The Esalen Institute is among the most picturesque oceanside hot springs you’ll experience. Multiple hot pools offer private access and regular cleaning, viewing the Pacific Ocean below. If you’re visiting the surrounding Big Sur region for the first time, you’ll see why it is considered by many to be the most stunning part of Southern California.
These hot springs are part of the luxury experience you’ll pay for at the Esalen Institute. This spiritual and educational nonprofit organization offers year-round retreats on yoga, meditation, and other practices. Esalen is full-service, so you’ll pay for accommodation and meals at the institute. Depending on your package, a stay will cost $500 to $8,000.
Overnight reservations are required to soak at Esalen. A special “moonlight” hours pass was once available, but that is an option of the past. You’ll need to book a minimum of three days. While a stay at Esalen Institute may seem like a bit of a splurge, you will be embracing a multi-day luxury escapee.
Esalen Hot Springs Information
The hot springs pools, or “baths,” at Esalen Institute hang above the ocean on a cliffside. The upper level is handicap-accessible and has a garden, massage tables, and hot tub. The lower floor hangs just over the sea and has two pools with mineral water fed directly from the hot springs. The temperature in these pools reaches 119°F (48°C). The pools can fit several people comfortably. They are, of course, clothing-optional, though nudity is not required. As of Spring 2022, communal bathing is not permitted, though you can reserve single tubs at the institute during your stay.
Hot Springs Access and Usage Fees
There are no day-use fees because only overnight visitors can sit in the hot springs. You will need to sign up for a workshop or class at Esalen Institute. The tuition for each program includes accommodation and meals. All rates include access to the hot springs.
From the simplistic “all I need is space for my sleeping bag” to the Pointe House Plus Suite. There is a place for everyone to lay their head with no worries.
Esalen Institute Facilities and Amenities
Overnight guests to Esalen can pick from guesthouse rooms, cabins, and yurts. Facilities include a swimming pool, meditation hut, art barn, and garden. The institute opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m. most days.
However, there are few amenities. There is no cell phone reception, and wireless internet is intentionally limited. There are no medical services, and only one shop sells a few essential items. The closest amenities are a 20-minute drive north on the freeway, near Pfeiffer Beach: a few restaurants and a gas station.
Weather and Best Times to Visit Esalen Institute
Coastal California is cool, damp, and offers milder temperatures more comfortable than Los Angeles or San Francisco. In general, the Big Sur region has five wet months in the winter and spring, followed by months of periodically heavy fog in late spring and early summer. The weather here is more similar to San Francisco than in the rest of the state. Big Sur has a steady average temperature of mid-50°F degrees. If you want to avoid the rainy season, May – November is the best option.
The ideal month to visit Esalen is September, as it often has sunny and calm days, and the ocean is at its warmest (a “warm” 59°F). September is also the best month to visit if you plan to take an ocean dip after your hot springs soak.
There are many local attractions, including Sykes Hot Springs, which you can hike to as a long day or overnight hike. You can also see many Big Sur attractions, such as Pfeiffer State Park, McWay Falls, and much more. Monterey is one of California’s favorite tourist cities with its aquarium, fisherman’s pier, coastal pathways, and seafood chowder. Many Californians enjoy driving up and down the Big Sur highway on the first state freeway.
Finally, if you are traveling from the Bay Area and only have time for a day trip, don’t forget to visit Tassajara Zen Mountain Center Hot Springs, located in the same mountains.
Esalen Institute took its name from the Esselen Tribe, indigenous people local to the Big Sur region. The Esselen people used these hot springs and have lived in the area for thousands of years.
Esalen Institute Driving Directions
The Esalen Institute is just south of the San Francisco Bay Area, so if you’re flying into California, it’s best to land at San Jose airport (SJC), a two-hour drive to Esalen Institute. If you’re looking for a closer airport, United Airlines offers flights to Monterey Regional Airport (MRY), which is only a one-hour drive to Esalen.
If you’re traveling south from San Francisco, San Jose, or Monterey, drive the 101 South and 1 South freeway. The institute is only one hour south of Monterey and only a few minutes south of McWay Falls. You’ll see a small sign for Esalen Institute on the right side of the road (Google Street View image of the sign), so don’t drive too quickly.
If you’re traveling north from Los Angeles, drive the 101 North and 1 North freeway for over 279 miles, over five hours. The institute is a few minutes north of Big Creek Bridge from this direction. You’ll see the sign for Esalen Institute on the left side of the road (Google Street View image from 1 North).
Esalen Institute Google Maps Directions
- South from Monterey, California (1 hour and 47 miles)
- South from San Jose Airport (2 hours and 119 miles)
- South from San Francisco (2.5 hours and 150 miles)
- North from Los Angeles (over 5 hours and 279 miles)
Esalen Hot Springs Soak Stats:
Season: Summer, Fall
Address (Institute): 55000 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
Elevation: 170 feet (52 meters)
Parking: Included with an overnight stay
Hot Spring Temperatures: 119°F (48°C)
Area Features: Big Sur, McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge, Monterey
Nearby Hot Springs: Sykes Hot Springs (20 miles)
Closest Gas and Food: 12 miles north on California Highway 1
Dogs: No, only service animals allowed
Clothing Optional: Yes
Bathrooms: Yes, and changing rooms
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