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Venture Retreat: A Slice of California History

Roots in the Human Potential Movement

The property that is known today as Venture Retreat was originally purchased by a group of pioneering individuals in the early 1960's. The group was rooted in what was later coined "The Human Potential Movement." In those early days, people from the Stanford/Palo Alto alternative lifestyles community set about exploring, through weekend workshops, retreats, and training sessions, the BIG QUESTIONS: "Who are we? Why are we here?."

As the movement became attractive to more and more seekers, a search for cental meeting facilities was mounted. San Francisco Venture Inc. was founded as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization in 1964 and purchased a modest building in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, heart of the hippie world, as well as a 50 acre site of meadow and forest on the Butano Creek in San Mateo County, one hour south of San Francisco. The subsequent sale of a portion of the rural land paid off the existing mortgage and San Francisco Venture Retreat Center was born. It included the "Venture Lodge" which was the original Rancho Butano foreman's home (See Wikipedia Rancho Butano info).

Venture was formed to support affordable extended personal growth retreats in a setting that brought people closer to nature. At the time, Venture had a close association with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Willis Harmon, one of Venture's founders later served on the Esalen Board of Directors. Venture became the weekend retreat facility for ongoing workshops and trainings offered in the Palo Alto and San Francisco areas. Practitioners of many new disciplines offered trainings in Gestalt Practice, Sensory Awareness, Body Work and Encounter Groups. Throughout the 1960's, 70's and early 80's, thousands of people came to Venture to explore themselves, their relationship with others, and their place in the world. Venture made a seminal contribution in the exploration of peer-led groups, helping to establish a greater sense of equality, irrespective of title and profession.

The Venture community believed that if people learned about themselves and gained skills in communicating more honestly and effectively with each other, it could help society at large. By the late 80ʼs and 90ʼs, what had been experimental in human potential modalities became part of mainstream psychology, healthcare, and education. As such, the focus of the Venture community slowly shifted from a center that hosted programs to a northern California retreat center for groups who rent the facilities for their own meetings, programs, workshops and retreats for groups of 12 to 25. 

Venture offers complete privacy and exclusive use of the entire facility to groups that include family reunions, weddings and get-togethers for friends. A wide variety of groups find Venture to be an excellent site, including social clubs, schools, psychology groups, environmental organizations, church groups and boards of directors.

Today, Venture Retreat is an active participant in a variety of networks dedicated to spiritual, ecological, and community related issues. Both adult and youth organizations are welcome. Venture is always interested in facilitating community building by supporting the gathering of small groups to explore specific interests or topics.