Review: Alila Ventana Big Sur

Filed Under: Hotel Reviews, Hyatt
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After two nights at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and three nights at Las Alcobas in Napa Valley, the last portion of our trip had us staying three nights at Alila Ventana Big Sur.

This was, without a doubt, the highlight of the trip, as Big Sur is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in my life.

Booking Alila Ventana Big Sur

In late 2018 Hyatt announced that they would acquire Two Roads Hospitality, an international lifestyle hotel management company with a collection of luxury hotels. This gave Hyatt management contracts for about 85 hotels.

Of these, the most exciting additions are Alila properties joining World of Hyatt, in my opinion. Alila is a true luxury brand, and they have hotels in some amazing places. It’s not just that Hyatt has a marketing partnership with Alila, or anything, but rather the hotels now fully participate in World of Hyatt. This means you can earn and redeem points, use suite upgrades, etc.

Alila’s only property in the US is Ventana Big Sur, and it’s a Category 7 World of Hyatt property. So we redeemed 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night for our three night stay.

For what it’s worth, the cash rate for our weekend stay (Thursday through Sunday) would have been $1,000+ per night including taxes and fees.

Redeeming just 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night is a spectacular value, when you consider that I value those points at 1.5 cents each.

Note that the hotel has a $50 “experience fee” (aka resort fee), though Hyatt waives this for those redeeming points (even non-elite members). This includes the following features:

  • Sommelier Wine & Cheese Hour
  • Yoga Class
  • On-Property Walk: Explore Ventana Big Sur
  • Glass House Telescopic Viewing
  • Flora and Fauna Hike
  • Organic Garden Tour
  • Meditation Class
  • Tai Chi Class
  • Sip & Steep Organic Garden Tea Class

How To Earn World Of Hyatt Points

World of Hyatt points are pretty easy to come by. First of all there are lots of credit cards that potentially earn them. In addition to being able to earn World of Hyatt points with The World of Hyatt Credit Card (review), you can also transfer over points from Ultimate Rewards.

Earn Hyatt points

See this post for everything you need to know about earning Hyatt points with credit cards.

On top of that, Hyatt often has bonuses on purchased points. For example, right now you can purchase Hyatt points for ~1.7 cents each thanks to a 40% bonus.

Booking A Cash Stay?

If you’re planning on staying here and paying cash, I recommend booking through a Hyatt Privé agent. This will come with benefits like a space available room upgrade, a property credit, free breakfast, and more.

The rate when booking through Privé should be the same as the best available rate, though you’ll have to go through an agent. Ford would be happy to help and can be reached at [email protected]

Alila Ventana Big Sur Review

I’ll break the review of Ventana Big Sur into several parts, and will talk about the arrival & check-in experience, our room, the hotel’s public areas and restaurants, the gym and pool, the service, and then lastly will talk about why I loved Big Sur so much.

Ventana Big Sur Arrival & Check-In

We drove from Napa Valley to Big Sur, which was a drive of about 3.5 hours. The drive wasn’t very scenic for the first 2.5 hours, and only got nice as we approaches the coast. We stopped in Carmel-by-the-Sea for lunch, and from there made the 40 minute drive to the property.

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in this part of California is beyond stunning, though I’ll save that for later.

In general if you’re looking to visit Big Sur, you have a few most practical options when it comes to flights:

  • You can fly into Monterey Airport (MRY) and then it’s about a 45-60 minute drive to the hotel
  • You can fly into San Jose International Airport (SJC) and then it’s about a two hour drive to the hotel
  • You can fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK) and then it’s about a 2.5-3 hour drive to the hotel

We drove from Napa Valley, and then on the return we flew out of Monterey.

You’ll want to download maps to your phone before getting anywhere close to Big Sur, as there’s no cell reception anywhere in the area. Fortunately we didn’t have too much trouble finding the hotel.

As we arrived at the hotel the friendly bellmen welcomed us and took our car (the hotel offers free valet parking for everyone), and then escorted us to check-in.

Check-in was at the Social House, which I’ll talk more about in a bit. The check-in process was efficient, and we were informed that our room was nearly ready. Sure enough, within about 15 minutes we were brought to our room.

Ventana Big Sur Villa

Ventana Big Sur has a total of about 60 rooms, and they’re spread out across about a dozen buildings. Here’s a map to give you a sense of the layout of the property:

Alila Ventana Big Sur property map

We were assigned room number nine, located immediately behind the Social House. We were delighted to find that we had been upgraded all the way to a villa. I had tried to apply a Globalist Suite Upgrade to the reservation, but the standard “Big Sur Suite” wasn’t available. But then we ended up getting an even better upgrade than that, to a villa.

For what it’s worth, this room would have retailed for an outrageous $2,800+ per night.

Now, I’m not sure I’d actually call the room a “villa.” I’d call it more of a duplex suite, as it was in a building with about 10 other rooms.


Alila Ventana Big Sur room exterior

The entrance to our room was at the very left of the building.


Alila Ventana Big Sur room exterior

Immediately inside the entrance was a set of stairs leading to the bedroom, and then the living room was on the ground floor. I loved the design of the room, and thought it felt so appropriate for the area. This wasn’t some cookie cutter Park Hyatt or St. Regis, but rather the room had personality that made you feel like you were staying in a cabin the forest.


Ventana Big Sur villa entryway

The villa had a huge living room, including a dining table with four chairs, as well as a living area with a sofa and two chairs.


Ventana Big Sur villa living area


Ventana Big Sur villa living area


Ventana Big Sur villa living area


Ventana Big Sur villa dining area

Across from that was a wall-mounted TV, a real fireplace, and a long table.

Ventana Big Sur villa fireplace


Ventana Big Sur villa living area

On the dining table was a welcome letter and a complimentary bag of trail mix.


Ventana Big Sur welcome gift

There was a wet bar along the wall closest to the entrance, which had a Nespresso machine, a kettle, a proper minibar, and two reusable water bottles.


Ventana Big Sur villa wet bar


Ventana Big Sur in-room Nespresso machine & kettle


Ventana Big Sur in-room minibar


Ventana Big Sur in-room minibar

At the very end of the room was a large balcony that even had a private hot tub (though we never ended up using it, because the main hot tub was so awesome).


Ventana Big Sur villa balcony & hot tub


Ventana Big Sur villa balcony

One thing that can’t be conveyed in these pictures is just how lovely of a setting the hotel has — the sound of the birds chirping, the smell of trees… ahhhh!


Ventana Big Sur villa balcony view

Also just by the entrance on the first floor was a half bath.


Ventana Big Sur villa second bathroom


Ventana Big Sur villa second bathroom

Once you go up the stairs there’s a desk immediately to the right.


Ventana Big Sur villa stairs


Ventana Big Sur villa desk

Then when you walk down the hall you’re in the bedroom, which featured a comfortable king size bed.


Ventana Big Sur villa bedroom


Ventana Big Sur villa bedroom

There was yet another fireplace here, along with a bench and a chair with ottoman.


Ventana Big Sur villa bedroom


Ventana Big Sur villa bedroom

The bedroom also had a balcony.


Ventana Big Sur villa bedroom balcony

Back towards the stairs was the bathroom, featuring double sinks, a soaking tub, a walk-in shower, and a toilet.


Ventana Big Sur villa bathroom


Ventana Big Sur villa bathtub


Ventana Big Sur villa shower

Toiletries were in reusable containers (which is an initiative that all Hyatts are moving towards), and were functional, high quality, and didn’t seem to be tampered with. See, that’s not impossible? 😉


Ventana Big Sur villa toiletries

Wifi in the room (and throughout the property) was fast and free, which was a blessing, since there was no signal otherwise.

I have nothing but amazing things to say about this room, and in particular appreciated the upgrade. For what it’s worth, this hotel seems to be pretty generous with Globalist upgrades, as I’ve read several other reports of Globalists being upgraded to villas.

The Social House Ventana Big Sur

The central meeting point of Ventana Big Sur is the Social House, which was located immediately in front of our room.

Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House

This is a cozy building separated into three areas. On the far right side is a sitting area along with the check-in desk and reception.


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House

Then one room over is more seating, as well as a pool table and board games.


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House

Then the last room at the end has complimentary coffee and tea all day, which sure is a nice feature.


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House

There’s a Nespresso machine, as well as canisters with coffee and hot water.


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House Nespresso machine


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House coffee & tea

I love this as a concept, though unfortunately I found the coffee to be a bit bitter for my liking (it was good in the restaurant, by comparison).

The Social House also has plenty of outdoor seating, including seats on the “porch,” as well as dining tables further out.


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House outdoor seating


Alila Ventana Big Sur Social House outdoor seating

From 4PM until 5PM every day, Ventana Big Sur has a wine & cheese hour, where they have cheese and crackers, olives, and a selection of wine. It was a super nice offering.


Alila Ventana Big Sur wine & cheese hour


Alila Ventana Big Sur wine & cheese hour

The wine selection rotated daily — there was always one white and one red, and on one day there was also a sparkling option.


Alila Ventana Big Sur wine & cheese hour

Ventana Big Sur Pools, Hot Tub, And Japanese Hot Baths

Ventana Big Sur is spread across 243 acres, so the property is huge. There are two pools, both open daily from 7AM until 10PM.

The hotel’s main pool is the Meadow Pool, which is right next to the Social House. The pool itself is beautiful, and it has plenty of seating.


Ventana Big Sur pool


Ventana Big Sur pool area

The highlight of this area had to be the incredible infinity hot tub located across from the pool, which we used a few times.


Ventana Big Sur pool area


Ventana Big Sur hot tub

There’s also all kinds of seating around the pool area, given what great views there are from this part of the property. Above the pool is a deck with some lounge chairs, which is a great place from which to watch the sunset.


Ventana Big Sur pool area at sunset


Ventana Big Sur sunset

On the lawn next to the pool are some seats, also perfectly positioned to enjoy the sunset.


Ventana Big Sur views

There’s also another observation deck located above the pool area (sorry, I can only photograph the sunset from so many vantage points). 😉


Ventana Big Sur observation deck

The hotel’s second pool is called Mountain Pool, and is on the other side of the property. It doesn’t have quite as scenic views, but is still a beautiful setting, and seemed to be quieter most of the time.


Ventana Big Sur pool


Ventana Big Sur pool

The hotel also has a building with what they call “Japanese hot baths,” though in reality I preferred the hot tub at the main pool.


Ventana Big Sur baths

Ventana Big Sur Gym

Ventana Big Sur has a 24/7 gym, though it’s on the very small side. Expect only the basics. Then again, there are so many opportunities to get exercise outside, given that the area is all about hiking.


Ventana Big Sur gym


Ventana Big Sur gym


Ventana Big Sur gym

The hotel also has a spa, though we didn’t get any treatments — you can see the treatment menu here.

The Sur House

The Sur House is the hotel’s only full service restaurant, and it’s located quite a ways from the main part of the hotel. I’m a fast walker, and found it to be about a 10 minute walk from our room. First you have to walk through the winding paths of the main part of the hotel.

Walking to The Sur House

Then you kind of walk through some hills, though it’s only about a third of a mile walk at that point.


Walking to The Sur House

There’s even an area set up a bit like a church, which they call the “Redwood Cathedral.” Hah.


Walking to The Sur House

If you prefer not to walk, there’s also a road between the rooms and restaurant, so they can drive you in a golf cart.

Ventana Big Sur golf cart

There aren’t many restaurants in Big Sur, so the Sur House is popular both with hotel guests and outside guests.


The Sur House exterior


The Sur House exterior

The Sur House is open for breakfast (7:30AM until 10:30AM), lunch (11:30AM until 4PM), and dinner (6PM until 9PM).

The restaurant has an interior that matches the rest of the property, though weather permitting I highly recommend sitting outside.


The Sur House bar


The Sur House restaurant

The outdoor space has breathtaking views of the nearby mountains and Pacific Ocean.


The Sur House outdoor seating


The Sur House outdoor seating


The Sur House view

In addition to traditional dining tables, there’s also a bar and some couches.


The Sur House outdoor seating


The Sur House outdoor seating

One of the benefits of being a Globalist member is complimentary breakfast, and that came in the form of an $82 daily breakfast credit, which was more than enough. Note that Globalist members can also elect to order room service breakfast.

The breakfast menu read as follows:

The coffee in the restaurant was excellent, though their espresso machine was broken when we were there, so they had no specialty coffees.

Ventana Big Sur coffee

Over the course of our stay I tried the housemade granola parfait…


Ventana Big Sur breakfast

The mushroom omelet…


Ventana Big Sur breakfast

The smoked Nova Scotia salmon bagel…


Ventana Big Sur breakfast

And the egg white frittata, which was shockingly good.


Ventana Big Sur breakfast

The breakfast was excellent. We also came here one day for lunch. I found the menu to be rather unusual/limited, but the quality of the food as such was good. The lunch menu read as follows:

I had the crab louie salad, Ford had the little gem caesar salad with chicken, and we shared the crispy brussels sprouts.


Ventana Big Sur lunch


Ventana Big Sur lunch


Ventana Big Sur lunch

Big Sur Smokehouse

The hotel’s other dining option is Big Sur Smokehouse, located just off the PCH. This seems to be largely intended for non-guests who just happen to be driving by.

This is open Thursday through Monday from 11AM until 9PM. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating…

Big Sur Smokehouse exterior


Big Sur Smokehouse


Big Sur Smokehouse 

The menu read as follows:

I had the quinoa salad with smoked chicken, while Ford had the chicken barbecue plate.

Big Sur Smokehouse lunch


Big Sur Smokehouse lunch

Ventana Big Sur In-Room Dining

While we never ordered room service, the in-room dining menu read as follows:

Ventana Big Sur Service

Service at Ventana was excellent across the board. Every employee we interacted with was friendly and seemed to be proud of the hotel and Big Sur, and that was great to see.

There wasn’t really anything that particularly stood out to me (service wasn’t above and beyond to the level of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, for example), but rather service was just consistently excellent.

Why I LOVED Big Sur

Ventana Big Sur is a great hotel, though what really makes this hotel so special is where it’s located. I am in complete disbelief that I never bothered to visit this area of the PCH before this trip.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Big Sur and the area is possibly the most picturesque place I’ve ever been, and definitely in the top five most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited.

We spent a lot of time just driving up and down the PCH in this area. With every single hairpin turn we took, I found myself saying “OMG is this even real?!”

Driving to Big Sur

Views from the Pacific Coast Highway


Views from the Pacific Coast Highway

In addition to it being enjoyable to just drive up and down the PCH, there are all kinds of amazing hikes, whether you want to hike up mountains, hike down to a beach, or hike through redwood forests.

Hiking near Big Sur


Hiking near Big Sur

There’s no town of Big Sur as such, but rather you have some ridiculously cute coffee shop or restaurant or art gallery every quarter mile or so. We went to several restaurants and coffee shops, and they were all cute.

Note that everything in the area is super expensive. Expect to pay over $5.50 per gallon for gas and $7 for a cappuccino. That’s a function of how remote this is, how expensive property here is, and the general lack of development.

Ventana Big Sur Bottom Line

Ventana Big Sur might just be my favorite overall hotel experience in the US, and definitely one of my top 10 favorite hotel experiences in the world.

The hotel as such is great, but not that exceptional. What makes this place so special is its location — Big Sur is indescribably stunning, and being right in the heart of all that at Ventana Big Sur is tough to beat.

If you have World of Hyatt points, and/or if you’ve never been to Big Sur before, I can’t recommend this place enough. I can’t believe it took me nearly 30 years of being alive to visit this gem of a place. It’s heaven on earth for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Properties like these and stays like this make me love World of Hyatt even more.

If you’ve stayed at Ventana Big Sur and/or have visited Big Sur, what was your experience like? Which other Alila properties should I be checking out?

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Comments
  1. Lucky – Did you happen to eat at Nepenthe? One of my favorite lunch spots in Big Sur. The view truly feels like you’re somewhere like the Italian Riviera.

  2. Glad you guys had a great stay. The whole area is a gym.

    One of the best features of Ventana and many other hotels in this area is free electric car charging (better than paying $5.50 for gas).

    Tons of Tesla’s on Turo in SFO and SJC that I’ve had a good experience with.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the Ventana Inn and Big Sur. The area is indeed beautiful. Always wanted to stay there, and it’s a great option now to use Hyatt points.

    As a native Northern Californian, I will just quibble with the term “PCH”. Growing up we always said “Highway 1”, “route 1” or maybe “the coast route”. As far as I know (and hope) you only see “PCH” in Southern California.

    I know I’m being petty! Don’t get me started on “NorCal”…

  4. Glad you liked it. Maybe, just maybe, does this move you to explore non-urban areas before you are too old to enjoy them?

  5. I came to say what Dan said: Once you’re north of Oxnard, it’s just Highway 1. PCH is totally SoCal. Next time I’d recommend continuing the stunning drive south from Big Sur to San Luis Obispo. Then get on Amtrak, which has a monopoly on the coastal views on that stretch until just north of Santa Barbara.

  6. I know we all love international destinations and flights, but this trip proves some of the best destinations are pretty easily accessible with a domestic plane ticket and a rental car or uber

  7. I hope you grabbed a bite at Post Ranch Inn. I saw Katy Perry and John Mayer having lunch there several years ago when they were dating. Lol. The best part was the unbelievable view hands down of course! Another comparable place that I’ve seen similar to Big Sur is right outside of Cape Town; very similar landscape. But instead of 3.5 hour drive (from SF to Big Sur) Cape Town’s version is 20 minutes outside the city limit.

    Also instead of driving East from Santa Rosa to Napa, drive West to coast. The whole drive on highway 1 up to Mendocino is just as nice as the coast around Big Sur but less touristy with tons of place to hike! You and Ford would be in heaven!

  8. 100% agree that Big Sur along with the Monterey Peninsula is possibly the most beautiful place on earth.

  9. Lucky, it may be helpful to clarify that the $50 “experience fee” is waived for ALL members booking with points. The valet parking is included in this fee, therefore any member booking on points will not have to pay the experience fee or for parking, regardless of status. Source: I’m a lowly Discoverist member, stayed here on points a few months ago.

  10. my annual bike route with best buddies. pleased you were out on a sunny day as there are many times throughout the year you can’t sea the ocean at all as you travel along hwy 1.
    can’t wait to use my hyatt points and bask in this breathtaking beauty on my anniversary. thanks for the amazing review!

  11. We used a Cat 1-7 free night award and, as a Globalist, also got upgraded to a duplex suite (with ocean views). Fabulous stay – great review!

  12. We drove Big Sur (Pismo Beach to Monterey) last year and couldn’t agree more, it is stunning. I am Australian and it reminded me very much of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Pismo Beach and Monterey are both beautiful little towns. Then we drove across to Yosemite and were blown away again.

  13. @Dan:

    Native of San Francisco (and the North Bay) and I say NorCal all the time – never knew that was a faux pas in my 3-ish decades. Now, though, don’t get me started on “San Fran” or “Frisco”… 😉

  14. Hi Ben, as always this is so helpful! So well presented and photographed… But I noticed you omitted your dinner experiences altogether… and was definitely hoping to get your take on The Sur House evening menu and experience. Any particular reason if I may ask? Was it bad? Thanks!

  15. Hi Ben. I just stayed here two weeks ago on award nights! Must have just missed you guys! As one commenter noted, it does not scream luxury. But it is-in a rustic sense. The grounds are well kept and the staff is very polite. The rooms are beautiful with good views of the nearby forest/sunset. As an explorist, I was upgraded to a forest suite with outdoor shower/hammock. The resort fees are waived. Dogs are allowed. I don’t think they are at the Post ranch inn across the street? The drive down from Monterey airport is absolutely stunning. Not the mention, there are some amazing hiking spots of varying degrees of difficulty within a few miles. I agree with Anthony above that we become fixated on the international redemptions, but some of the most beautiful places are easily accessible with points.

  16. Hello from Los Angeles!

    For those driving this beautiful stretch of our state, please note that driving up the northbound side is slightly easier than traveling southbound since you are hugging the mountainside most of the way. The southbound side can be daunting (if not white knuckle), given the plunging cliffs and fickle fog at many times during the year. Keep your eyes on the road, as there are countless very sharp turns! Nepenthe is definitely a “must” stop along the way.

    Finally, I must echo that it is incorrect to refer to Big Sur as “Pacific Coast Highway.” That is a designation for only the area between Oxnard and Dana Point in Ventura and Orange counties, respectively. It should be referred to as simply “Highway 1.”

  17. Drove this stunning route last week! Amazing scenery, though I wish I knew about these lodging options along the way. We stayed at Quail Lodge Inn, and it was nice, but not that nice. Thanks for these reviews Lucky!!

    McWay Falls are easy to miss, glad we noticed them and stopped.

  18. Yes, it’s beautiful! I had just recommended the area to a young professional woman looking for a nice domestic trip; you reinforced my views. Btw, have you been to the coast of Maine? Also very very lovely! Review so helpful, would only add that if there is any way to show the standard rooms for us non-elite Hyatt folks, that would be very useful.

  19. +1 to @Dan, @GoAmtrak and others. I was briefly confused as to what @Lucky was doing on the PCH. I just call it ‘1’ myself. And please, no “frisco,” “San Fran” or “NorCal.” It’s northern california, and either “the City” (yes, that works for NYC too and depending on which coast you are on people know what you mean) or “San Francisco.”

    Regardless, great review @Lucky. Makes me what to get up and go right now!

  20. Ah yes, San Francisco, the provincial city that peaked during the gold rush and still has a superiority complex over the rest of CA by calling itself “the City” (among other microaggressions) Outside of the Bay Area no one will have any clue which city “the City” refers to, except maybe to assume New York City.

  21. @brandote I don’t live in the city and don’t even like going up there now that it has been taken over by tech bros. However it doesn’t change the fact that people in California and the west coast *do* know what you mean when you call it the city. Doesn’t mean you have to like it.

  22. Makes me very happy as a Hyatt loyalist that I now have options like this!

    Although @Lucky…. “This wasn’t some cookie cutter Park Hyatt or St. Regis…” I have never heard anyone call Park Hyatt cookie cutter. St. Regis & Ritz-Carlton you can stay at and not know if you’re in Shanghai or San Francisco, but Park Hyatts always seem to reflect their surroundings and have a personality.

  23. Darn – I was hoping you’d squeeze in lunch or dinner at the Post Ranch Inn so I could read your thoughts about that property. On the bright side you have a good reason to plan another Big Sur trip 😉

  24. I agree, Big Sur is one of the prettiest places in the world. I’ve stayed at this property (went on a trip with a Hyatt employee so I think we paid $300 a night with her discount) This property is not worth its rack rate but I would consider using points for it.
    Since the draw of the area is the scenery I much prefer staying at properties that are closer to nature and just taking it all in. This summer we stayed at an old place called Deetjens and it was magical!
    It’s a splurge- but if you go to Big Sur I suggest doing lunch at Sierra Mar which is located at the Post Ranch Inn. I’ve never eaten anywhere with a view like that and the food and service are just over the top (and completely worth the price tag)

  25. You need to visit Post Ranch Inn, there’s nothing like it. NorCal is a beautiful place to visit for sure, and taking the PCH all the way up is incredible.

  26. Our favorite part, other than the hot tub, was the Airsteam converted to a cocktail and snack shack located by the glamping sites surrounded by redwoods. Great place to kick back before sunset.

  27. I’m from the opposite coast but know PCH is a very specific piece of the highway and is nowhere near this region. I do hope the post gets corrected.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention that Mountain Pool is clothing-optional. That seems a big draw for some, although I didn’t see anyone using it this way during our three-night stay. The “Japanese” (insert eye roll) baths below that pool didn’t seem very authentic nor interesting. They also appeared to use chlorine. I’d highly recommend Night Bathing at Esalen instead.

    Just because the room rates can be high doesn’t mean this is a luxury property. I don’t think they make any attempt at pretending:; it’s California Casual.

    I was happy to try this out on points during the summer when the WoH CC 10% rebate was in effect. As a Globalist (happy to check off this portion of the four-brand challenge for a free night + 8k points), it seemed a reasonable expense for a property in this area. However, it’s no Post Ranch.

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