SPAS & WELLNESS
California’s celebrated spas provide the ultimate getaway
Pamper Your Body, Center Your Soul
This celebrated region and neighboring Sonoma Valley are known primarily for their wine, but their appeal runs deeper than that. You can pamper yourself at luxury spas—such as Meadowood in Saint Helena, the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, or Indian Springs Resort & Spa in Calistoga—dine at some of California’s (and the USA’S) best restaurants, shop at trendy boutiques or live a little rougher and explore wild state parks. In San Francisco’s vibrant Japantown district, buses and bikes whiz by, teens congregate and people text as fast as they walk. But inside the Kabuki Hot Springs, the city vanishes. The only sounds in the dimly lit, Japanese-style communal baths are the gentle splashing of water and occasional strains of soothing music. In the sauna, you can lie back and detoxify as you treat your eyes to chilled cucumber slices. Then hit the steam room and exfoliate with lemon and sea salt. Follow with a long, lazy soak in the hot tub, and if you’re brave, a cold plunge. When you’re finished, start all over again. In fact, linger all day: it only costs $25.
For people around the world, the name “California” means escape and conjures images of sunny beaches. But in today’s demanding, perpetually wired world, a true vacation requires more than just a break from the office; it takes unplugging, purifying and restoring. Luckily, this is practically the state motto.
California has been a resort destination since the early 20th century, beckoning travelers with its year-round warm weather, spectacular geography and mineral springs. The 1950s brought yoga to the state, and the 1960s ushered in a wave of young hippies passionate about all-natural food and intentional living. Today, California is the nation’s vortex of personal health and selfimprovement, with spas and wellness centers almost as ubiquitous as scenic
views. From five-star luxury resorts and posh day spas to holistic healing programs and “hippie hot springs,” the array of retreats will dazzle even the most experienced serenity seeker. Here are some of our favorite spots for the ultimate escape.
Taking the Waters
Home to numerous large geothermal areas, California has for centuries been a celebrated mineral springs destination, with myriad spas statewide. Two hours inland from Los Angeles, Desert Hot Springs offers dozens of options, from the glamorous, sprawling Two Bunch Palms (featured in the movie The Player) to cozy boutique inns like Hacienda Hot Springs. The Central Coast also boasts famous baths, such as Esalen (equally known for its extensive list of alternative-education workshops) and Tassajara, the first Zen monastery built outside of Asia. But small, funky Calistoga in the north is the state’s oldest spa town, renowned not only for hot springs but also abundant volcanic ash used for therapeutic mud treatments.
Eight thousand years ago, the Wappo Indians named the area “Ta La Ha Lu Si,” meaning “Beautiful Land” or “Oven Place,” and today spa facilities run the gamut from luxurious to laid-back. The oldest in Calistoga—and likely California—is Indian Springs, opened in 1862 by Sam Brannan, the first Gold Rush millionaire. The 17-acre property features a recently remodelled Olympic-size heated mineral pool (complimentary with spa treatment on weekdays; $30 extra on weekends), an adults-only pool with dining and beverage service, plus mud baths, steam rooms steeped with eucalyptus, and a meditation pond.
Wine Country Wellness
Californians are known to soak up a lot more than wine in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Residents have long enjoyed the area’s natural mineral waters, and today’s spa menus overflow with treatments using grape seeds and skins, rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. At the Kenwood Inn and Spa, treat yourself to an 80-minute crushed Cabernet scrub and massage, or a heated honey wine wrap. Add a 25-minute vinotherapy bath to your treatment, and you’ll soak in Pinot Noir bath salts or sparkling salt and grape elixirs, while sipping a glass of bubbly.
But it’s not all about grapes in wine country. At Sonoma’s Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, an innovative, eco-conscious day spa, the specialty is a cedar enzyme “bath.” Guests immerse themselves to the chin in warm, finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes. Heated by natural fermentation, the treatment is said to aid digestion, improve circulation and relieve muscle pain.
Or for first-class pampering, lavish accommodations and a three-star Michelin dinner, visit the 14,000-square-foot allsuite Meadowood Spa, and choose a curated treatment package such as “From the Earth,” which includes a hot and cold stone massage and a black walnut scrub enhanced with custom-blended aromatherapy oils. Located on a private, two-hundred-fiftyacre estate, Meadowood also offers golf, tennis, croquet, hiking and swimming.
Om Sweet Om
When yoga came to America, some of the first studios appeared in Hollywood and San Francisco. The practice has since become a way of life for countless Californians, and hundreds of top-notch centers, from ritzy to rustic, cater to beginners and gurus alike.
One of the world’s most renowned yoga retreats is tucked into the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara. At the White Lotus Foundation Center, guests spend their days doing sun salutations in a canyon with ocean views, hiking through old-growth oaks, meditating in an underground Hopi-style kiva temple and swimming in natural sandstone pools. Massages are available, gourmet vegetarian fare is served, and sleeping quarters are private accommodations, heated yurts or creekside camping under the stars.
When the sublime Golden Door opened in Escondido in 1958, it was a pioneer among American spas. It’s since become one of the world’s finest health resorts, regularly hosting Hollywood’s biggest stars. Golden Door specializes in fitness, Eastern philosophy, relaxation and opulence. Guests pre-arrange completely customized four- to seven-day packages with fitness options as diverse as Pilates, fencing, tennis, dance, cardio sculpting and archery. Best of all, each stay includes facial treatments, herbal wraps, mani-pedis and daily in-room massages.
Another great (and more affordable) option is The Oaks at Ojai, where healthy weight loss and conscious eating are emphasized, and the ever-changing list of activities might include ballet dancing, hula hooping, Qigong, hiking and aqua Zumba. Indulge in a seasonal sugar rub (think Pixie tangerine, lavender or fig), lemongrass lavender pedicure or hot Himalayan salt stone massage.
Ultimately, California’s spa culture promises visitors far more than relaxation; it ensures that this time you won’t need a vacation from your vacation. You’ll return home relaxed and recharged—that is, if you can bring yourself to return home at all.
SUNSET YOGA in La Jolla Cove, top; spa pool at Terranea Resort, above; Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport, right; Sonoma’s Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone, opposite.