Select Page

10 Day Winter Retreat with Rachel O’Brien

December 27th, 2024-January 5th, 2025

San Juan Bautista, CA



Rachael O’Brien will lead this 10-day, 9-night Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation (TWIM) residential retreat, which includes the New Years holiday. Rachael has nine years of experience teaching the TWIM approach. She is known for her precise description of the meditative states and her ability to guide students through the development of insight and tranquility as described in the earliest Buddhist Teachings. Rachael’s approach to teaching is ideal for beginning students and advanced meditators alike as they seek to cultivate greater depth in their practice. Those with no previous meditation experience as well as long-time practitioners will find great benefit in this silent meditation retreat. Click here to read Rachel’s bio.

Picture     Rachael O’Brien and Bhante Vimalaramsi

Rachael embodies a spirit of kindness and enthusiasm for teaching. The primary focus in the course is the Gradual Training, which describes the development of meditative stability (samatha) and insight (vipassanā) equally jointed together.  Students will learn to cultivate the awakening factors with loving-kindness. The course includes a daily dhamma talk guided by Rachael’s analysis and discussion. All participants are required to maintain Noble Silence throughout the retreat. Students will be required store and secure all electronic devices with the retreat manager upon check-in. The devices will be returned at the end of the retreat. Private interviews help optimize progress into the stages of meditation known as jhanas. There is an emphasis on ease and joy throughout the course.

St. Francis Retreat Center


​Located 83 miles south of San Francisco International Airport, St. Francis Retreat Center is situated on a sunny hillside only a few miles from the historic town of San Juan Bautista east of Monterey Bay. The contemporary Spanish-style building complex is nestled among shade trees and vineyards on 70 acres of rolling hills and meadows. The spacious grounds and hiking paths are available for light exercise. Seated practice areas include a central meditation hall, a chapel, and contemplative areas ideal for seclusion. 

We have been holding TWIM retreats at St. Francis for over 10 years, and return each year as we’ve found St. Francis to be an ideal location for meditators from all around the world.


Comfortable bedrooms include a private bathroom and shower with beds, pillow, linens, blankets, towels, wash cloth, and soap. A desk with reading lights provide comfortable and warm accommodation on chilly California nights.


​​The dining room offers spacious indoor and outdoor patio garden seating. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. In keeping with the Buddha’s instructions on eating, students will take a vow to not eat after lunch. This practice supports optimal mental energy for meditation. Meals feature vegetarian entrees that may include eggs and dairy with gluten free grains, salads, fruits, and side dishes. There are no strictly vegan entrees available. Beverages including herbal tea, hot chocolate, and coffee are available 24/7. 

Keto and meat-based diets are not permitted, accommodated, stored or consumed on the premises. Those with vegan and gluten-free diets or medical conditions with prescribed diets may refrigerate and store supplemental food items prearranged with the retreat manager. ​​

Practice Schedule
Practice times and rest periods are based on individual goals and pace of practice. All participants must attend the morning group meditation at 6:00 AM and evening presentation at 6:00 PM. Periods of sitting and walking meditation will be suggested by the teacher based upon an individual’s aptitude and progress. ​.

FIRST DAY______________
3:00 – 4:30    Check in
5:00 – 6:00    Orientation by Staff

6:00 – 7:00    Dinner
7:00 – 8:00    Welcome and Introductions by Rachael

6:00 am     Precepts and Group meditation 
7:30 am      Breakfast
8:30            Meditation and morning interviews 
12:00 pm    Lunch
1:30 pm       Self-directed meditation and afternoon interviews
5:30 pm      Tea Break 
6:00-8:00  Dhamma talk and discussion with Rachael
8:00 pm     Further practice or bed

LAST DAY_______________
6:00 – 7:00    Group Meditation and  Closing Comments  
7:00 – 9:30    Breakfast & Socializing
10:00             Departure


Single Occupancy = $1575, $500 deposit required.

Double Occupancy = $1299, $500 deposit required. 

This is a non-profit retreat. The teachings are free of charge. The fees paid only cover fixed costs for food, lodging, insurance, and travel expenses for teachers. The retreat is administered and staffed entirely by volunteers.  Rachael offers the teachings freely.  Students will  have the opportunity to offer Dana to her if they so choose as part of their practice of generosity.



  1. If the retreat is sold out, and you would like to join the waitlist, email with the subject “Winter Retreat Waitlist” in the subject line. You will be placed on the waitlist and Emailed confirmation.
  2. If an opening becomes available, you will have 24 hours to register and submit payment.
  3. After 24 hours, if registration and payment is not completed, the opening will be given to the next person on the waitlist.

Pay Fees / Refund Policy

  1. Final payment is due no later than November 27th, 2024.
  2. If  the retreat is cancelled for reasons beyond our control, all fees will be refunded minus the standard bank processing fee and credited to the original source of payment. Refunds are typically completed within 14 business days.
  3. Cancellations before November 27, 2024 will be refunded. Fees are refundable minus standard processing fees. Refunds are typically completed within 14 business days.
  4. Cancellations after November 27, 2024 are non-refundable.
  5. For more information, contact the retreat manager



Travel by Air


Those arriving SFO by air may apply for shared ground transportation. Optional round trip ground transportation may be available for out of town participants. Contact the retreat manager to apply for group transportation or ride sharing.  Air travelers are advised to check in for departing flights 90 minutes before domestic departures and 2 hours for international departures.  Participants should email their arrival and departure information to the retreat manager. 

Group ground transportation 
Those requiring ground transportation must coordinate flight arrival and departure times with the retreat managers before booking airline or hotel reservations. 

Arrivals by air should make flight and hotel reservations with adequate time to connect with either private transportation or public ground transportation.

Hotels near SFO
Early arrivals or stay-overs are advised to select a hotel from the list below. These are modestly priced hotels that offer courtesy airport shuttle service, wi-fi, and complementary breakfast. Cheaper rates may be available through, and other Web-based portals. 

The hotels listed below are located only a few miles from SFO in a commercial district with nearby restaurants. 

Millwood Inn & Suites
1375 El Camino Real, Millbrae, California 94030
Contact: 650-583-3935 

Days Inn San Francisco International Airport West
1550 El Camino Real, San Bruno, California 94066
Contact: 650-616-9600 

La Quinta Inn & Suites, San Francisco Airport West
1390 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA 94030
Phone: 1-650-952-3200


Driving directions
​St. Francis Retreat
​549 Mission Vineyard Rd,
​San Juan Bautista, CA 95045
From SFO drive south on Highway 101 for 80 miles.
1. Exit Hwy 101 onto Hwy 156 East at the San Juan Bautista/Hollister exit
2. After about 3 miles on 156, turn right at the signal onto The Alameda
3. Pass the San Juan Inn and Old San Juan Hollister Road
4. Turn left onto Mission Vineyard Road, continue straight about 0.8 miles.
5. At the indicated bend begin private drive (Retreat /Hedges). The Center is about 1.5 miles from this point. Take the second driveway and continue to the lower parking lot. 


From I-5
1. Exit onto CA-152 W/E Pacheco Blvd. and continue to follow CA-152 W for 35.3 mi
2. Keep left to continue on Hwy 156 W/CA-156 W, follow signs for Hollister,14.1 mi
3.  Follow Mission Vineyard Rd to your destination  2.2 mi
4. Turn left onto Old San Juan Hollister Rd
253 ft
5. Turn left onto Mission Vineyard Rd  0.5 mi
6. Turn left to stay on Mission Vineyard Rd
0.3 mi
7.  Turn right to stay on Mission Vineyard Rd
1.2 mile 

Retreat Arrival and check-in

Check in opens at 3:15 PM. Plan to arrive at the center between 3:00 and 4:00 PM to check in on the first day. The center is closed to participants until 3:00 PM on the day of arrival. Parking is available on both sides of the lower building. The Fireside Room in the lower building is where group meditation and Dhamma talks will take place. On the first day, orientation begins at 5:00 PM followed by dinner at 6:00PM, and Opening introductions at 7:00 PM. 

The retreat ends after the morning meditation on the last day of the retreat with time for breakfast, socializing, taking photos, and packing. Those returning by van to SFO and neighboring hotels will depart at 10:oo AM.

Emergency Contact Numbers  
There is no public phone on the facility. If your family needs to reach you in an emergency, they may call these emergency contact numbers.

Retreat Manager, Scott Jordan cell phone: 415-250-5294
St. Francis Retreat business office phone: 831-623-4234
St. Francis Retreat emergency after hours phone: 831-207-7042

Detailed Retreat Information 
What to Wear: 
The weather in San Juan Bautista in December is typically sunny with cold nights. The average daytime temperature is 60ºF. Nighttime average low temperature is 40ºF. Rain is 50% likely so be prepared and bring and umbrella or other wet weather gear for walking outdoors.

Bring comfortable, loose-fitting clothes, such as sweat pants with elastic waistband. Dress in layers that can be added or removed. A warm jacket is needed for cold nights and evening walking meditation. Comfortable slip-on shoes are appropriate for walking around the compound. Headgear, such as a hat with a brim, umbrella for rain, and sunglasses are handy for sunny days.   

What to Bring for Meditation:
Chairs for sitting will be provided in the meditation hall. You may wish to bring your own special chair along with meditation cushions or pillows, benches, and floor pads. House-slippers and warm socks are appropriate in the meditation hall. Bring a shawl or small blanket for both indoor and outdoor seated meditations in the gardens and patio areas.

Other Necessities to Bring:
Bed linens, blankets, and towels are provided by the center. You may want to bring a special personal pillow or blanket, if desired. Bring personal toiletries (toothpaste, bath soap, sunscreen, Kleenex, etc), flashlight or headlamp, an alarm clock or watch with an alarm, and a water bottle to be filled at the center with filtered water as needed. There will be wake up and notification bell to announce meals and group gatherings. COVID-19 supplies may be required as specified by the retreat manager.

What to Leave at Home:
Do not bring valuables, nonprescription drugs or alcohol. Do not bring food, unless you have made prior arrangements with the retreat managers for accommodation of  special dietary needs.

Avoid using scented cosmetics or perfumes that may be allergenic to others. Reading and writing are discouraged during this training period, except during the evening dhamma talks. Candles, incense, and smoking are not allowed in any building or room. 

Clocks and Phones:
Please attend to all personal matters before coming so as not to hamper progress in meditation. To support the practice of meditative silence, participants’ cell phones and tablets, and computers will be collected at the beginning of the retreat and held in a secure area the evening before the last day of the retreat. 

Emergency Phone Numbers:
There is no public phone on the facility. If your family needs to reach you in an emergency, they may call these emergency contact numbers.
Retreat Manager, Scott Jordan cell phone: 415-250-5294
St. Francis Retreat business office phone: 831-623-4234
St. Francis Retreat emergency after hours phone: 831-207-7042

Simplicity and Renunciation

Meditation retreats offer a sacred space that is protected and removed from the world. They allow participants a rare opportunity to look deeply inside, quiet the mind, and open the heart. Often the most beneficial and rewarding experiences of spiritual life happen at a meditation retreat. The sheltered and quiet setting is a key element that enables participants to develop patience, steadfastness, loving-kindness, generosity, joy, and wisdom.

These are the seeds that grow insight, compassion, and happiness. Participants are requested to let go of concerns for daily life and embrace an attitude of simplicity and renunciation by adopting a traditional spiritual practice that is called “taking what is offered.”

Taking What is Offered During Your Retreat

Taking any Residence – whatever quarters are offered. We ask participants to happily accept the accommodation assigned and continue to practice in this spirit throughout the retreat.

Taking Food that is Offered – Happily accepting food that is offered is part of the practice. The cook lovingly prepares tasty and nutritious meals. Gluten-free alternatives will be available for those with medically required dietary restrictions. Participants with other special dietary needs may arrange with the retreat manager to bring supplemental food items with them to the retreat. Food items are prohibited in rooms and the meditation hall. The kitchen is restricted to St. Francis staff.

Silence – In fostering an atmosphere of contemplation and meditation, participants are expected to embrace the practice of silence during the retreat. Living in silence is the practice of observing within and not communicating with others. This includes reading or writing, using telephones, computer, email, or text messages. Talking is permitted during the evening dhamma talks and teacher interviews when questions are encouraged. Inquiries about the retreat may be directed to a retreat manager or whenever necessary in the case of an emergency.

Serving the Community – Participants may volunteer for community duties as a daily period of meditation in action. This activity assists other participants and helps the retreat function move smoothly. A sign-up sheet for daily retreat jobs will be available at registration.  


There are currently no COVID-19 public health safety state or local mandates. There are no vaccination requirements at St. Francis Retreat Center. As a precaution, we ask that participants home-test prior to arrival. As an additional safety measure, take another home test on Friday morning, the opening day of the retreat and an additional test on the Saturday morning.