Health and wellness are paramount in California, so it’s no surprise that the state has more than its share of high-end spas and wellness centres. Think four-star resorts in smart beach towns, luxe day spas with celebrity followings, and rustic-chic spiritual centres with natural hot springs. Whether you are looking for a day of luxurious pampering or a technology-free weekend retreat, you’ll find your Zen in the Golden State. Here is a sampling of where to soak, soothe, and splurge statewide.
In Tinseltown, one would expect an abundance of extravagant spas, and the city does not disappoint. Treat yourself to an experience of ultimate luxury and feel like a star for the day. The Spa at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown L.A. is a true red carpet experience. After being greeted with a glass of bubbly, relax into a Champagne soak, scrub, and massage. Then rejuvenate yourself in the eucalyptus steam room of this pristine white-and-metallic dream spa. Embrace classic Hollywood glamour at the Beverly Hills Hotel Spa by La Prairie with a Pure Gold radiance facial and caviar body massage. Take your appointment in a private poolside cabana or in one of six treatment rooms. A rooftop retreat at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, The Peninsula Spa is fit for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, who spent six of her honeymoons here. Channel your inner celebrity with a precious-gem treatment—rich oils containing bits of ruby, emerald, sapphire, and diamond are said to draw upon the stones’ healing powers. For a visual stunner, enter the white-on-white world of Ciel Spa, the Philippe Starck-designed oasis in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Coastal retreats offer a new wave of pampering. Go for the candlelit couples’ treatment—a dip in side-by-side tubs followed by synchronised massages. Spend all day at the enormous oceanfront Spa at Terranea located at the luxury Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. With the sounds of the ocean waves crashing outside the treatment room, you can indulge in holistic treatments including a seaweed wrap and salt water bath, topped off with an aromatherapy massage.
The perfect complement to visiting award-winning vineyards is a trip to one of Sonoma County or the Napa Valley’s sumptuous spas. Set amidst a backdrop of rolling hills, broad valleys, and miles of grapes, the region is not only a visual Shangri-La that is perfect for relaxing, it’s also ripe with natural hot springs and mineral-rich muds that naturally lend themselves to spa treatments.
Smack in the middle of the Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa at The Fairmont ranks as one of the most indulgent and classic spa destinations. The resort’s 40,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa is famous for being one of the only luxury spas in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water, rising from 1,100 feet beneath the earth. Spoil yourself with the elaborate Bathing Ritual, which includes an exfoliating scrub, a soak in warm mineral water, a whirl in a hot Jacuzzi, followed by a visit to the spa’s eucalyptus steam room and the European sauna. At Spa Solage, part of the chic 89-room Solage Calistoga resort in the Napa Valley, look for an interesting and ecologically conscious twist on traditional mud and thermal therapies. Go for the signature Mudslide, a three-part treatment that starts with a trip to the Mud Bar, which offers several blends of mineral-enriched clay and volcanic ash that you slather on as a rejuvenating mask. Then, soak in an oversized tub featuring geothermal mineral water from Solage’s own spring. Finally, wrap it up, literally, while swathed in cosy blankets and nestled in one of the spa’s state-of-the-art reclining vibration chairs, meant to mimic zero gravity.
Tucked away in a lush, wooded canyon, The Auberge Spa at Calistoga Ranch lets you melt away in mineral water pools that overlook a babbling creek and moss-laden oaks. Retreat to your treatment room, complete with private outdoor shower and soaking tub, for an Antidote massage which uses ancient Yogic techniques to restore natural biorhythms. Namaste.
Step through the torii gates at Golden Door Spa in Escondido and enter a Japanese-inspired getaway replete with classic shoji screens, a koi pond, sand gardens, and some serious relaxation. This serene retreat accommodates only 39 guests who each stay for a week or more, so expect some major pampering from the attentive staff. Days start with an early-morning guided hike through avocado groves, waterfalls, and stone walkways lined with ancient granite boulders. Classes in Yoga, special water therapy, nutritional guidance, and more are available, all with a focus on wellness and healing. As for treatments, try the luxurious calendula butter wrap, infused with flowers, or the lavender and lemongrass scrub.
At Spanish-styled Spa at Rancho Valencia, in Rancho Santa Fe, treatment rooms boast adobe fireplaces and private outdoor gardens with Talavera tile soaking tubs, the perfect venue for the spa’s signature Sixth Sense body ritual. Start with a tranquil bath soak under gently rustling palms before settling into a full-body massage and soothing paraffin treatment for hands and feet.
You’ll feel extra special at the Hotel del Coronado’s Spa at The Del, where a private terrace lets you lounge by a vanishing-edge pool overlooking the sparkling Pacific. Many of the spa’s treatments, like the Ocean Salt Scrub (fine-grain mineral salts infused with citrus oils) focus on healing properties of the sea.
Take this region’s desert-oasis atmosphere, then add natural hot springs, mineral pools and native plants with healing properties, and you will find a hot bed of pampering, with a wide array of world-class spas and wellness retreats.
The desert resort towns of the Coachella Valley all have wonderful spas, but a few demand a special mention. One spot that is hot on the radar of in-the-know celebrities (Meryl Streep and Madonna are rumoured to have visited) is luxurious Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs. This desert hideaway offers palm-shaded pools and an incredible variety of treatments. For a New Age twist, try colour therapy: you get your massage in a stained-glass gazebo while coloured lights target different parts of your body. Does it work? Who cares—it feels great to be so pampered, and who couldn’t use a little Chakra-balancing?
South-east of Palm Springs, the staggeringly huge, 38,000-square-foot Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is like a wonderland of indulgent services. Features include dozens of private treatment rooms, a salon, a bistro, a VIP suite, a fitness facility, and a soothing salt water pool. Spa guests can take advantage of hot and cold plunge pools, plus treatments that incorporate ancient Ayurvedic healing methods and ingredients from locally grown citrus and dates.
For a more intimate experience that still has a resort feel, consider Agua Serena spa (Spanish for “peaceful waters”) at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort. Before or after your treatment, lounge beside a dipping pool with relaxing fountains and swaying palm trees.
In the tiny seaside town of Santa Barbara, where health and wellness reign supreme, the spa at the Four Seasons The Biltmore takes cues from its surroundings with an array of restorative treatments blending local botanicals and elements from the nearby ocean. Eleven treatment rooms look out onto towering palms, majestic mountains and deep ocean blues. Each of the four day-suites comes equipped with a fireplace. Choose from a spa menu of massages, body wraps, scrubs, soaking baths and facials. The signature Grape De Vine package uses grape seed native to Santa Barbara wine country to extract toxins and exfoliate, while lavender oil calms during a full-body massage. The Sky Lounge at Float Luxury Spa epitomises coastal modern design with subtle hints of sky and ocean to complement services such as the Deep Retreat, a sea-salt body polish followed by a deep-tissue massage.
The 31,000-square-foot spa village at this classic California resort caters to some of Hollywood’s best. The stucco-and-Moroccan-tile Mind & Body Center features a tranquil lap pool and upmarket fitness centre. For a unique experience, try the Kuyam, an updated sweat lodge where you’ll breathe in lemongrass-infused steam after being coated with cleansing mud and herbs. To unwind after this exhilarating treatment, try the Petals package, a rub-down with powdered roses followed by a rose-gel shower and finished with a rose-oil massage. Freshly picked flowers stimulate the senses during the spa’s sought-after seasonal treatments.
About an hour inland from Newport Beach, on the other side of the mountains in the Cleveland National Forest, is the much-talked-about Glen Ivy Hot Springs, founded in 1860. It’s the type of place where you can spend a full afternoon lounging and sipping cocktails by the pool with friends. Admission grants visitors daylong access to the spa's facilities, from the red-clay outdoor mud baths (cleverly deemed Club Mud) to the many mineral tubs (if you can stand the stinky sulfur, you’ll experience skin-softening bliss) to the bone-dry sauna. Spa treatments, such as facials and massages, cost extra and fill up quickly. The ancient Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage is worth booking in advance and incorporates deep, gentle strokes. Go full circle with a meditation session and health food from the onsite Café Solé.
More a retreat centre than a decadent spa, the storied Esalen Institute—perched above the rugged oceanside bluffs of Big Sur—has been calling to visitors looking for an escape from the everyday world for more than 50 years. The list of those who have spent time here reads like a who’s who—Bob Dylan, Ansel Adams, Deepak Chopra—and speaks to the healing powers of the centre’s varied seminars.
Esalen’s spiritual and creative offerings include workshops, more than 500 of them annually, for personal and social transformation. Sign up to learn about topics ranging from yoga and meditation (the institute was instrumental in the eventual broad acceptance of both in the U.S.) to songwriting, couples’ communication and shamanic cosmology.
A little too “out there” for you? Guests are welcome to stay as a personal retreat without booking a workshop. Opt for this, and you’re free to wander throughout the property’s beautiful 27 acres, book a massage, lounge in the site’s cliff-hugging soaking tubs heated by natural hot springs, and enjoy meals featuring ingredients from the onsite garden. The hot springs have been an attraction since the 1880s and enjoyed by the native Esselen for many millennia before that.
If you’re staying elsewhere, you can still book a soak (advance reservations are required)—just know that bathing suits are optional and you’ll need to be a bit of a night owl: they are only open to non-guests from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. But pulling a partial all-nighter is worth it. Coming down the hill, you will see an outdoor massage deck and living roof planted in native coastal grasses. There are several indoor and outdoor baths, plus private clawfoot tubs, all set to a soundscape of crashing waves.
Esalen sits on a remote stretch of land about 12 miles south of Big Sur and driving the gorgeous Highway 1 to get there is an added bonus of the whole experience. If you’re not driving, however, the institute does offer shuttle service from airports in Monterey, San Jose and San Francisco on Fridays and Saturdays.