Check into secluded Treebones Resort, and enjoy the best of Big Sur.

By Jeff Book
July 26, 2007
Kurt Simonson 

As it twists along the central California coast, fabled Highway1 carries far more convertibles than your average road. Given achoice, who'd want to shut out any of Big Sur's cinematic scenerywith a hardtop? Still, even with their roofs retracted, fewmotorists notice the soft-tops clustered above them, on a bluffoverlooking the Pacific. They're yurts, the round tents longfavored by nomads on the vast steppes of Mongolia. At TreebonesResort, they've proven equally well-suited to the grandeur of BigSur.

Planted on platforms, the yurts feature such homey elements aswood doors and floors, lamps, heaters, skylights, and comfortablefurniture. "It's like camping but better," declares a guest notaccustomed to roughing it. "You come here after a day of hiking andit's as though someone pitched the tent for you. And you don't haveto sleep on the ground."

The remarkable eco-resort was conceived and built by Corinne andJohn Handy, who bought the property two decades ago. "For years wecame here as a family and camped," says Corinne. When the propertywas rezoned commercial, they realized others would enjoy the sameexperience: "People are looking for something different," Johnsays. "This is a unique place to stay, hanging out on the edge ofthe continent."

In this still-wild spot, winter storms churn the sea andsometimes close roads. "We've had gusting 80-mile-an-hour winds,"John says. "The yurts just shrug them off. They're inherentlyflexible and wind-resistant." All 16 yurts have hot-water sinks,with showers and toilets housed in separate, communal buildings.More than a way to curry favor with the public, the eco-friendlyaspects are highly practical. Treebones is largely self-contained.A well supplies potable water. Electricity comes from quiet propanegenerators, and their exhaust heat warms the pool, hot tub, andbath floors.

A centrally located lodge contains the gift shop, receptionarea, and a dining room with a vaulted pine ceiling. "We wanted acommunity center where people could gather at the end of the dayand share their adventures," John explains. At breakfast, guestsfuel up on waffles, fruit, yogurt, and coffee. Dinner typicallypresents a choice of fish, chicken, or beef, all grilled over woodand served with vegetables.

After meals, a few guests happily retreat into their fabriccocoons, perhaps enjoying an in-room massage, occasionally emergingto soak in the hot tub or lounge on Adirondack chairs placedoutside each yurt. While the resort can arrange guided hikes andsea kayaking with local outfitters, most visitors venture out ontheir own to sample Big Sur's bracing beauty. On both sides ofHighway 1, easy hikes lead to glorious beaches, waterfalls, andancient redwoods.

Nearby, the arches of Willow Creek Bridge curve theatricallyabove a boulder-strewn beach. A mile or two north, a long stairwayleads down to cliff-backed Sand Dollar Beach. The surf here gallopsashore like stampeding horses, white manes flying. Farther up thehighway, a trail at Limekiln State Park leads to a pretty cascadepouring over a vertical garden of mosses.

The restaurants and attractions clustered in the northern halfof Big Sur are easy enough to reach from Treebones, in the emptiersouthern end. But guests find plenty to do without going far fromtheir domed homes. For lunch, they pack a picnic or grab a table onnearby Lucia Lodge's clifftop terrace, where the burgers are asimpressive as the view.

At day's end, traffic along Highway 1 dies down. Within theyurt's soft walls, natural sounds―waves breaking, elephantseals barking―lull lucky visitors to sleep.

The yurts seem a far cry from opulent Hearst Castle, 25 miles tothe south. But consider this: For years before he built his seasideXanadu, William Randolph Hearst and his family camped on their landin nicely furnished, wood-floor tents. Hearst loved this majesticcoast, and no doubt he would have appreciated the rustic ease ofTreebones Resort.