Need to unwind? Chill out with a dip in geothermally heated waters. California’s geologically active landscape pushes mineral-laden springs to the earth’s surface, creating a liquid nirvana in steaming pools. Immerse your body and evaporate your stress in these soak-worthy springs, which are just a sampling of California’s abundant collection.
Vichy Springs Resort, Ukiah
Located two hours north of San Francisco, the bubbly springs at the nearly 165-year-old Vichy Springs Resort have the same carbon-dioxide-rich make-up as the famous carbonated waters of Vichy, France. Book an overnight stay in one of the cottages, then parcel out your time in the 40°C hot pool, Olympic-size swimming pool, and 32°C carbonated mineral baths. A half-hour walk leads to Chemisal Falls, where you can plunge into the creek’s chilly pool. Famous Vichy Springs soakers have included Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain and Jack London.
Sierra Hot Springs Resort & Retreat Center, Sierraville
At the 283-hectare Sierra Hot Springs resort in an alpine valley north of Truckee, hot mineral water flows into pools and private tubs ranging in temperature from 29.5°C to 43°C. The hottest pool is enclosed in a large geodesic dome with stained glass and skylights, and the sand-bottomed 'meditation pool' is perfect for stargazing. Summer is the most popular season, but soaking on a crisp winter's day is glorious. Therapists offer various types of massage, including Watsu water massage. Pitch your tent on the property or book a room at the historic 1870s' lodge.
Wilbur Hot Springs, Williams
East of Clearlake, Wilbur Hot Springs is an 728-hectare nature reserve with naturally occurring hot mineral springs that were used by Native Americans for thousands of years. The water emerges at approximately 63°C, where it’s channelled into a Japanese-style 'flumarium'—three long flumes with temperatures that average between 37°C and 43°C. Water flows continually through the flumes, so there’s no need for chemicals. Reserve a cabin, hotel room or bunk room, and cherish the fact that you can’t get mobile reception here. A highlight is waiting for the gurgling Fountain of Life geyser to erupt, which it does every 45 minutes.
Indian Springs Resort and Spa, Calistoga
Visitors have been 'taking the waters' at this down-to-earth Napa Valley town since its founding in the mid-19th century. One of Calistoga’s oldest mineral water emporiums, Indian Springs has been delivering detoxifying treatments since 1861. The signature mud bath has you submerged up to the neck in warm mud made from volcanic ash and then left to bake. If that doesn’t appeal to you, opt for a few laps in the Olympic-size mineral-water pool, constantly refilled by on-site geysers. Sam’s Social Club Restaurant serves classic wine-country cuisine indoors and on its patio, and you can spend the night in a cottage, bungalow or 1930s'-era lodge room.
Travertine Hot Spring, Bridgeport
In an alkali-encrusted meadow just off US 395, a handful of mineral pools offer a postcard view of the jagged surrounding mountains. The rustic site’s thermally heated water is scalding at its source, but cools to a comfortable temperature as it flows down travertine rock formations to the pools. Bring your own towels and drinking water, and expect a crowd at weekends. To get there, drive south of Bridgeport on US 395 and then turn east onto unpaved Jack Sawyer Road (by the ranger station) for about a kilometre-and-a-half.
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs, Benton
At this sagebrush-covered desert oasis east of Mammoth Lakes, soothe your aches and pains in the shade of cottonwood trees. Nine outdoor tubs—some redwood, some fibreglass and one made of stone—are equipped with hot and cold taps, so you can control the temperature. Campers should book in advance to secure a pitch with a private tub. Bed-and-breakfast rooms are also available. Benton is an old mining outpost, but the region turned out to be much richer in mineral water than silver.
Beverly Hot Springs, Los Angeles
At LA’s only natural mineral spring spa, the 40.5 °C artesian water was discovered by accident in the 1920s by drillers looking for oil. What they found was sodium-bicarbonate-rich H2O, ideal for drinking and bathing. Start by immersing yourself in the large hot pool and then move on to the cold plunge, sauna or steam bath. The bamboo fusion massage is a worthy indulgence—your therapist will knead away your stress with heated bamboo sticks. Leave your phone in the car; the 'no talking' rule is strictly enforced.
The Spring Resort and Spa, Desert Hot Springs
In this unpretentious Coachella Valley town, crystal-clear waters rise from underground at 77°C, filling The Spring’s three sparkling mineral pools with smooth-as-silk aqua pura. Visit for a day of watery bliss or spend the whole weekend at this intimate, palm-tree-lined resort (book in advance to grab one of nine rooms by the pool). It’s tempting to soak all day, but allow time for the Finnish sauna or a full-body salt scrub, and you can kiss your impurities good-bye.
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