Our favorite getaway spot, just an hour and a half from the busy Bay Area, has been the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove. This historic retreat was originally a YWCA leadership camp , with historic redwood buildings designed by Julia Morgan, who also designed many of the buildings at William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantada in San Simeon (AKA Hearst Castle). The Center is nestled amid cypress trees and sand dunes just across from Asilomar State Beach on the quiet side of the Monterey Peninsula, separated from touristy and cutesified Carmel by the gorgeous twisting 17-Mile-Drive along the Monterey coastline. .
For the first part of the Lockdown, the Conference center was commandeered by the State as a place to quarantine people who had been exposed to the virus. After the first surge, the center was emptied and sanitized, but its conference business had dropped to zero. It reopened to the public only a few weeks ago. D and I were desperate to get away from our same daily rooms, and reserved a night. That week the wildfires blazed up, and the Air Quality in Pacific Grove was rated Hazardous. We rescheduled. Two weeks later the fires were contained, the air had cleared and we were on our way.
Usually the Conference Center is humming with conferees, who might include quilters, nutritionists, corporate retreaters, and many other groups. But there are usually a few unfilled rooms which are available at reasonable cost to the non-conferring public at the last minute. If you have breakfast in the Dining Hall you will sit at whatever table is not filled, and be liable to have an interesting conversations with whatever genial strangers share the table. The Lodge is full of teenagers waiting their turn at the pool table or conferees scanning brochures about local activities, or picking up souvenirs at the Park Store.
But that was Before.
As we drove in, the parking lots were nearly empty. The lodge itself was posted with the first of many signs notifying visitors of curtailed services. “Lodge open for check-in from 2PM to 8PM.” It was 3PM, so we entered . The cavernous lodge was empty except for the young lady at the reception desk and one computer jockey at a well-isolated table. The room was posted with signs saying “[fill in blank] is not available to guests at this time.” (e.g. swimming pool, lodge fireplace, park store, pool table, piano…). The brochure stand was empty, but we invited to hold up your phones to a QRcode to download information. The Dining Room was closed also, as were the bike rentals.
All the same, it was a wonderful getaway. We could sit on our balcony among the cypress trees and look out to a sparkling ocean. And when we walked down to the beach, we saw that there are some family pleasures that even COVID-19 cannot close down.