Esalen Institute’s location on Big Sur (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Reach a meditative place effortlessly to experience physical, mental and emotional rest in a state of renewal and silence. Learn to dissolve deep stress in a group class with a teacher trained in centuries-old disciplines. There may be benefits in facilitating deeper thought, better relationships, physical and mental well-being and inner peace, plus an ability to take away a process that you can use anytime, anywhere.

55000 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
(831) 667-3000

At 150 miles south of San Francisco, this famed Big Sur non-profit center of gravity for spiritual discovery cannot be overlooked in any discussion of Bay Area and meditation. Celebrating half a century in 2012, Esalen is the “Olympics of the mind, heart, body, spirit, and community.” Gain some time and space to embark on your personal path of reflection somewhere among its 27 remote cliffside acres, at the streamside meditation roundhouse, on the farm or in the gardens. Attracting 20,000 visitors a year, Esalen indicates that the catalogue of offerings for personal and social transformation is more than enough to fill a lifetime of learning. What not to bring? Your cell phone.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center
5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Woodacre, CA 94973
(415) 488-0164

Traditional Buddhist Vipassana has been practiced for 2,500 years. Attending a daily insight meditation experience means an entire day is spent in silence with alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Alternatively, join a residential program of two to nine nights or even a two-month-long getaway. Spirit Rock calls itself “a place that always looks in two directions: inward and outward.” According to teacher Jack Kornfield, “You look at the shining faces of people after a week of retreat, and they look like they are 10 years younger.”

Japanese Buddha in Golden Gate Park (credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center
1601 Shoreline Highway
Muir Beach, CA 94965
(415) 383-3134

The setting is half an hour’s drive from the city and half an hour’s walk from the waves of the gorgeous cove at Muir Beach. The residential Soryu-ji (Green Dragon Temple) practices in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Zen priest who migrated to San Francisco in 1959. Aligned with San Francisco Zen Center, this Marin location brings organic farming to the edge of the sea. Saturdays offer one-day and half-day introductory sittings or come on Sunday mornings for Zazen followed by a Dharma talk and lunch. Longer residential stays are available including apprenticeship programs.

Art of Living
2368 Walsh Ave.
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 365-4265

The Art of Living Foundation features Sahaj Samadhi Art of Meditation Course, Mind & Meditation, Art of Silence and Long Sudarshan Kriya instruction. Fans are keen on the weekly introductory session about the free programs for those who have attended prerequisite courses. Contentment meditation, relaxation meditation, sustaining happiness and overcoming stress are among the topics covered. The non-profit educational and humanitarian Art of Living Foundation founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has expanded to 12 locations in the Bay Area and is found globally in 160 countries on six continents.

East Bay Meditation Center
285 17th St.
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 268-0696

Have you tried meditation? Are you looking to establish a practice that works for you? Many report success with the EBMC’s Monday evening four-part series giving easy-to-follow instructions for body, heart and mind states. The independent center makes efforts to reach the widest possible audiences, is 100 percent wheelchair accessible, emphasizes a fragrance-free environment, requests contributions via the practice of “Dana” according to one’s means and offers sessions specifically for people of color and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Try a down-to-earth place that runs on generosity, inclusiveness and teaching.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on