Guests at California's ritziest self-help retreat center have to be airlifted out by helicopter because of storms

Floods, mudslides, and storms have ravaged the California coastline in recent weeks, leaving many stuck indoors. For the 70 guests and staff stranded at the Esalen Institute, a self-help retreat center for one-percenters  (and those who are will to shell out hundreds of dollars to hole up in a sleeping bag onsite), The Esalen Institute, being rained in could be worse.

On February 21, The Guardian reported that Big Sur’s wettest season on record decimated the Esalen Institute’s road access. Those holed up inside will likely be evacuated via helicopter next week, after the rain eases up. In the meantime, the five dozen entrepreneurs, artists, and spiritual healers who remain are taking advantage of what the retreat center has to offer.

Those awaiting evacuation enjoy ratatouille, Thai curry soup, quinoa, and vegetables plucked from the garden and prepared in the center’s newly renovated dining hall
. A supply of rice, beans, and kale will sustain them when their other food stores dry up.

Workshops have been put on hold since February 12, but employees are still being paid, Gordon Wheeler, Esalen’s president and CEO, told The Guardian.

The Esalen, founded in 1962 by two former Stanford students, offers 600 workshops and programs a year devoted to “cultivating deep change in self and society,” according to the website. It has served as a haven for artists and philosophical types since its founding. Today, approximately 17,000 visitors come every year to unplug and “re-energize a sense of purpose.”

Over the years, the Esalen has attracted major influencers, including American psychologists Carl Rogers and B.F. Skinner, wellness guru Deepak Chopra, and photographer Ansel Adams. The center even got a nod in the series finale of AMC’s “Mad Men,” when Don Draper escaped across the country to an eerily similar coastal commune, in search of himself.


The institute welcomes its fair share of techies as well. Ben Tauber, a former product manager at Google, joined the board of trustees in 2015. Chip Conley, who left his role as head of global hospitality at Airbnb in January, leads programming for CEOs and founders on-site.

Weekend programs start at $US405 for sleeping-bag accommodations and $US790 for standard rooms; seven-day programs start at $US900 and $1,700, respectively.

Workshops may resume as early as March 3, according to a post on the groups’ Facebook page.

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