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Whale fountains at Hyatt Highlands Inn California

There are only 12 Hyatt Hotels in the USA in category 6 hotel awards. Only one of these category 6 hotels is in California. Even though I could have stayed at any hotel in the world using my two free nights in a suite from the Hyatt Gold Passport Visa card member enrollment gift as a Diamond member, I chose the Hyatt Highlands Inn to burn my suite nights, only eight miles south on California Highway 1 from where I live.

This was a special weekend for Kelley and me. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary Sunday, January 19, 2014 while watching whales spout fountains on the Pacific Ocean like an unpredictable, real-life Las Vegas Bellagio pool show. That was sort of consolation for the 49ers losing the NFC Championship game on our 25th anniversary.

Whale pod-6

The best gift I would ask for happened as a pod of gray whales hung out for nearly two hours in view of our hotel room. There appear to be at least seven whales together in a pod based on my photos. Wish I had a 300 mm lens.

whale pod-5

Gray whale pod in front of Hyatt Highlands Inn.

This is going to be a two part post on Highlands Inn. My thoughts are if you are spending $700 a night or redeeming 25,000 Hyatt points for one award night, then you need to consider what the Hyatt Highlands Inn offers and what it does not.

Location is the key to Hyatt Highlands Inn

Highlands Inn is a historic hotel location that was on the edge of the Big Sur coast wilderness of California’s central coast when it opened in 1916.  Even with cars today, the 135 miles of coast road between Monterey in the north and San Luis Obispo in the south is a breath-taking journey of big panoramas along the Big Sur coast.

In the 1920s when the Highlands Inn was a young hotel, the series of bridges were not built yet. Several bridges cross mountain ravines where the rivers reach the sea south of the Carmel Highlands over 24 miles of road to the village of Big Sur. The bridges were constructed in the 1930s when the completion of Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast made travel by car along the coast a road trip of just a few hours, when previously the trek could last for days. The job of constructing Highway 1 on the Big Sur coast in the 1930s provided government financed Depression era work in Monterey County. There are several named bridges with 1930s dates on the road.

Bixby Bridge-1 Big Sur

Bixby Bridge (1932) is the most photographed of the bridges along the Big Sur Coast.

Kelley and I were happy that Hyatt Highlands Inn was our destination after seeing a line of cars several miles long heading north on Highway 1 out of Big Sur. The traffic for the three day MLK holiday weekend rivaled any summer peak tourism day in Monterey County. The record warm temperatures in these parts for most of January has meant fog-free sunny days nearly every day with daytime temperatures in the 70s. The weather in January 2014 has been better than summer here on the central coast of California.

Carmel Highlands

Carmel Highlands seen from Point Lobos State Park. Hyatt Highlands Inn is concealed in the Monterey pine forest at center, far right of this image.

More than anything, the Highlands Inn is about the Pacific coast view. Being a Monterey local, I live in a place where the cost of a house with an ocean view is in the $1 million range. Four miles to the south in Carmel, the ocean view homes price around $3 million. South of Carmel in the Carmel Highlands the home price for an ocean view is $4+ million.

Joan Fontaine, Oscar winning actress, died at her Villa Fontana Carmel Highlands home in December 2013. She was one of the 822 residents who live in the Carmel Highlands. Transient guests staying at Hyatt Highlands Inn and neighboring Tickle Pink Inn increase the population by another couple hundred daily.

California Market view

Dining with a view on the patio of California Market.

The opportunity to rent a Carmel Highlands room with a view is something most visitors to the Monterey Peninsula area do not have the money to afford. I have been fortunate to stay at the Hyatt Highlands Inn several times over the past five years when burning free nights earned from different Hyatt Gold Passport promotions.

The more fortunate can buy a timeshare rental at the Hyatt Highlands Inn.

Or just take the Hyatt Vacation Club offer for a discount rate and come visit Carmel Highlands at less than market rates in trade for a 90-minute timeshare purchase pitch.

Hyatt Vacation Club

Most of the units at Hyatt Highlands Inn are timeshare rentals. I read through the government planning report from 1998 stating 25% of the rooms at Hyatt Highlands Inn must remain nightly hotel rentals.

My focus here is on the hotel portion of the property.

Hytt Highlands front door

Main door to Highlands Inn. The landscaping on the hotel grounds gives the guest plenty of fresh flowers and shrubs to enjoy, even in the heart of winter.

Highlands Inn view-1

The lobby has picture perfect windows. After two years since my last stay at the Highlands Inn, the timeshare sales presentations still dominate the lobby and reduce its leisure appeal during the daytime hours. To me, the timeshare sales in the lobby is the biggest detractor of staying at the hotel. I visited the lobby early in the morning before any activity was happening. My other trip into the lobby was brief after the meetings had begun. I got the feeling the timeshare sales reps did not want gawking guests standing in front of the lobby windows taking photos while trying to lure a prospective buyer with the incredible views.

lobby view to Point Lobos

Lobby view looking north to Point Lobos State Park.

Lobby windows

Check out the pictures on the wall when you get a chance. One of the trippy facts of these photos is a local photographer snapped lightning strikes in the area on 9/9/99. Something of a numerological happening in Big Sur country.

On 12/12/12 I photographed mother and son rare wild California condors independently feeding on a sea lion carcass cast in the rocks after the largest tide of the year. I spotted the condors on a coastal trail location about four miles south of the Carmel Highlands Inn at Soberanes Point of Garrapata State Park. Unfortunately, my photographs and video that day are certainly not the quality of photos hanging in the Hyatt. Still, my 12/12/12 encounter with the imagery of California condors makes 9/9/99 large photographs of a storm especially profound to see in the Highlands Inn.

lobby south

The video monitors on the sides of the main lobby space are timeshare sales desks. Prior to 2011 the timeshare sales team was housed up the hill in the Hyatt Vacation Residence section of the Highlands Inn. That space was converted into the fitness room and the sales desks moved into the lobby in 2011. Obviously, timeshares are where the money lies in this property and that aspect of the lodge has taken over the hotel. Timeshares are 75% of the 140 or so rooms.

lobby north

Lobby view looking north. Friday and Saturday nights offer live music in the lobby.

Windows north view

Lobby picture windows looking north. The telescope has been a fixture in this lobby for as long as I remember. This was the first time I noticed it no longer appears to work.

California Market

California Market is the breakfast and lunch restaurant for the property. The room has inside seating, although on this morning nearly all the diners were outside eating on the deck in the 65F sunshine.

Pacific's Edge restaurant

Pacific’s Edge fine dining evening-only restaurant.

Highlands view

The wedding deck below Pacific’s Edge and above the Pacific Ocean. This is one of my few photos showing the Carmel Highlands hills rather than the ocean.

Highlands pull-out

Another interesting fact I learned from the Hyatt Highlands Inn timeshare approval permit by the planning commission is this pull-out view on Highway 1 below the hotel was created as one of the concessions for hotel to timeshare conversion approval.

Pool view

Pool at Hyatt Highlands Inn and patio deck of California Market seen on upper right and windows of Pacific’s Edge to the left. The pool was like bathwater which must be a significant heating expense since nighttime temperatures have been in the upper 30s and low 40s during the clear sky warm days of December and January.

Related Posts:

In the Heart of the Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn (Jan 5, 2009)

Hyatt Vacation Club Sales sullies Hyatt Carmel Highlands stay (Dec 31, 2011)

Highway 1 Big Sur Coast Drive detour (Sep 19, 2013)

I have written dozens of posts on Point Lobos and Big Sur that can be found through a search of the Loyalty Traveler site.

Next post will share photos of Hyatt Highlands Inn townhouse bi-level room #505. I will also track down some photos I never posted of the Point Lobos Suite where I stayed in 2010.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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1 Comment

  • Sheryl January 22, 2014

    Thanks for the detailed review! My husband and I are visiting in March for our 10th wedding anniversary and I’m really looking forward to it. I enjoyed reading these two posts about it.

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