Getting Away From it All with an Off-Season Winter Glamping Trip to Ventana Big Sur on the Central Coast
Any well-seasoned adventure traveler knows that the best time to visit any heavily trafficked or extremely popular area is to go in the off-season or shoulder season. Those times when the weather isn’t as ideal or during certain holidays when some places are closed can be the perfect time to plan a getaway and save a bit of scratch at the same time.My partner-in-crime and the love of my life recently turned the big 4-0 and to celebrate I planned a week-long adventure/romance/glamping getaway to the Central Coast. For one week in February we camped, luxuriated, and adventured our way through a rainy but breathtaking Big Sur. Side Note: Don’t believe me about the off-season? Read this story that I wrote for Money Magazine on finding great deals on adventure travel.
Glamping in the Redwoods
Glamping is a thing in Big Sur and around the country, as anyone with an Instagram account can tell you. Having experienced both ends of glamping –uh glamour– I can say, without question, that Ventana Big Sur’s newly opened luxury camping accommodations are absolutely amazing. Even in sub 40-degree weather. I booked one of the glamping sites on the 160-acre Ventana Big Sur property in late December, thinking that it would be a fun way to combine my love of adventure travel with Nelson’s love of being outdoors. Sure, I was a little worried about freezing my tail off in mid-February, but the woman on the phone assured me that the addition of heated blankets, sweater-wrapped hot water bottles, instant hot water, and a gas-powered fire pit would take all the chill out of the winter air amongst the magnificent redwoods.
For $500 a night, I booked one of the Canyon Glampsites–nestled away from some of the lower tents (called the Redwood Glampsites) and with a moderately steep and wooded path leading to space, the Redwood area is simply breath-taking. It’s one of the newest areas at Ventana Big Sur, and we were lucky enough to be nestled against a babbling brook as it made its way down the hill.
How do you Check in at the Ventana Big Sur Glampsites?
One of the incredible things about Ventana is how private and protected it is. Nestled behind a series of coded gates and call boxes, you can find the ultimate glamping experience.Ventana Big Sur is directly across Highway 1 from the well-known and well-loved Post Ranch Inn. Wind your way past the wood and iron structure at the entrance, up the hill towards Ventana’s restaurant, The Sur House. You’ll come to a giant iron gate with a sunburst on it (Ventana’s emblem) and to the right of the gate is a small call box. Use the call box to buzz the front desk and the concierge will buzz you through.
Once inside, valets greet you by name and walk you up a short flight of stairs to the main entrance of the hotel. The reception area is housed inside a building called the Social House. Here you can check in, chat with the front desk, play games like pool or chess, partake in the daily wine and cheese hour (4-5pm), read near the roaring fireplace, or pick up a few bottles of water or coffee before hiking down to the fairy ring of redwood trees on the property.
Just down from where you check in at the Social House sits the Spa Alila, the main pool overlooking the vegetable and herb gardens and ocean below, a giant infinity-edge hot tub that looks out over the valley, and the Finnish style sauna.
A second pool, called the Mountain Pool, offers clothing-optional swimming and is located further up the path nestled above the warm and private Japanese Baths that are open 24-hours.
Check in at one of the two desk-like tables located directly to the right of the doorway and your receptionist will give you a map of the area, a set of special codes to get into the gated glamping area, and a pair of key cards to access the bathhouse located down near the campsites. Once set, you hop back in your car and follow the signs back down towards the campsites.
How Do You Get to the Glampsites at Ventana Big Sur?
The road down to the campsites is narrow and winding. Large RVs, campers, and even some larger pick-up trucks likely wouldn’t make it down the path–so be aware if you’re driving a larger vehicle. RVs and campers are not allowed in the Ventana campsites. The 2019 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S wagon that Mercedes loaned me for the week was a perfect vehicle on the wet, windy and narrow road to the glampsite.
Initially, when we first arrived, we went straight down to the campsites thinking someone would be staffing the small guard house at the entrance. During the high season there would be someone on duty to check you in. In the middle of February, however, it’s unstaffed. If there’s no one in the guard house, there’s a call box you can use to dial the front desk. They’ll give you instructions for how to check in for your campsite.
As you head down to the glamping, you’ll wind past the campsites (small and suitable for tent camping) and up to a gate with another call box. There you put in the special code you got when you checked in, and the gate will swing open. Follow the paved portion of the road until it stops, look for your glamping site number (ours was G7) on wooden posts along the side of the road and park in your designated spot. There will be small paper signs with your name on it, attached to the poles to verify that you are parked in the correct space.
Once you park, grab your gear and begin to walk up the dirt road leading to the Redwood and Canyon Glampsites.
Since our Canyon Glampiste was G7, we only had to walk up a short, but rather steep hill to our site. Though it was dark by the time we arrived, the lights were burning, and the tent was open, welcoming us to our home for the next two nights (or so we thought).
Inside the electric blankets were already warming up and a large mason jar of S’mores ingredients sat waiting to be made. Nelson turned on the gas fire pit, and we settled in to watch the flames dance for the night.
What do the Glampsites at Ventana Big Sur Include?
Each Canyon Glampsite includes a firepit (and firewood, should you be so inclined), a gas-powered fire ring (located on your private deck), two Adirondack chairs, a sink with running and potable water, an instant-hot tap, a cooler, a pair of sweater-wrapped hot water bottles, a round mirror, two walking sticks, three lanterns, a large comfortable bed with an electric blanket that has two separate controllers for each side of the bed, a welcome basket full of fixin’s for S’mores, and morning tea, and a picnic table.
A short walk down the hill will take you to a pair of one-seater portable bathrooms in a raised trailer. Think of it like something you’d see at Pebble Beach Car Week.
When you check in, the hotel also gives you two key cards to use at the Redwood Bathhouse which is further down and has two parking spots directly in front of it. The floors are heated, and inside you’ll find as many towels as you could possibly want, as well as, Q-tips, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and facial towels. The women’s side has two shower stalls and three toilet stalls. There are also three sinks.
In the morning (starting at 9 am) you can get pastries (option of Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins or Croissants) coffee and tea at the welcome tent. They’ll have a roaring fire going, and you can help yourself to the complimentary food and drink.
What’s it Like to Stay at the Glampsites At Ventana Big Sur?
Put quite frankly, it’s truly amazing to stay at the glampsites at Ventana Big Sur. Going in the off-season during the winter is probably one of the best times to go because it’s quiet, unpopulated, and truly away from it all without feeling isolated. You no longer have to hike into a remote place to discover what it’s like to camp amongst the Redwoods.
Our first night was cold. Temperatures dropped into the mid 30s, and both of us had our electric blankets on as high as they would go. We sat around the gas fire listening to the brook run along the gully next to the tent until about 8 pm when we got too cold and decided to climb under the covers and get warm. I slept in multiple layers and both Nelson and I kept our hot water bottles close all night. At one point during the night I finally got hot and took off my wool sweater and stocking hat, but if you’re camping in February along the Central Coast, I’d recommend bringing stuff that keeps you warm and somewhat dry. The natural white noise of the brook and the soft sounds of the forest around you will lull you to sleep.
The light comes up early even though you are in a valley at the Canyon Glampsites at Ventana Big Sur. I was up around 7 and the grey morning fog was just starting to lift. There was one other couple staying in the Redwood Glampsites down the road and Nelson and I saw them once that morning.
What Happens if There is Bad Weather and You’re Glamping at the Ventana Big Sur?
We knew weather was coming. After all, February on the Central Coast is known for being cold and wet. We had booked two nights in the Ventana Big Sur Glampsites but the first morning we woke up, the hotel let us know that a large and potentially dangerous storm was headed our way.
In addition to the two days I’d booked at the glampsites, I also booked the Cottage Room (room 53) at the Ventana Big Sur for the end of our stay as a special gift and experience for Nelson. (I’ll review the Cottage Room at the hotel in another post to come!)
In our case, (and likely as a result of the booking) the hotel moved us into our Cottage Room one night early, for the same price we paid for the glampsite. Boy, was it a good thing they did. The entirety of Big Sur got hammered with a three-day storm with wind gusts that topped out at 60 mph and rain that closed the roads both north and south of the area. It was a fantastic surprise to move into the Cottage early and a welcome one considering just how gnarly the storm was. I’d imagine that the hotel would take similar steps during the high season in the face of a massive storm.
Overall, glamping at Ventana Big Sur is an awesome experience, even in the middle of the winter. It’s incredibly empty, quiet, gorgeous and, with the right gear, not too cold. I’d absolutely recommend glamping at Ventana Big Sur for anyone interested in trying “camping-light,” especially in the off-season.