of cold, warm, and hot pools (there’s also a cedar sauna, eucalyptus steam, bath and relaxation rooms), or just soak wherever your heart desires. The pools are UV-cleansed and waterfall-equipped. Entry is $55 for the day and includes a robe. Other than the changing rooms, the entire experience is co-ed, so swimsuits are required.