In February 2022, I visited the Alila Ventana Big Sur for a three-night stay, checking off another high-end aspirational resort from my bucket list.
This resort is one of the most attractive properties in the Hyatt portfolio, following on from Hyatt’s acquisition of Two Roads Hospitality and its collection of luxury hotels, including the Alila brand, back in 2018.
If you participate in the World of Hyatt loyalty program, Alila Ventana is one of the most valuable ways to use Hyatt points, especially after its reopening in July 2021 under a brand-new all-inclusive business model.
The resort sits on 160 acres above the rugged mountains of the Central Coast of California, widely considered the longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the United States.
Tucked amongst the redwood forest and overlooking the endless Pacific Ocean are just 59 rooms and suites, set in a spectacular atmosphere of rustic luxury.
In This Post
- King Deluxe Room with Fireplace
- Vista Hot Tub Suite
- Resort Layout
- Pools & Spa
- Social House
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Booking
Award availability at the Alila Ventana Big Sur is rare and difficult to come by. The opportunity to redeem points tends to be available either very far out in advance, or on a last-minute basis.
Indeed, I was looking for award space just prior to the long weekend back in February 2022, and I somehow luckily managed to find a three-night stay at the standard rate, which was 30,000 Hyatt points per night at the time.
I paid a total of 90,000 Hyatt points for the three-night stay; however, I had to top up my balance by purchasing some additional Hyatt points to earn enough points for this redemption.
At the time, this property was a Category 7 with World of Hyatt until the recent changes to the Hyatt categories in March 2022. This property has now been reclassified under Category 8, and now costs 40,000 Hyatt points per night at the standard rate.
Nonetheless, it’s still very difficult to find award space for this property, so if you manage to find available rooms bookable on points, you should definitely secure your booking as soon as possible.
Prior to the pandemic, cash rates were around US$1,000+ a night. Since reopening as an all-inclusive resort, cash rates have been upwards of US$2,500+ per night, which certainly isn’t cheap.
To put things into perspective, my usage of 30,000 Hyatt points per night at Alila Ventana therefore corresponded to a redemption value of 8.3 cents/point (USD), which far exceeds our current Hyatt valuation of 1.5 cents/point (USD).
(Even if you redeem 40,000 points per night at the current rates, you’re still getting an outstanding 6.25 cents/point (USD) in value too.)
Keep in mind that the hotel may require a three-night minimum stay during peak season, while there’s only a two-night minimum at other times, depending on the season.
The three-night minimum can potentially impact whether you can make a booking on a regular weekend or whether you might have to wait for a long weekend, so it’s certainly a factor to keep in mind.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Location
The resort is in the Big Sur region, along Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway), one of California’s most famous drives.
The mountain property is a one-hour drive south of the city of Monterey, about two hours south of San Jose, and about two and a half hours south of San Francisco.
You could fly into any of these three cities and make your way into Alila Ventana; however, it will be a long drive from any direction.
Furthermore, for those making their way between Los Angeles and San Francisco or taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, the Alila Ventana could be a great destination for a luxurious pit-stop along the way.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Check-in
We flew into San Francisco, since it was the only city in the region with a Friday evening flight from Vancouver that worked for our needs. Landing in SFO at 10pm, we rented a car and proceeded to drive two and half hours south to Alila Ventana Big Sur.
(The resort’s three-night minimum status requirement, in effect at the time, is why we needed to travel on such a tight schedule. If it were possible, I certainly would’ve preferred to book two nights at Alila Ventana and stay a night in San Francisco before making the drive in the morning.)
We’d eventually be doing the same drive back up north for two and a half hours to San Francisco for our return journey, this time getting to enjoy all of the spectacular sights along the way.
As you turn off the highway, there is a sign leading to the Alila Ventana, and then a series of winding roads leading up the mountain to the parking area. The resort has complimentary valet parking and self-parking options.
We found the self-parking to be more convenient, as the parking lot was fairly close by to the villas, and we could go to and from our car at our leisure rather than waiting for someone to grab it for us.
Since we arrived fairly late at night, we quickly grabbed our keys from the associate at the Social House reception building.
There wasn’t much of a special check-in experience, as the associate working the night shift didn’t seem overly familiar in her role and invited us to return in the morning for a full introduction to the property.
We then took a buggy directly to the King Deluxe Room with Fireplace, which was a modest upgrade I had received from the base room as a Hyatt Globalist member. I had inquired about a further upgrade to a full suite at the check-in desk, which we’ll revisit later in the review.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – King Deluxe Room with Fireplace
We stayed in the King Deluxe Room with Fireplace for the first two nights of our stay at Alila Ventana Big Sur.
Many of the property’s rooms are housed in individual blocks with upper and lower floors. Our room, Room 30, was at the far end of the lower floor in one of the blocks closest to Social House.
As you enter the room, you’ll find a fully stocked minibar and refreshment counter alongside the dining area. A Nespresso coffee machine, tea, and refillable water bottles are found on the counter.
The dining table had two leather chairs, and on top was a small charcuterie plate with sparkling wine as a welcome gift.
The room had a rustic-chic atmosphere, brought about by the cedar walls and wood furnishings. As you move further into the space, you’ll find yourself in the bedroom, where the king-sized bed is set against the cedar-planked back wall.
The artwork in the room varied from a hand-crafted macramé above the bed to black-and-white photographs of the surrounding landscapes.
A dark oak desk and a chair were on the right side of the bed, while on the left side was a dark oak bedside table with some drawers for storage.
Alongside the window is a nook with a long cushioned bench, adorned with a few pillows for enjoying the view or catching up on some reading.
To its right, you’ll find a door leading to the balcony, with views facing the serenity of the redwood forest. I really enjoyed sitting out here in the morning with panoramic views of nature with my first cup of coffee in hand.
Heading back inside, the king bed faced a stone-wall wood-burning fireplace, and the room came with straw bags of firewood that we could use to keep a fire going. Mounted on the wall above was a large flat-screen TV.
To the left of the bed, the wall features a large window that opens up to the bathroom.
The bathroom finishes continued along the rustic luxury themes, consisting of cedar wood incorporated into the trim of the mirror and vanity shelving, marble for the countertops, and natural stone tiling for the floor and walls of the shower walls.
At the foot of the tub was a walk-in shower with a good water pressure, along with a bench to sit and relax as the water splashed around you.
Overall, the King Deluxe Room served as a comfortable home for the first two nights of our stay, whether it was enjoying charcuterie by the fire or a cup of coffee on on the balcony facing the redwood forest.
Although the finishes of the room weren’t the most luxurious, it had a cozy “cabin in the woods” feeling to it that was perfect for a romantic and relaxing long weekend getaway.
I genuinely would’ve been very happy if the King Deluxe Room were the full extent of the upgrades we had received here at Alila Ventana, but hey, I still decided to roll the dice one last time on our third night…
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Vista Hot Tub Suite
Before our last night, I approached the front desk to see if we could chance an upgrade to a better suite as a Globalist member.
While the resort did appear to be fully booked the previous two nights, I had noticed on the Hyatt app that the Vista Hot Tub Suite was available for the third night, so I decided to take my chance and see if we could change rooms to experience one of the best suites of the resort.
To my delight, the front desk agent checked in her system and confirmed that the Vista Hot Tub Suite was available, and then granted my request for an upgrade on account of my Globalist status.
I really got the sense that the Alila Ventana Big Sur tries very hard to deliver the best experience possible for Hyatt elite members. If an upgrade upon check-in isn’t available when you’re here, don’t discount the possibility of a mid-stay upgrade if you ask nicely.
The Vista Hot Tub Suite was much bigger at 72 square metres large. The suite had an open concept, with the bedroom, pantry, and two seating areas all within one space.
While the first room merely incorporated cedar-planked wall accents, this suite was almost entirely wooden walls and flooring. The wooden beams along the top of the ceiling created an authentic cabin-like atmosphere.
The pantry with a coffee machine is to the right as you enter, and a small shelf and mirror are against the wall.
The suite has a table with two dark leather chairs and additional seating near the wood-burning fireplace. These seats were a lighter rich leather, centred around a cow-hide ottoman and small side table.
This suite’s fireplace was designed with an exposed natural stone compared to our first room’s smooth, stone-wall fire. The flat-screen TV was mounted on the wall above the fireplace.
The king-sized bed featured a wooden canopy with curtains that could be drawn for additional privacy. On each side of the bed was a bedside table with lamps and a vintage telephone on the left-hand side.
On the right wall of the bedroom was a large rustic bureau for additional storage.
The bathroom was located around the corner, just past the pantry as you first entered the room.
The bathroom was well-appointed with an open-concept rainfall shower, double sinks, and an oversized soaker tub.
Both the shower and tub offered direct views of the surrounding forest and meadows, and the door on the left-hand side of the tub would grant access to the highlight of this suite: the balcony and hot tub.
The balcony spanned the entire width of the suite, featuring no less than three different seating options along with the private hot tub at the far end.
The hot tub had a jacuzzi feature and a slipcover over the tub, allowing for continuous and pleasant heat. There were two lounge chairs on the balcony as well.
The balcony was an excellent place to spend time with views facing the sunset. Although some shrubs obscured the direct view, it was still lovely to watch the sky change colours from the comfort of the hot tub.
Needless to say, we were absolutely thrilled with this upgrade, and spent much of the final day at Alila Ventana simply relaxing in the hot tub, on the balcony, and by the fireplace.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Resort Layout
Before delving into all of the resort’s dining, facilities, and activities, it’s worth getting a lay of the land.
Alila Ventana Big Sur is set across a sprawling 160 acres, so it may take you quite a bit of walking to get from place to place. Alternatively, there’s buggy service throughout the resort, so you can ask any associate to call a buggy to come pick you up and get you to your destination.
Below is a map of the resort grounds:
On the western side of the resort, you’ll find the Social House, the Alila Spa, Ocean Meadow, and Meadow Pool.
To the east of the property is the fitness centre, and even further is the Mountain Pool and Japanese baths. Then, after walking down “The Path”, you can find Sur House, Sky Terrace, Glass House, and the Loft.
There are many walking trails connecting the various parts of the resort, with the main trail known as “The Path,” which is a 0.3-mile path through the interior valley of the resort.
This was a great way to get a few steps in the morning as you make your way to the Sur House for breakfast, located at the opposite end of the path.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Dining
A huge part of what makes staying at Alila Ventana Big Sur so special is the all-inclusive dining experience.
With Alila Ventana’s new all-inclusive model, meals and non-alcoholic beverages are covered during your stay. Meals are available at dining facilities, via in-room dining, or ordered to-go.
Breakfast and dinner are offered at the Sur House restaurant, situated at the far eastern end of the resort grounds.
The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating with heat lamps available.
Outdoors you can find a tented seating area, comfortable couches surrounding a fire pit, and a terrace with awe-inspiring views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Lunch is typically served poolside at the resort’s main pool; however, it can also be ordered via in-room dining or as a takeout option.
Alila Ventana has a very flexible and generous all-inclusive meal service. You can order anything off the menu and in unlimited quantities. Naturally, we fully indulged in the gastronomic offerings throughout our stay and tried to sample as many meals as possible.
The only thing that isn’t included in the all-inclusive rates are alcoholic beverages, which are subject to an additional charge. However, the resort does offer a happy hour in the afternoon, which we’ll touch on later in the review.
You can find all the current menus listed on the Alila Ventana Big Sur website. Note that the resort rotates the menu items from time to time.
The breakfast menu runs from 7–11am daily and has a diverse curation of offerings.
Some of the lighter offerings we tried included a chia seed breakfast bowl, mashed avocado toast, Greek yogurt parfait, bagel with lox, and steel-cut oatmeal.
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For the main portions, we also tried a chorizo scramble, roasted chicken hash, French toast, and the Ventana Breakfast, a rendition of the classic American style breakfast.
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We tried to sample as many dishes as possible between the two of us, and each was delicious. The resort incorporates fresh ingredients from the organic garden located on the property, and we found the quality of the food to be excellent.
We ordered juice and coffee alongside each meal, making for a fulsome and great start to each day.
One minor gripe was that the service at Sur House was a bit slow on some mornings, so we decided to order in-room dining at our upgraded Visa Hot Tub Suite for the third morning.
Lunch is typically served poolside from 11am–5pm, encompassing all hours that breakfast and dinner aren’t being served. As always, you can order whatever you like in any quantity from the menu.
For our first lunch, we enjoyed our meal poolside, while the following day we sat out on the lawn chairs in the meadows and ate while overlooking the ocean.
Lastly, on the third day, we had to make our way back to San Francisco, so we opted to order lunch to-go and enjoyed our meal at some of the national parks in Big Sur along the way.
The lunch menu offers more casual dishes and smaller plates. We first sampled the Ventana pool burger and grilled fish tacos, which my partner Jessy found to be just slightly above average.
We also tried the fries with lime juice and cajun spice, which had a unique taste and were very tasty. The guacamole and tortilla chips were also a favourite, and the Ventana tortilla soup was a dish I enjoyed on multiple days.
The blistered peppers certainly stood out; these were done with agave, cotija cheese, tajin and lime. We really loved this dish.
With the generous all-inclusive meal service, if you have both breakfast and dinner scheduled, then lunch can be a generally lower-key affair. That’s precisely what it was for us over the course of our three days, though we enjoyed the small bites offered nonetheless.
It’s worth noting that at the time of our visit in February 2022, lunch was served in paper boxes regardless of whether we were enjoying them on the property or taking it away.
Dinner is available from 5–9pm, and this is where Alila Ventana Big Sur truly shines. The restaurant recently appointed executive chef Keith Potter to curate the menu, and has a team of award-winning chefs preparing the meals.
There are some consistent dishes on the dinner menu, while others are frequently rotated throughout the seasons. You can order appetizers, main courses, and desserts as a part of the all-inclusive meal service.
Before dinner, the Sur House offers a happy hour with complimentary cocktails from 4–5pm daily. This is the only time that alcoholic beverages are complimentary at Alila Ventana.
There are around 6–8 options on each of the appetizer, main course, and dessert menus, so if you’re staying as a group of two for three nights, you can likely sample most of the items between your group. If you’re staying longer, the menus don’t have the broadest range of options, so you may end up re-ordering some of the same things.
For appetizers, there were two that jumped out at us during the course of our stay. The Santa Barbara prawns were perfectly seasoned, and I very much enjoyed slurping the flavour out of the prawn head.
I was also impressed with the Spanish octopus, and I loved that a whole tentacle of the octopus was served. Too often, high-end restaurants skimp on the portions when it comes to octopus, which was certainly not the case at the Alila Ventana.
I also loved the tomato-based sauce that accompanied the octopus, and found the combination of white beans and pepper worked very well.
The restaurant also features daily specials that cannot be found on the menu. The chef will stop by the table and let you know if there are any specials for that evening.
We ordered two appetizers from the specials menu on our third night: the quail and the hamachi crudo.
The quail was crisp and juicy, with a sweet sauce made from apples and pomegranates. I really enjoyed this dish and how well the meat paired with the sweet sauce.
Meanwhile, the hamachi crudo was jam-packed with a delicious combination of flavours, and was a nice Eastern-inspired addition to the menu.
For the main courses, Jessy ordered the seasonal risotto on our first night and found the risotto to be just okay and not very flavourful.
However, we also tried the seared day boat scallops with squid ink risotto on the third night. As long as you like scallops, the risotto with squid ink was much tastier and would definitely be a better choice than the regular risotto.
I ordered the grilled Black Angus beef tenderloin for my main course. The steak was a juicy cut, perfectly cooked medium-rare. Underneath the vegetables was a frothy white sauce, which was also delectable.
Meanwhile, the smoked Fogline Farms duck breast came alongside a butternut squash and balsamic cherry jus, which was yet another main course that I was quite impressed by.
After our main courses, we’d tuck into the dessert menu, and we certainly tried to maximize the number of items we ordered.
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Dinner was undoubtedly the highlight of all three meals. We enjoyed almost every dish that was served, and it was just a matter of some dishes being more wow-inducing than others.
If you’re staying a couple of nights, it’s certainly worth ordering a few of the more complex and unique dishes (including anything on the specials menu if it’s available), as these are the ones that allow the chef’s skill set to shine through.
Overall, the Alila Ventana Big Sur has an outstanding meal offering, and it’s truly one of the most generous experiences you can book on points in terms of the all-inclusive nature of every meal being included in your stay.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Pools & Spa
The Alila Ventana Big Sur has two outdoor heated pools that are a major appeal of the resort. The pools open at 7am and close in the late evening at 10pm.
The Meadow Pool is situated next to the Social House, overlooking the ocean. The pool also features an infinity-edge whirlpool, as well as lounge chairs dotted all around.
We enjoyed spending time by the Meadow Pool the most, as it was larger and great for swimming a couple of laps. We also enjoyed relaxing in the lounge chairs around the pools and down on the meadows.
Furthermore, the Meadow Pool was better for service compared to the other pools, with poolside lunch and snacks available throughout the day.
A major highlight for me were the various hot tubs dotted around the resort, especially the infinity-edge whirlpool that faces north near the Meadow Pool.
This was an awesome place to soak in the views of nature, relax in the morning before a drive, or even late at night in the illuminated glass enclosure after a few glasses of wine.
The Mountain Pool is clothing-optional and is located adjacent to the Japanese hot baths. This is a smaller, quieter pool compared to down by the meadows, and I didn’t see too many guests using it during our stay.
The Japanese baths have two entrances on opposite sides, and the bath itself is split into three partitioned-off sections. These wood partitions create a section for both male and female bathers to enjoy the clothing-optional facilities, as well as a shared middle section.
The Japanese hot baths are certainly worth checking out if you’re on the property, and are a creative addition to the resort’s wellness facilities.
The Alila Spa is next to the Social House. Although we didn’t visit the spa, it offers traditional massage treatments, couple treatments, reflexology and other body treatments with a holistic approach.
The spa has new outdoor cabanas for spa treatments among the redwoods and fresh air, and also features a sauna located next to the spa.
The resort has a small fitness centre open from 7am–7pm, which is well-appointed given its size.
The gym features a treadmill, elliptical, Peloton bikes, and weights, as well as an outdoor area with some resistance bands.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Social House
The Social House is the lobby of the resort and the primary indoor area for guests. The exterior has a rustic appearance, along with an even more rustic and cozy interior.
There is a small seating area by the fireplace near the check-in desk and a separate games room with board games, a chessboard, and a pool table. The space has another section with complimentary coffee and tea.
There is plenty of outdoor seating and an outdoor fireplace, where s’mores are available nightly, beginning at 8pm.
If you’re looking to stay in, the s’mores can also be delivered directly to your room.
This was actually my first time ever trying s’mores, and we opted to bring them to our room and cook the s’mores over our own fireplace, which was a very nice way to cap off our third evening in the Vista Hot Tub Suite.
Alila Ventana Big Sur – Activities
The Alila Ventana offers a series of complimentary activities, which are highly intertwined with nature. In the mornings, guests can participate in complimentary morning yoga, a Tai Chi class, or a meditation class.
Many of the activities are also educational, such as the falconry experience. Guests can get up close and personal with the falcons and learn more about the majestic birds.
There are also a variety of hikes scheduled throughout the day. The Redwood Hike is available daily at 10am. The 1.3-mile loop winds through the resort property and begins from the lobby.
The Foraging Hike allows guests to get in touch with their environment through the forest and fields of the property, while the Bees and Big Sur experience allows guests to learn more about the property’s flowers and bees through blind honey tastings.
Lastly, the resort has a two-hour intermediate hike, the Coast Ridge Hike. This hike climbs 1,000 feet of elevation, over the redwoods and into the high desert while learning about the local flora and fauna.
There is also a Sommelier Wine & Cheese Hour, Sip & Steep Organic Garden Tea Class, Organic Garden Tour, Glass House Telescopic Viewing, and Stargazing.
The Glass House also offers private dining experiences, which can be booked for US$500 per person. If you’re looking for a more simple private dining experience, Sur House will curate a picnic basket for just US$100 to pick up and enjoy somewhere with a view.
You can even choose from 40 classic vintage vehicles, and the resort will arrange the vehicle rental on your behalf for you to drive around and explore Big Sur.
These activities all require reservations. The falconry experience was the only activity I was interested in, but by the time we booked our trip, this activity was already booked up.
Overall, we didn’t necessarily feel that we needed to embark on organized activities during the day to enjoy our stay at Alila Ventana. We simply absorbed the natural setting all around us, relaxed in the pool and spa facilities, and of course indulged in the all-inclusive meal offerings.
In addition, we took the car out of the resort to drive around the Big Sur area a fair bit, which took a few hours of each day at the resort.
We checked out the scenic Bixby Creek Bridge and nearby points of interest like McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach, as well as Point Lobos State Natural Reserve on our way back from Big Sur.
Alila Ventana Big Sur was an amazing all-inclusive experience. It’s downright incredible that you can book this resort on points, and it’s yet another aspirational resort stay that I was delighted to check off my list.
The property is fairly expensive using Hyatt points these days, especially after the World of Hyatt category changes in March 2022. The resort is now priced at 40,000 points per night at the standard rate, and typically has a three-night minimum; however, compared to the cash rates of US$2,000 or more per night, it’s a pretty great bargain.
If you’re someone who loves nature, this is definitely the perfect resort for you. The natural setting and sheer beauty of this part of the United States is simply unparalleled, whether it’s taking in the stunning horizon views or embarking on nearby drives or hikes to admire the Big Sur scenery from all angles.
The accommodations and facilities offered more of a rustic-luxury charm than a true over-the-top level luxury. That didn’t take away from the experience, though, and we still enjoyed every minute of our stay – especially the emphasis on wellness and the multitude of pool and spa facilities, including the hot tub in our suite, the infinity hot tub, and Japanese baths.
And of course, the all-inclusive dining experience was also excellent in terms of the value of staying here on points. The quality of the food isn’t faultless, and some dishes are better-executed than others, but you can’t go wrong by sampling as many items as you can over the course of your stay.
I’d highly recommend staying at the Alila Ventana Big Sur if you’ve been collecting Hyatt points for a high-value aspirational stay, especially one relatively closer to home here in California.