Asilomar Conference Grounds: A Cozy Retreat in California

There seems to be an increase in religious meetings and gatherings. Perhaps there is a correlation of an increase in the need for personal growth and spiritual centeredness in a down economy, or perhaps people are simply seeking fulfillment and a deeper meaning to life in these modern times.

Scripps Lodge as Asilomar Conference Grounds. Photo Courtesy of Aramark Parks and Destinations

According to a Religious Conference Management Association survey, its members planned nearly 14,000 meetings in 2009. These days, for obvious reasons, faith-based groups and spiritual meeting planners have become more budget-conscious. The RCMA’s 2009 Annual Report on the state of religious meetings reports that the types of meeting facilities used for religious meetings is shifting more towards resorts over suburban hotels. The types of venue they are drawn to make quite a difference in the ambience and outcome of the meeting.

Resorts with a more intimate environment and nature-surrounded settings better complement spiritual and religious activities. Asilomar Conference Grounds, located within the scenic town of Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, has seen a rise in religious meetings using its conference facilities.

Pacific Oceans views captivate guests at Asilomar Conference Grounds on California’s Monterey Peninsula. Photo Courtesy of Aramark Parks and Destinations

Asilomar was created in 1913 as a YWCA retreat. A Stanford University student, Helen Salisbury, presented the befitting name, Asilomar, which loosely translated from Spanish means, “refuge by the sea.” The original buildings, 11 of which are now the National Register of Historic Places, were designed by noted San Francisco architect Julia Morgan, who is famed for designing Hearst Castle.

In 1917, Ellen Browning Scripps visited Asilomar and graciously purchased an additional seven acres for the facility. The Scripps Lodge on the grounds bears her name.

As the years went on, Asilomar was more than a facility for the YWCA.  In 1920, housing on the grounds grew to accommodate 500 guests and the complex opened year-round to welcome religious groups, college conferences and women’s training courses.

Hearst Social Hall at Asilomar Conference Grounds. Photo Courtesy of Aramark Parks and Destinations

However, as times grew tight with the Great Depression in 1933, the YWCA wanted to discontinue its funding to conference facilities and hotels and recommended closing Asilomar. The property was put up for sale — but went unsold — and YWCA leaders in California formed a committee to upkeep the empty facility. From 1936 to 1940, Asilomar was leased as a motel, and then in 1943, the YWCA opened the once again empty rooms to World War II military families.

Without a new owner, the YWCA operated the grounds as a full-service conference facility, until July 1, 1956, when Asilomar become part of California State Parks system along with an additional 35 acres of beach and dunes land.

Today, Asilomar preserves the very traits that made it such a remarkable retreat so many decades ago. Asilomar Conference Grounds currently has 312 guest rooms, the Crocker Dining Hall and 30,000 square feet of windowed meeting space, welcoming groups of up to 1,000.

Its cozy, comfortable environment and ecologically diverse surroundings of towering Monterey pines and ancient sand dunes have become a haven for religious gatherings. Asilomar features a meandering complex of 30 historic buildings housing the guest rooms and 30 architecturally significant meeting rooms. Some meeting rooms have pianos and fireplaces, and all feature windows and full audio/visual capabilities. The entirety of the Asilomar Conference Grounds now encompasses 107 dramatic ocean-front acres.

The chapel at Asilomar Conference Grounds. Photo Courtesy of Aramark Parks and Destinations

Between meetings, guests can take a morning walk along a coastal trail or a sunset stroll in the neighboring dunes boardwalk. Conference Ground facilities feature a heated pool, volleyball, and a social hall a grand piano and two antique billiards tables. The grounds are just minutes from such scenic destinations as Carmel, Monterey and the famous “17-Mile Drive” of Pebble Beach. Guests will marvel at all the available opportunities to experience sightseeing, shopping, golf, sport fishing, boating, horseback riding and wine tasting within minutes of Asilomar.

At nature’s doorstep, Asilomar retains many of the native flora and fauna of the peninsula. Sea otters and seals swim in nearby waters, while deer and raccoon make their home on the grounds. Free self-guided audio tours or a nature walk with a park ranger will give insight to the fragile beauty and ecosystems that surround.   November through March, guests are encouraged to visit the nearby Butterfly Sanctuary to see thousands of Monarch butterflies that migrate annually to Pacific Grove.

“During life’s challenging times, whether they be personal, physical, emotional or financial in nature, people are often drawn closer to their spirituality or their religious influences in search of inner peace, comfort, enlightenment or the discovery of a new direction in life,” said Mike Boyer, director of sales and marketing for Asilomar Conference Grounds. “Serene and natural locations like Asilomar’s ocean setting provide the ideal atmosphere for this deeply personal and reflective type of conference.”

All religious meetings can be booked via a package that includes a guestroom, three meals a day, all taxes and fees and even a complimentary general session meeting room for groups of 25 or more rooms per night.

For more information about Asilomar Conference Grounds or the type of meetings held there, call Milda Iliscupidez at 831-642-4228 or visit