14 things to know about Hyatt’s Ventana Big Sur

Oct 3, 2020

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Yes, travel looks different this year, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you book a stay at Ventana Big Sur. 

The Ventana Big Sur is an Alila property, located just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, California. Hyatt acquired Alila in 2018, and ever since then, my now-fiancée and I have had our eyes set on visiting what’s arguably Hyatt’s nicest resort in North America.

It took a pandemic to make that a reality, but at least it happened. Read on for everything you need to know about staying at Ventana Big Sur.

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The resort is all-inclusive

Ventana Big Sur closed entirely during the height of the pandemic. With stay-at-home and quarantine orders across the country, the hotel couldn’t operate as normal.

When the resort reopened on July 15, it needed to make a bunch of adjustments to promote distancing and cleanliness (many of which will be detailed below). The biggest, most-noteworthy change, however, is that the resort is now all-inclusive.

According to employees at the resort, management thought an all-inclusive plan would make the most sense in the age of COVID. And after staying there, I tend to agree.

Check out our post for the full list of inclusions, but you basically don’t need to pay for anything during your stay. Meals, snacks, select activities and chauffeur service within a three-mile radius (temporarily suspended) is all included.

It’s a great deal on points

When the hotel went all-inclusive, rates skyrocketed. Before the pandemic, the resort was commanding rates of $1,000 or more a night. Now, a base room can often exceed $2,000 a night.

But the great news is that award prices stayed the same — and are now all-inclusive! The Ventana has just a few base rooms on the property. As a Category 7 hotel, they’re priced at 30,000 Hyatt points per night. The resort is mostly comprised of suites though, so you’ll likely be out 45,000 or 60,000 points per night for a standard or premium suite free night award, respectively.

Ever since the hotel reopened, award availability has been very sparse. There are a few dates left in 2020 with availability, but you’ll have better luck if you look at 2021.

With paid rates for suites exceeding $3,000 a night including tax, I had no qualms about redeeming 60,000 Hyatt points per night for a premium suite. The best way to top up your Hyatt account is with Chase Ultimate Rewards, which transfer instantly to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.

You could also sign up for the World of Hyatt Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points. You’ll earn the bonus in two parts: 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months and then another 25,000 after you spend $6,000 within six months of account opening.

Goodbye, cell service

Hyatt is one of the smaller hotel chains. Whereas Hilton and Marriott have properties dotted all across the United States, Hyatt’s portfolio is mostly limited to major cities.

Yet Ventana Big Sur is very special. About two-and-a-half hours by car from San Francisco, it’s just off Highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) on the south side of Big Sur.

If you’ve never driven the PCH, you’ll want to spend some time in your car enjoying the bridges, nearby hiking and beaches. And though you’ll be taking pictures with your phone, don’t expect to immediately share your shots. There’s very limited cell signal in the area.

Verizon seemed to work best when we visited. My T-Mobile SIM didn’t pick up one bar of service throughout our stay.

For those looking to connect with loved ones or work, the Ventana has fast and free Wi-Fi available throughout the property. There’s a Verizon tower nearby too, but again, T-Mobile didn’t work when we visited.

The rooms are great

There wasn’t much award availability when we booked. So we splurged for what was available — a Big Sur Spa Suite.

When I went to research the property, it was nearly impossible to understand the difference between the more than 11 room categories. Ultimately, award availability dictated our decision.

Though our suite felt a bit more rustic than say, the Pacific House suite, we nevertheless loved it.

All rooms are spread around the property’s 13 room buildings. Some are single-story while others have two floors. Our room was located on the ground floor of the Canyon House building.

The suite itself was simply magical. The plush king-sized bed was on the right-hand side and there were two chairs, a TV and a fireplace at the footstep of the bed.

There was a small table with a welcome amenity in the center of the suite.

Back near the entrance was the stocked minibar (that wasn’t proactively refilled during our stay), two complimentary refillable water bottles, a sink and a coffee maker.

The highlight of the room was most definitely the dual-vanity bathroom that spanned the length of the suite.

There was a deep-soaking tub, a rainfall shower and a separate toilet.

French doors opened to the breathtaking balcony, perched in the middle of the redwood forest. There was a small jacuzzi, two chairs and a hammock on the balcony. Had the rest of the property not been gorgeous, we likely would’ve spent our days just lounging out here.

The views are even better

Words can’t describe the beauty of the property. The resort is built into a forested hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Everywhere you turn, you’ll be awed by the views and reaching for your camera’s shutter button.

As you enter the property, you’ll drive up a short windy road to get to the valet pavilion.

After dropping off your car, you’ll ascend a set of stairs and begin taking in the unbelievable views.

Some of my favorites viewpoints included the chaise loungers near the sauna, the hot tub area, the walk between the hotel and the restaurant and the restaurant’s terrace.

Since the hotel faces west, watching the sunset from different areas of the property was one of our many daily highlights.

You’ll have your pick of pools

The resort’s sprawling property has a bunch of relaxation areas. Our favorites were the two pools.

There’s a “lower” pool located near the entrance of the resort called the Meadow Pool. There were plenty of seating areas around the L-shaped pool overlooking the mountains and ocean.

Behind the Meadow Pool is the resort’s hot tub (temporarily closed due to COVID). The infinity-edged tub has amazing views, so I’d check it out if it’s open during your stay.

The resort’s other pool, the clothing-optional Mountain Pool, is located just up the hill by some of the more elevated rooms. Both pools were heated, but we preferred the views and seating areas at the Meadow Pool.

Either way, both make for a great place to relax.

And a beautiful lawn, too

Right in front of the Meadow Pool is a perfectly manicured lawn called the Ocean Meadow. There were plenty of socially distant reclining chairs here. (Just in front of the lawn is the resort’s organic garden that supplies the main restaurant.)

I’d recommend sitting out here with a drink during sunset to enjoy the view. It was magical.

There are just a few indoor spaces

Because of COVID, we were looking to distance ourselves and stay outdoors as much as possible. Fortunately, both were possible at the Ventana.

Aside from check-in formalities, we didn’t go inside once. The Social House is currently the only open indoor space. The spa and gym are closed, and the restaurant is open for terrace dining only.

Bring an empty stomach

Speaking of restaurants, arrive at the Ventana ready to eat. Of course, food is now included, but the quality, especially considering the remoteness, was remarkable.

The Sur House restaurant is about a 0.3-mile walk from the gym area on a gravel path through the redwood forest or a quick golf cart ride from your doorstep.

The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner.

We enjoyed every meal we had here. The outdoor terrace fills up fast, so be sure to arrive early to get one of the prime tables overlooking the ocean.

The setting was simply stunning.

The service was great and food delectable.

You can check out the breakfast and dinner menus by scanning the QR code.

Lunch is served by the pools or in the makeshift restaurant on the sun deck near the Meadow Pool.

Room service is included as well, but we preferred dining in the restaurant.

Don’t forget to save room for dessert

What’s a vacation without some great dessert?

Ventana has your sweet tooth covered. Desserts at dinner were phenomenal, but our favorite was s’mores in the forest on the walk back from dinner.

Every night at 8 p.m. the resort lights a campfire and provides complimentary s’mores kits for your enjoyment.

In addition, there’s a complimentary daily happy hour located just outside the Social House at 4 p.m.

Some amenities are (temporarily) closed

As mentioned, some of the resort’s amenities are closed due to local county restrictions. The spa, hot tub, gym and Japanese baths are all currently shuttered.

For those looking for some exercise, the hotel has placed two Technogym bikes outside the gym, and two overlooking the forest by the spa.

We knew what to expect going into our stay, so we weren’t dismayed to encounter shuttered amenities. Be sure to double-check what’s open before your visit too.

Pack your walking shoes

Ventana Big Sur is an outdoorsy retreat. You could get around the property by chauffeured golf cart, but our preference was to walk.

Be sure to pack comfortable sneakers since you’re definitely going to get your steps in. Plus, with so much great hiking nearby, you may just decide to do a day trip as well. (Our favorite was the eight-mile Andrew Molera Loop just a few minutes from the resort.)

Everything’s getting cleaned frequently

As you’d expect for a luxury resort, the hotel is taking COVID precautions very seriously.

All the public areas were getting cleaned around the clock. There were single-use masks and hand sanitizing stations available all around the property. Housekeeping service was by request only.

But the most impressive COVID precaution was at the Sur House. Whenever the busboys turned a table, they would sanitize it, and then run a five-minute hourglass before seating guests. (Five minutes was the recommended waiting time for the sanitizer to be fully effective.)

There’s camping — and glamping — on the property

There’s more to Ventana than just the resort.

There are 63 campsites and 15 glamping sites on the property. Before COVID, glampers could access the resort’s facilities, but that’s temporarily suspended. As such, camping and glamping are distinct experiences and effectively separate from the hotel.

Those guests use separate parking lots too, so unless you got this far down in my review, you likely wouldn’t know there’s a campground on property.

Do note that World of Hyatt members can now earn points and elite night credit for stays for camping and glamping at Ventana.

Bottom line

Ventana Big Sur is the perfect escape from the real world — all without driving too far. The suites are gorgeous, the food is great, the property is pristine and the amenities are top-notch.

If you’re looking for a COVID-safe, points-friendly getaway, look no further than Ventana Big Sur.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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