To fall for the baths at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, you don't need to know that Joseph Campbell, Hunter S. Thompson, Linus Pauling, Timothy Leary, Joan Baez, Ansel Adams and Henry Miller all loved the place or that the institute offers workshops on a range of topics related to religion, philosophy, psychology, art, sex and healing. To want to get naked at the Esalen baths -- which are clothing optional, with men and women bathing together -- you just need to see the two-story, terraced bathhouse, designed by Big Sur architect Mickey Muennig. Built into the cliffs above a bay, it occupies what is arguably the finest piece of real estate on the Big Sur coast. People who join workshops or go on retreats at Esalen can visit the hot spring at will. Those who book massages ($125-$165 for 75 minutes) can use the bathhouse before and after the treatment; others are welcome by reservations between 1 and 3 a.m. (yes, we mean a.m.) for $20.
Info: The Esalen Institute.
--Susan SpanoEsalen Institute