Alila Ventana, Big Sur: All-inclusive Bliss

See everything we managed to squeeze into our 2-night luxury binge and get answers to questions you're too embarrassed to ask
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a delightful monthly email with tips, tricks and stories on wellness, affordable travel and everything else I get excited about 

Ever tried squeezing a grand dream into a short weekend? Well, that was the hubby’s mission for my big November birthday. His target was the all-inclusive Alila Ventana, Big Sur, California, a pinnacle of luxury and a true gem in Hyatt’s portfolio. It sits in a redwood forest at one of the most stunning stretches of California’s coastline.

“My tastes are simple. I am easily satisfied with the best.”

– Oscar Wilde

In an attempt to preserve every detail of this dreamy trip, I kept a diary that I share with you here. In it, you’ll find out how much this extravagant hotel costs (and how we got a room with a Jacuzzi on the deck for free), how much food you can order, things you can do before and after check-in, what activities are included, what drinks are complimentary, where you can swim naked, whether you can take their dreamy toiletries home, what the turn-down service is, how the S’mores at the social house work, what the heck Japanese baths are, and similar tidbits. At the end, I’ll show you our final bill.

If you’re new to traveling on US credit card points, I wrote about it, have a look.

Let’s uncover the ins and outs of Alila Ventana and find answers to all the questions you’d be too embarrassed to ask.

Before Arrival: The Cost and What’s Included

The hubby booked our stay with Chase credit card points converted to Hyatt. At 45k points per night ($450 cash value), it was the most expensive hotel redemption we’ve ever done but was still an amazing value since the rooms and villas go for $1700-$3900 a night, depending on the room and the season. This “almost-all-inclusive” resort includes the following in your cash or points redemption price:

  • Beautiful room with either a forest or forest and ocean view
  • All your delicious, locally-sourced meals, including 24hr room service
  • Lunch and dinner on your check-in day and breakfast and lunch on the day you check out
  • Some of the activities, like hikes, honey tasting, yoga etc
  • All tips are included
  • Chauffeured golf carts to take you around the property
  • One Social Hour cocktail at the Sur House restaurant daily
  • Minibar snacks and drinks
  • Nightly S’mores at the Social House
  • Gym, 2 pools, 2 huge Jacuzzis (one of them is a Japanese hot bath)
  • Games at the Social House (pool table, board games)
  • Tea, coffee and lemonade at the Social house
  • A record player in each room and a library of LPs at the Social House
  • A reusable, stainless steel water bottle, one per person

Alila Ventana offers many free and paid “Experiences” during your stay. Have a look at the full list on their website.

Mark, eager to make the most of our stay, tried to book the free Coast Ridge Hike at 9 am on our arrival day. To his surprise, he succeeded, even though the official check-in time wasn’t until 4 pm. So he went on to book the Intuitive Fermentation class for 1 pm, a paid ($60) experience he knew I’d love. Since lunch is provided on the day of arrival, we found ourselves with two planned activities and a meal—all before officially checking in!

Day 1 at Alila Ventana

8:30am – a Very Early Arrival and Jamie’s Warm Welcome

We drove overnight to Alila Ventana all the way from Vegas, with a stop in Paso Robles. The turn-off from CA-1 to Ventana is a peaceful road through a coastal redwood forest. The metal gate was closed when we got there at 8:30am, but the attendant ran to open it for us.

The reception is inconspicuous, located at the Social House. Jamie’s welcome was warm and gracious, even though we showed up 7 hours early. She wished me happy birthday and told us we were upgraded to one of their best rooms, a 1300-square-food Coast House Suite, with 2 fireplaces, a living room, a kitchen, and a private JACUZZI on one of our two decks! We’d get a text when our room’s ready. She said that all our meals are included, starting with the lunch today and ending with a lunch on the day of our departure.

Jamie looked at our reservation and laughed that we were attempting to try out most the free activities and 2 paid ones. She was amused but highly encouraging. Then she made us fresh coffee and tea because she deemed the carafes with prepared hot drinks to not be sufficiently hot. We sat in the Adirondack rockers on the deck of the Social House, listening to falling water in the nearby fountain and the chirping of birds, waiting for our first “Experience” to start.

9:00am – Coast Ridge Hike with Katie

Following Jamie’s instructions, we gathered for the Coast Ridge Hike at the firepit near the Social House. We got there early and about 12 other guests trickled in. Our guide, Katie, was a breath of fresh air—knowledgeable, funny, and just an all-around awesome person you’d want as a friend. She didn’t put on any airs, despite being on the grounds of such a posh property. She was joined by another Katie, who was testing if this job might be a good fit for her. I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious.

The Coast Ridge hike took 1hr 45 min and 8100 steps. The first part was pretty steep, then it mellowed out. Katie took pictures of us at a little waterfall seeping from the cliffside, talked to us about the Redwood trees we were passing by, berries that are full of cyanide when green but good against dementia when ripe, lighthouse full of ghosts, people living “on the ridges”, and the multimillion dollar houses we passed.

She talked about her favorite places to hike and her move from Southern California a few years back.

11:30am – Lunch at Alila Ventana’s Sur House

My Intuitive Fermentation class was starting at 1:30 pm so we had time for lunch. We drove to the Sur House (get out of the iron property gate and turn left). Even our car had a spectacular view from her parking space! We got there at 11:30, the minute they opened and got seated at one the best tables in the house, on the terrace overlooking the forest, hills and ocean. It was sunny and a bit cool, the perfect combo in my book.

When we got the menu, I asked how many items we can order. The waitress said “For breakfast and lunch, you can order anything from the menu, as many items as you like”. We got two different salads, salmon (the fish of the day), Cult Burger, carrot cake, chocolate and blue cheese ice cream (which even the waitress hasn’t been brave enough to try yet), coffee and cappuccino.

The food was spectacular. The greens tasted like they were picked 5 minutes ago and the salmon was succulent and flavorful. The meals were on par with the best restaurants I’ve ever tried.

1:30pm – Intuitive Fermentation Experience ($60) with Katie

Katie (of the Coast Ridge Hike fame) had set up tables on the Ocean Meadow past the Meadow pool for the fermentation class and she greeted me as an old friend. I was joined by two other guests, Alaskan doctors, who looked like kids. They talked about their vacation at Miraval wellness resort in Arizona, another high-end, all-inclusive Hyatt property, which helped kick-start their 100lbs weight loss.

Katie led us to the garden, where we picked fresh veggies, herbs and edible flowers. She used to take care of the garden so she knew everything about everything in there. She gave me the only ripe strawberry she found. I ate it before she managed to take a picture 😊

Back at our tables, we first made a “shrub”, a hot water, honey, and vinegar mixture poured over fruit, herbs and flowers that we cut up and stuffed into little jars. I put almost everything I found in the garden into mine. It looked beautiful.

Then we prepped our veggies. We cut fun shapes out of carrots and cumbers, then we sliced peppers, tomatoes, herbs and flowers, and stuffed them into our jars. We poured in hot vinegar mixture (this time without honey). It was more of a pickling than fermentation class, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I tasted every single thing that went into my jars. The apples were the best I’ve had in years, they were bursting with flavor. Excited, I tried to force a bite on everyone around me. The meadow, the tour of the garden, the produce, Katie the guide, everything was amazing.

In the meanwhile, Mark got checked into our amazing room (more like a house), and then walked over to meet with me after class.

2pm – Chilling in the 1300-square-foot Coast House Suite

Our room became available while I was in the class so the hubby got us situated. Every detail is thought through. The room key is a round wooden disc. There was a bouquet of flowers, a balloon and a thoughtful card with birthday wishes on the café table. The pens are made of tree branches. The trees are trimmed both for privacy and for maximizing the views.

This is what the Coast House Suite consists of:

  • Two decks, one with a Jacuzzi, lounge chairs and a table, the other with a big lounger, table and chairs, and a hammock, both with views of the ocean and the forest
  • Living room with a fireplace, couches, armchairs and a big dining room table
  • Bedroom with a super-comfy king-size bed, fireplace, cafe table, armchairs, writing desk, and a large window seat
  • Kitchen with full-size fridge and freezer, microwave, stove, dishwasher and oven
  • Big bathroom with a soaking tub and a separate rain shower
  • Additional half-bath off of the living room
  • Did I mention a private JACUZZI ON OUR DECK? As in can-hop-in-naked private

The room is spectacular. I immediately started committing the layout and dimensions to memory for my hypothetical future dream house. We lounged in every possible lounging spot. I promptly fell out of the hammock. I can’t even pick my favorite spot. I love the whole thing. I want to move here.

4pm – Alila Ventana Social Hour Cocktail at the Sur House

This is Alila Ventana’s happy hour. We got to the Social House restaurant at 4pm – this time we walked. It’s about 800 hilly steps (if you’re counting) through a beautiful, fragrant, redwood forest and a great workout after all of that amazing (and copious) food. We took the road, squeezed past the closed entry gate and turned left, up the hill to the restaurant. We sat down on the patio and a few minutes later, a waiter showed up with two lovely cocktails and a doohickey that he used to place a big bubble of lavender smoke on top of them.

It was fun to pop them and see the smoke escape. They call the citrusy, gin-y drink The Marine Layer. It’s nice. A few bloggers mentioned a charcuterie platter that comes with the drinks but they didn’t serve any with ours. We watched the sunset and made our way to the dining room for dinner at 5, for which we made reservations a week ahead by phone.

5pm – Dinner at the Sur House with Juan

Did I mention how spectacular the service is at Alila Ventana? Everyone seems to remember your name, it’s uncanny. Everyone goes above and beyond to help you with anything you might want. Everyone seems genuinely happy to see you. And so did our server Juan during our first dinner at Alila Ventana.

For dinner, you can pick one appetizer, one main dish, as many sides as you like, and one dessert. Some drinks are free as well, such as coffee and juices. Don’t be shy to ask, the staff are so gracious and helpful. I never once felt judged, and I asked some embarrassing questions (like “Can I take these big bottles of toiletries home?” the answer is No, they refill them. But they are available for sale at the Social House).

Have a look at the menu:

I kicked off the meal with Watercress and figs, a delightful appetizer on a bed of velvety whipped cheese. For the main course, my Duck Breast was laying in a little red pool that turned out to be a tasty beet puree surprise. Crispy fresh Asparagus on the side was the perfect touch. The Apple Entrement dessert, looking like a pristine red apple, was a clever play with apple mousse, a candle-lit presentation with a chocolate sign saying “Happy Birthday.

For Mark, it was The Hen Egg with prosciutto, which was elegant and rich, a tender braised Lamb Shank that practically melted off the bone, Brussel Sprouts on the side, Tiramisu dessert adorned with chocolate in every texture and an Espresso to round off the meal. Each dish left us in awe.

We felt completely stuffed but also strangely healthy. The food was of such high quality and so fresh and wholesome that you practically feel your body thanking you. Needless to say, we really appreciated the 800-step walk (or waddle) back to our room. It was pitch-black outside since it’s the end of November, but the road is romantically lit and pleasant to walk at night. We stopped at the Social House to pick up some vinyl records and a few hours later we ordered room service. It was a moral imperative 🙂

7pm – Turn-Down Service and Jacuzzi

We opted for the full daily housecleaning and turn-down service, which I’ve never experienced before. When we got back to our room, all the blinds were drawn and some of the lights were lit. Instead of chocolates, Alila Ventana gives you a little keepsake. Tonight it was an eagle feather with a card explaining its significance. They also left a bottle of French bubbly on the table, with yet another birthday wish. Such a sweet gesture!

We hopped into the jacuzzi on the deck and watched the moonlight filtered by the gorgeous tree growing right beyond our railing. The ocean shone in the distance. Except for little critters scampering through the forest, the night was absolutely still. Hot and massaged, we re-covered the Jacuzzi, got back in and took showers. Alila Ventana toiletries are amazing, they smell like a meadow on a rainy day and leave my hair all shiny.

We lit the fire in the bedroom fireplace. The wood comes in burlap pouches. You light the whole thing. After a bit of struggle it roared to life and filled the room with comforting glow and warmth. We sat by the fire and opened the bubbly. I forgot how much I enjoy the sound of vinyl records playing. Reminds me of childhood.

We got late-night room service, a charcuterie platter which was not really a platter, but a take out container filled with yummy meats, cheeses, dried fruits, fresh berries and crackers. We also got some decadent brownies.

Here’s a delightful tidbit: every room comes stocked with complimentary snacks and drinks, replenished daily. During our stay, we had the little bottles of Pellegrino and a couple of Big Sur Bars—the Rolls-Royce of granola bar world.

You can check all the menus here.

2am – The Night-time Critters of Alila Ventana

The bed is heavenly. We opened a window a crack (with heater off, of course) to have the fresh forest air in the room all night. Nothing gets through the heavy-duty window screen but we did hear a critter (perhaps a squirrel?) climb the outside walls of the building. It wasn’t scary, just interesting. You are in the middle of forest, after all.

Day 2

9am – Breakfast in the Room

We woke up to a beautiful morning and decided to have breakfast in bed. We scanned the QR code burned into a wooden sign (a nice touch) and ordered from the room-service menu.

A charming young server came 30 min later, told us interesting tidbits about the area and laid the breakfast out for us. We had the door to the deck open, it’s so lovely and sunny and warm outside even though it’s the end of November. I’m sitting on the deck now writing this and it’s just heavenly.

You can order anything on the menu, only alcohol was at extra charge. We were so full from yesterday (at home we don’t normally eat three full meals a day), that we hesitated to eat breakfast at all, but the food here is so heavenly that it would be a sin not to try. So we got a Croque Madam, a Fruit platter, Foraged mushrooms, Chia pudding, a pot of coffee and a cappuccino. It was a culinary delight.

Suddenly I heard a really intense bird song/cry right by our bathroom. I stepped out on the deck and leaned over the railing. It was all coming from a small machine on the outer wall! I thought “I uncovered a secret! They actually pump the sound of birds into the forest!” But upon closer examination, the machine was generating the sound of raptors to repel – I guess – pigeons and seagulls from the patios of the guests so they can eat in peace if the so chose to. Every detail is thought of here!

Now Mark is trying to take pix of me writing this at the table on the deck, which is pretty funny. I will insert one here.

12 noon – Forager’s Hike with Chris

We met Chris by the fire pit in front of the Social House, where all the hikes meet. He looks like a foraging local, with his unlaced hiking shoes and a playful twinkle in his sky-blue eyes. He seems to know his way around the forest and might have spent many a night in the wild. I mean that in a best possible way.

He started by telling us that he has only slightly poisoned his family once, with elderberry wine “So you’re in safe hands, what could go wrong?”
He showed us a pretty lily flower and promptly gobbled it up. Then we went to the garden where he didn’t point out the obvious produce but the herbs and weeds. One of them is used for it’s intoxicating properties, “So if you see me around campfire all smiley and woozy, I’ve probably had yarrow tea”. He said the best thing for poison oak sting is ash from your campfire. It stops and then reverses the process on your skin. And this was just the first five minutes of the hike.

He took us through the forest and showed us (we smelled and were not discouraged from tasting) edible, medicinal shrubs, trees and plants, he pointed out the patterns that nature creates. We found turkey tale mushrooms, picked local bay leaf, wild mint, thistle… then we made our way to the beehives as Chris is the resident bee keeper at Alila Ventana.

We bombarded him with questions, and he fired back witty facts, pretty much knowing everything about everything. I’m on cloud nine! Katie, Chris, Jamie and the rest of the staff – they’re a bunch of fantastic, down-to-earth, smart individuals! Honestly, I’m tempted to move in, befriend them all, have sleepovers and tell stories around campfires.

1:30pm – Soap-Making Class ($60) with Caitlin

The soap-making class was also held on the Ocean Meadow lawn, just like the Fermentation class. Tables in a U shape, white tablecloths, cookers, double boilers, a tray with a shiny, clear block of glycerin. There were 2 couples and I.

One of the tables had all the extras – colorful powders for dying the soap mixture (natural minerals, clays, turmeric and such), gritty additives if you wanted to make an exfoliating soap (pink salt crystals, chia seeds etc), and a wooden stand with lots of fragrant essential oils and blends.

Tall glass jars with cork lids held dry herbs: lavender, rosemary, sage. Dried flowers were kept in small glass jars. We cut up the glycerin block into small cubes using a wavy cutter. Very satisfying, like cutting through very thick jello. The cubes went into the double boiler and melted into clear liquid. We all picked up molds to pour our soaps into. The flower ones I wanted were taken so instead of sharing, I picked small round discs.

I got chatting to Caitlin, she tells me she lives 45 minutes from here because it’s more affordable. I asked if she’d been to Esalen Institute which is a 20 min drive away and she said no because it’s pricey which is true, it’s quite a splurge. We talk about wolunteering, which is free. I asked the name of the same flower 3 times. Just couldn’t remember California Everlasting. Bless her, she responded with the same patience each time.

I began by coloring and scenting half of my melted glycerin, carefully pouring it into molds. Then, I reheated the remaining portion to make it a different color and fragrance. Midway through my artistic venture, it struck me—I forgot to film the initial pour. I swallow my frustration, get my camera ready, mix purple mica into the remaining liquid, and begin pouring it over the flowers nestled in each little mold. Only then do I realize I forgot to press the record button. F**k. Oh well, at least I took pictures.

Caitlin complimented our creations. Then I realized that in my eagerness to film the process, I forgot to add the essential oils to the second batch. So no footage, no fragrance. The soaps look adorable though, and half of them even smell lovely. As many a reviewer of this class, I too am thinking of opening a soap shop.

After the class ended, Katie (the Coast Ridge and Fermentation guide) showed up. She called me by name and, as if she knew I was fascinated by this, she showed me a green egg. She explained she only picks hens that lay eggs of interesting colors. I feel like we’re friends already.

2:30pm – Missed Lunch? No way.

I met Mark walking back from his lunch, perfect timing. It was too late for my lunch (why do they do these activities during lunchtime?) so I ordered room service. The in-room dining menu said it was available from 7am to 10pm but the QR code site said they can deliver after 5:30. So Mark texted the reception and they sent us a different menu to chose from. I got a tuna melt, fresh green juice (as in freshly juiced vegetables and fruit, yum!), a cheese platter, and ice cream.

The rays of sun found their way through the beautiful, majestic tree shading our balcony, bathing my lunch in golden light. It only added to the deliciousness.

4:30pm – Social Hour and Dinner

Just 2 hours later, we walked to the Sur House for happy hour and dinner because I’m never too full to try something new and exciting.

We’ve been taking the road to lunch and dinner at the Sur House thinking there must be a better way. No way everyone raves about this walk, which, granted, is still beautiful and woody, but it is a road with an occasional car and golf cart and when you get to the front gate, you need to walk around it via a makeshift shortcut.

Juan greeted us by our names.

The cocktail (the only alcoholic drink that’s included) was the same as yesterday, the signature Marine Layer with a smoke bubble on top. The happy hour is from 4 to 5pm and we reserved all dinners for 5pm so we can do both in one go.

I ordered a kale salad, halibut with lobster, Joel Robuchon mashed potatoes (1/3 butter), asparagus, and the tiramisu that Mark had yesterday. The food was exquisite. Every dish was a masterpiece. Mark’s steak, in particular, was a sublime melt-in-the-mouth experience. We kept feeding each other, excited whenever we discovered a new flavor on our plates.

The sun has been setting during the happy hour this time of year (late November), so I’d suggest to pay attention to sunset times and book dinner accordingly. The whole area is gorgeous, every view is postcard-worthy and sunset amps it up.

Juan asked if we’re coming for dinner tomorrow. With sad faces we told him tonight is our last night at Ventana. He said: “Keep celebrating! Always find a reason to celebrate.”

7pm – Alila Ventana Turn Down Service

The housekeeping team arrived while I was in the room. Unsure of how to convey that we didn’t really need their services but I was secretly eager to see what delightful surprise they’d leave on the bed, I opted for a hasty exit, leaving them as perplexed as I felt. When I came back, I discovered yet another lovely keepsake on the bed—two beautiful pieces of jade, accompanied by a card explaining their meaning. As it turns out, these stones from Jade Cove, just 45 minutes from Alila Ventana, allegedly possess the power to change or even save one’s life.

8pm – S’mores at Social House

I have such long list of things to experience here, that I had to put us on a schedule. Tonight’s plan: S’mores, Gym, Japanese baths, Fireplace, Records, Sleep. Yoga in the morning.

Between 8 and 10 pm, the Social House hosts S’mores time, a sweet affair featuring long skewers, marshmallows, graham crackers, and delish milk and dark chocolate. After playing with Lilly, the resident cat, we selected our S’mores supplies and ventured out to the firepit. My dark chocolate was a bit stubborn to melt. Holding it close to the fire did the trick. To be honest, I’m not a big S’mores aficionado, I was there for the firepit and company.

9pm – Gym, Japanese Hot Baths, and the Secret Path

Then, hopped up on sugar, I had us change into swimming suits and walk to the gym, Japanese baths, and pool.
On our way there, we noticed a sign pointing to a woodland path leading to the Sur House. So that’s where it is! Tomorrow we’ll have to check it out. Shame we didn’t know about it sooner.

The Japanese baths are so cool (not literally, they’re quite hot)! Interesting layout. There’s a female and male changing room at each end (the baths are clothing optional), and when I stepped into the baths, one section was secluded, visible only from the female side, and the middle was where you can meet with your mate of the opposite sex if you so choose. It’s still one big, continuous bath, just with privacy walls and nooks. The nearby pool was still open, nobody in it. It’s heated but just nicely. I don’t like when a pool feels like a bath tub.

The Japanese hot baths were a real treat. The layout is intriguing. There are separate entryways for females and males at each end (remember, these baths are clothing-optional). As I entered the baths, one section was tucked away, visible only from the female side. The central area was designed for those who want a coed experience so that’s were Mark and I were lounging. It’s essentially one large, interconnected, hot jacuzzi, with privacy walls and cozy nooks on both ends. The adjacent pool was still open. It’s heated just right—not too warm, a perfect Goldilocks temperature. Not a soul to be seen, we had both to ourselves.

11pm – Fire, Records, and Toiletries

Back in the room, still full and exhausted, we lit the fire and sat there talking, and listening to the Grateful Death on the vinyl records we borrowed from the Social House. While there, I also checked out the signature Alila Ventana toiletries for sale, $32 per 16 oz. (480ml) bottle. They are heavenly but to get the full set (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash, body lotion), I’d spend over $150, which is an excessive extravagance even on a big birthday, especially for a girl that usually buys her shampoo at Costco, and even that only if it’s on sale.

Well, I learned how to make soap today, maybe I’ll figure out how to make these as well one day. I took pix of the labels to see what essential oils they use. It’s rosemary, spearmint and lavender. No wonder they smell like a heavenly garden meadow.

It’s midnight now, the fire has burned itself out, the hubby is in bed and we have yoga tomorrow at 8am. He is not thrilled that he signed us up but he knew I’d love it.

We’re checking out at 11 am tomorrow. Lunch is included on our day of departure. Mark also booked two Ventana activities past checkout time. How delightful!

Ok, nighty night.

Day 3

8am – Slow Flow Yoga with Abby

Yoga class at 8 am. Woke up before 7, a rosy sky made the waking forest glow. I can’t believe how well I slept again.

I pull on my leggings and a t-shirt that’s probably too short for yoga and is going to ride up and show my overstuffed belly. But it’s cute. I’ll just find a spot at the back. Mark is wearing new sweatpants that I made him buy at Costco a few weeks back. Very cute too.

Ok, back from the Yoga class. We met Abby, our teacher, at The Library, a beautiful, earthy, wood-clad space with high ceilings. Not a book in sight though. We took off our shoes, grabbed yoga blocks and sat on mats set out for us. Abby has the physique of a sculpted athlete.

She put on great music, I’d love to have access to Alila Ventana’s playlist. She approached each of us with a deck of affirmation cards. I pulled one out. It said: “I define my worth and I am worthy”. I almost burst into tears. Mark’s said: “I transcend stress of any kind. I live in peace.” No droplets glistening on his lashes 😊

Abby led us through gentle stretches and poses to awaken our bodies. Some people seemed yoga-versed, couple of guys looked like it was their first time and their girlfriends made them attend. All seemed to enjoy themselves. I loved the Library, Abby, the poses, the long shavasana at the end, and the chats afterwards. I want to live somewhere where I can walk into a yoga class 10 minutes after waking up. And if it was in a forest with an ocean view, I wouldn’t complain either.

9am – Breakfast at the Sur House

We took the new (to us) woodland path to breakfast at Sur House. Both the road and this path have their pros and cons. They are about the same length, 800-ish steps. The road is hillier, so it’s more of a workout, and oddly quieter, believe it or not. The woodland path is covered in white gravel so it sounds like you’re walking on Pringles. We did consider catching one of those chauffeured golf carts but them steps, they won’t walk themselves.

For breakfast, I ordered Fruits and Berries (of course, being the fruitoholic that I am), the Big Sur mushroom tartine (which I thought was a cute way to say “little tart” but was actually an open-faced sandwich on toasted bread), and the green juice again. Mark had granola & yogurt, a pastry basket, and coffee. I got another green juice at the end of my meal.

The tartine was a big pile of foraged mushrooms and greens on toast with ricotta, and a perfectly poached egg. I savored every bite. We took the road home, showered and started packing. Checkout is at 11.

12 noon – Bees and Big Sur with Chris

We checked out at 11:20 using the app, finally hailed one of those golf carts to take us and our bags to our car, stashed our stuff and made our way to the Ocean Meadow for a honey-tasting class with Chris. Behind him was a table with jars of honey ranging in color from almost black to creamy white. I was so excited I forgot to take a picture and Mark is a Pooh Bear at heart so he only had eyes for those jars of hunny.

Chris’ knowledge of bees is astounding. I grew up around a beekeeping uncle but I never gained a fraction of the wisdom that Chris was able to impart in one hour. Meanwhile, we were handing around jars of honey, dipping wooden sticks into each one and comparing their varied flavors while listening to the story of each one and the beas that made it. Forget wine tasting, honey tasting should totally be a thing. Did you know a honey bee can only fly in 2 mile radius and stays faithful to one kind of flower her whole life?

1pm – Lunch at Sur House

We got another amazing table, although all the tables have spectacular view. I had the Mango chicken wings and the Fish of the day – rainbow trout. Mark ordered the Spicy chicken sandwich and Kale Caesar salad. And, of course, we couldn’t pass up on dessert – Mark had the Carrot cake and I the Macha chia pudding. Omg, how I’ll miss these divine meals!

2pm – A New Way Home

After lunch, we took the long way home, a forest path starting at the bottom-most parking lot of the restaurant (downhill even from the gate operator’s stand), running through the bottom of the hill from Alila Ventana, ending in the gardens. There is a path that encircles the whole property and during our various guided hikes and our private wanderings, we walked all of it except for this bottom leg, so, of course, we had to complete the circle.

Two new strawberries ripened in the garden ever since Katie gave me that perfect one. The chickens were happily clucking. I took a deep breath and looked around wondering if this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

We originally planned to squeeze in one more activity, a 3 pm Redwood Hike, but the sun sets at 5:30 so we made the decision to skip it and start heading to explore Big Sur beaches and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

I can’t believe how much we managed to see, to do and to eat in 55 hours!

Alila Ventana, Conclusion and the Bill

So there you have it. That was our action-packed 2-night, 7-‘Experience’, 8-meal, 2-cocktail stay, that still managed to be relaxing, refreshing and magical. We were surrounded by the majestic coastal redwood forest with stunning ocean views. The hotel is a perfect mix of luxurious elegance and rustic simplicity, a touch of sophistication in the wilderness. What stands out is the meticulous attention to detail, making every aspect of your stay amazing.

I have no idea how they pick their staff but every single person is gold. Just to give you an idea of the loyalty and dedication here, one of the valet guys mentioned he’s on the brink of celebrating his 40th anniversary with Alila Ventana next March and his uncle, a breakfast chef, has been part of this family even longer. Enthusiasm radiates from the hotel staff, each person seemingly delighted with their role and committed to ensuring guests feel that warmth.

Not once have I felt out of place at Alila Ventana and that’s a real achievement on their part as I feel out of place almost everywhere. Bravo, Ventana. Bravo.

Thank you for making my birthday so fantastic that the only number I was paying attention to was the one on my room.

If you’d like to see how we travel using US credit card points, have a look here: Travel Hacking with Credit Card Points.

Here’s our bill for the whole stay. We paid $140 for 2 beers we ordered with lunch and for 2 paid activities Mark picked for me, a Soap-Making class and Intuitive Fermentation class, both of which I loved. These were all optional.

4 thoughts on “Alila Ventana, Big Sur: All-inclusive Bliss”

  1. What a lovely review of a magical place. We visited in February 2023 for 4 nights and I cried when I left. I VOWED to be back February 2024. I had 5 nights booked and couldn’t wait. I ended up cancelling the stay because I don’t think it could ever be topped. I loved everything about it. We visited Miraval in August of 2023 and so enjoyed it as well. Big Sur will always remain soooo special to me but we are on the opposite side of the country and it is trains planes and automobiles to get there but so worth it. Miraval so much more convenient and has it’s own simplistic charm. I think though for now the magic of 2023 can’t be topped. I am afraid it wouldn’t live up on a return trip in some weird way.

    1. Thank you, Melissa!

      I totally get what you mean! Even though for us it would just be the “automobiles” to get there, the first visit turned out to be so much more special than I had imagined that I don’t want to spoil the magic by going again anytime soon.

      We were thinking about Miraval too. I love the activities they offer, but the scenery looks too much like what we have at home, so we went for Big Sur’s lush forests.

      If you ever decide to return to Ventana or find another magical place, let me know!

      Ventana, Hobbiton, and Yosemite are a few of the places that made me tear up just by how ridiculously lovely they are!

    1. Thank you, Leta! It really was amazing, and just the first step in Operation: Keep-Me-From-Remembering-I’m-Turning-Vintage. Now we’re in Mexico 🙂

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