A day at Tassajara

May 27th, 2019 by becky

For our last full day of vacation, we decided we wanted to spoil ourselves. Becky really wanted to spend a day at a spa or something. We were driving up the California coast past Big Sur, so she looked up “hot springs”. The first one she looked up involved a 10-mile hike and was closed due to flood damage from a couple years ago. The 10-mile hike was a no-go anyways. Then she saw Tassajara – a Zen Monastery that allows summer day visitors and has Japanese style hot springs baths. Sounded pretty ideal. She called and made a reservation for the following day (Friday). When she called, she was warned of a 14-mile dirt road with steep downhill and 4-wheel drive recommendation. That hasn’t stopped us from trying before so it wasn’t about to stop us trying this time.

Then we set our GPS to navigate us there only to discover that in order to get there we had to drive all the way to Caramel and then loop back, because it was accessed by the upper portion of Big Sur State Park . Scott used our trusty Ultimate Campgrounds app and discovered a couple of forestry campgrounds along the road to Tassajara, so we planned on camping on one of them the night before – that would put us closer and allow us to spend more time at Tassajara, and let us leave early enough to avoid driving the dirt road in the dark. We spend a nice night at White Oaks campground in an not exactly flat space (we were on quite an angle, even after using levellers). A bit pricy given the amenities or lack thereof, but well worth it.  What struck us most was the sound of the birds when we woke up in the morning. It was blissful.

White Oaks Campground, California

We had been warned about the road but decided to give it a try. We figured that if it became too problematic we could decide to turn around, but so far, the road was in quite good shape. In some ways it was worth it just for the drive. As we climbed higher into the mountains the views were incredible.

View at about the half way point on the road.

The road itself got a little narrow in places, but our experience at Overland Expo meant that we were more confident in our abilities with van. Becky was even calm as the passenger.

The beginning of the 4-mile downhill segment into Tassajara Hot Springs.

The road was a little rough and narrow, but nothing that our van could not handle. 

When we arrived, we saw the immediate beauty of the place. Our first order of business (after checking in) was to go on a short hike. Since we decided to be without electronics (with the exception of cameras), we cannot tell you how long our hike was, but we took about 45-minutes exploring. We climbed one of the hills to check out the “helicopter pad” (which was just a cleared patch on the ridge of a mountain).


One of the creeks we crossed on our hike.


The view looking down towards Tassajara. You cannot see it, but it is at the bottom of the valley.


We even had some fun at the helicopter pad taking panoramics.

After our hike we enjoyed a hearty lunch – soup, salad, bread, and dessert. Becky skipped the bread part, but was happy that she could still partake in the soup, salad, and dessert.

We then decided to check out the swimming pool before heading to the baths. Becky found the pool to be a nice length for swimming laps and wished she had her swim snorkel with her (and earplugs to keep the water out of her ears).

After a short swim it was time for the baths. The baths are segregated. They are listed as clothing optional, but really it was more like you were odd if you were wearing anything. They had two hot tubs at different temperatures, and a steam room. Plus, if you wanted to cool down, you could take a walk down to the creak and cool off in its cold flowing water. It was truly delightful until the biting insects came out (some kind of fly).

We had enough time to also enjoy the 1 hour orientation to zazen in the Zendo. It was interesting to learn about the rituals that were used in their particular form of Zen meditation practice. It is done in community and yet it is such an individual thing. You spend most of the time sitting facing a wall, so that you are not distracted by anyone else in the room.

We found ourselves considering a longer visit in the future. Over the summer, if they have rooms available you can rent them. We are thinking of looking into a two or three night stay sometime mid-week. There is no internet, so it would need to be time when we could both be away from work. We both felt like we could spend days exploring the different hiking trails, eating the wonderful food, meditating, and just being one with the space. The thought is so peaceful.

Until next time …

What a great way to end a vacation.

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