'Mad Men' Fans Scramble to Investigate Real-Life Don Draper Retreat Center After Finale


The president of Esalen speaks with THR about the coastal retreat that inspired the 'Mad Men' finale.

Don Draper's costal retreat getaway in the Mad Men series finale has triggered a massive surge in curiosity around Big Sur's famed Esalen Institute, the likely inspiration for the tranquil retreat center depicted in the show.

An Esalen representative tells The Hollywood Reporter that the institute's website and social media platforms have experienced record-breaking spikes since the Mad Men finale aired on May 17.

"We normally have around 1,000 sessions per day on the Esalen website, and on Sunday that increased to 2,583," the Esalen representative says. "Monday it peaked at 6,238, but Tuesday it was still at 3,230. There has also been an increase in calls to our reservations line."

The likes on posts published on Esalen's Facebook is up 73 percent over the last week and the "post reach" metric — the number of users reached by each post — is up 3,672 percent. Esalen's total reach on Facebook is up 835 percent from the week before the finale.

"We love the increased attention because it drives people to our website and our catalog," Esalen president Gordon Wheeler tells THR. "We appreciate the traffic."

Wheeler says their registrations are at near capacity almost all of the time, and that interest in the retreat center and educational institute has grown especially in the past decade. They can house about 140 people on-site, with any overflow accommodated at hotels nearby. (Wheeler recommends that people book their stay at least a month in advance in order to secure a spot.)

As for Mad Men, Wheeler says he was approached about filming at the retreat last year and turned the producers down, so they found an alternate venue nearby. "Because we are a mission-driven nonprofit and we’re interested in our guests experience," he says. "Our guests are here to become more effective in their own lives and their own personal missions. We don’t want them disturbed in that process."

A stay at Esalen ranges widely in price. A weekend in a sleeping bag can cost as little as $405, but an all-inclusive, seven-day stay in a deluxe single room can cost $4,975. The rates include tuition, accommodations, meals, movement program and use of facilities.

Wheeler enjoyed seeing the Esalen-esque retreat in the finale and says he thinks the episode showed that Don Draper found his creativity at the retreat.

"Don Draper all through that series has had a great capacity to touch authentic feeling, and then to revert to type and not himself be too transformed by it," says Wheeler. "But it seemed like what was happening to him was he was getting in touch with the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, and the '70s. Even commercial media messaging had to shift to accommodate that burgeoning whole-world consciousness."

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