The spa at Estancia La Jolla is one of several spas we highlighted in this issue. It has an outdoor couples’ bungalow with a private deck!
Why make it a special occasion? Rancho Valencia is one of only a few resorts in Southern California to offer spa memberships for locals, so you can drop in for a pilates class, facial, or pool day any time you want. Sign us up!
We are all overdue for some pampering. Yes, this is the sign you’ve been waiting for to take a personal day (or call in sick—we won’t tell!), and spend a day at the spa. We did the tough investigative work to find San Diego’s most impressive facials, massages, skin care rituals, and wellness retreats to level up your self-care routine. Whether you’ve got 30 minutes or a week to spare, these top treatments will help you start the new year as your most refreshed and rejuvenated self. Get ready to relax!
THE VIBE: Convivial and packed with amenities
STAR TREATMENT: Roman waterfalls and reflexology pathway
This retreat tucked away on the grounds of Omni La Costa Resort is spacious—43,000 square feet with 42 treatment rooms—and comes with ample locker space, lounge areas, a sit-down café, and poolside beverage and food service. All the amenities make it easy to spend an entire day here and make a mini staycation out of it. The spa menu is diverse, from 50-minute CBD massages and white algae full-body masks, to shorter treatments like dry brushing for exfoliation, or a reflexology session to revive tired hands and feet. In your post-treatment bliss, head to the café to refuel with a healthy lunch (get the coconut rice pudding for dessert!), then grab a chair by the adults-only spa pool for a glorious afternoon of lounging, snoozing, and cocktail sipping. In between, try to complete the walk through the reflexology path, one of the only ones available in Southern California—a short, guard-railed pathway of raised stones applies various amounts of pressure to the soles of the feet as you go. Last, drench in one of the Roman waterfalls for even more relaxation. You can sit or lie down under the faucet, where water flows at a strong pressure and massages the scalp, shoulders, and back. The biggest decisions you’ll have to make all day are when to eat, when to take a dip in the pool, and when to nap. Heaven!
2100 Costa Del Mar Road, Carlsbad; @omnilacosta
THE VIBE: Minimalist and quiet
STAR TREATMENT: Tea tree oil massage, vitamin C infused showers
This North County staple has been at Westin Carlsbad Resort for 15 years, and was closed for around 18 months when the pandemic hit. It just reopened last summer and guests are welcome back for some much-needed rejuvenation. This spa is cozy and inviting, and is best for someone seeking a bit of solitude. Try the tailor-made massage, where you select a customized oil (we got the tea tree oil, which is said to be an anti- inflammatory for the skin) and the level of pressure you need to work out the knots in your muscles. For a deeper cleansing, try the Lalicious body scrub treatment, which buffs away dead skin cells during the massage. Relax in the eucalyptus steam room, then rinse off with a vitamin C shower. Each shower stall here is equipped with an Aroma Sense shower head (a brand that’s popular in South Korea) that filters out minerals and chlorine, and is infused with vitamin C essence and an aromatherapy scent of your choice, such as lemon or mango. If you fall in love with it and want to take your spa experience home, the shower heads are available for purchase. Another bonus: Spa guests can unwind at the hotel’s saltwater pool deck, which offers sweeping valley views. On the weekends and during hotel events the pool can get busy (especially during the summer), but if you’re able to book a treatment on a weekday, chances are it won’t be crowded. Go ahead and take a personal day—you’ve earned it!
5480 Grand Pacific Drive, Carlsbad; @westincarlsbad
The spa at Estancia La Jolla is one of several spas we highlighted in this issue. It has an outdoor couples’ bungalow with a private deck!
THE VIBE: A luxurious hacienda
STAR TREATMENT: Couples’ bungalow escape
The Mediterranean architecture and agave-filled gardens at this hotel immediately set the transportive tone for relaxation, and the property is popular with locals for staycations and bridal parties. The spa is tucked away from the resort’s busy lobby and restaurant, and offers several ways to unwind: hot tubs, meditation gardens, lounges with fireplaces. It’s also connected to the glamorous saltwater pool, which has reservable daybeds and cabanas that come with stocked refrigerators, as well as a walk-up bar and food station with freshly made chips and salsa and other goodies. Try the 50-minute Revitalizing Journey treatment to calm frazzled nerves with a massage, acupressure on the legs, and a foot scrub with Yon-Ka Paris products. Couples can have an indulgent side-by-side massage in a private outdoor bungalow complete with a deck and oversized soaking tub, Champagne optional.
There’s also an extensive menu of facials, as well as pre- and postnatal massages—more treatments are expected to be available in 2022. Before you leave, stop by the property’s Wishing Tree (outside of Mustangs & Burros restaurant) to write down a wish and place it on one of the branches. The hotel also offers wellness weekend packages if you’re looking for a longer staycation.
9700 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla; @estancialajolla
Why make it a special occasion? Rancho Valencia is one of only a few resorts in Southern California to offer spa memberships for locals, so you can drop in for a pilates class, facial, or pool day any time you want. Sign us up!
THE VIBE: Understated luxury packed with wellness amenities—go solo!
STAR TREATMENT: Balancing gemstone massage
You’ll want to set aside a full day to really enjoy all of the perks of visiting The Spa at Rancho Valencia. The Forbes Five Star spa completed a major refresh last year to bring guests an expanded and enhanced oasis to center themselves—whether that’s through a massage, facial, blowout, fitness class, or dip in the pool. Start your visit with a little traditional self-care—the spa added three new treatment rooms dedicated to their facial services and a number of new offerings to their spa menu, including the Balancing Gemstone Massage. When your body is feeling the repercussions from insufficient sleep, work stress, jetlag, or generalblah, this massage provides welcome relief. Working in sections from your feet to your head, four herb-infused massage oils are used in conjunction with gemstones and crystals placed on and around your body to target imbalances and realign your energy. After your treatment, relax in your own private outdoor shower and tub (check ahead of time to see if your treatment room has one) or mosey on out to explore the property on your own schedule. There are steam rooms, a fitness studio, yoga classes in an outdoor pavilion, a new salon for blowouts, makeup, and nail services, the list goes on. Maybe you’re the type to complete a hydrotherapy circuit—moving in quick intervals through a warm sauna, hot tub, and icy plunge pool to improve circulation—or instead, spend the rest of your afternoon lounging by the pool with a cocktail. No matter how you unwind, you’ll want to soak up every minute at this lush retreat.
5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe; @ranchovalencia
No mere fad to see here: The beauty industry’s newest love—the use of real gold in facials—lives up to the hype. Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s spa director, Kyra Bradley, says the gold masks you see popping up on high-end spa menus, like their Grand Cru facial, are packed with anti-aging benefits. “Gold is extremely beneficial in protecting and hydrating your skin,” she says. “In the complex itself, gold pearls are crushed into very small particles, then combined with active polyphenols and antioxidants contained in the Grand Cru grape extract in our treatment, which helps the skin fight against free radicals, repairs cellular damage, and is an effective solution against oxidative stress.” And while long-lasting benefits take time, Bradley says that gold masks do give some instant gratification by brightening the complexion and giving your skin a youthful glow. Now that’s good as gold.
THE VIBE: Quiet, Old World charm
STAR TREATMENT: Grand Cru facial
Any facial on the menu at Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s Center for Wellbeing (a Forbes Five Star spa) will give your skin a much-needed glow, but the real royal treatment comes from the Grand Cru. Developed by Dr. Burgener Switzerland (the Grand is the only place in San Diego to offer the Dr. Burgener line), the luxe facial is named after the highest and most revered classification from the governing board of wine production in France. Chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir are all combined with gold to create a rich serum to firm and restore your skin. The second half of the 90-minute treatment focuses on minimizing wrinkles, boosting collagen synthesis, and giving your skin an overall “redo,” through microdermabrasion, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and green caviar—a kind of algae said to have anti-aging benefits. The whole experience takes your skin on what esthetician Olivera Ivancevic calls a “journey around the world,” and you’ll want to let your skin fully absorb all the goodness once you’ve landed. You can do so in the spa’s relaxation lounge or in their indoor whirlpool. If you do want to venture outside and dip into the adults-only spa pool, have your aesthetician apply a natural sunscreen after the facial, stay in the shade, and you’ll be good to glow.
5300 Grand Del Mar Court, Carmel Valley; @fairmontgranddelmar
THE VIBE: Modern and welcoming with a full-service menu
STAR TREATMENT: Organic custom facial
Just beyond the doors of its unassuming lobby, The Spa at Harrah’s unveils an expansive and full-service modern space for self-care. There’s a barber, hair salon, nail salon (with a quick 20-minute service for those on the go), saunas, a salt bath, and a menu of classic massages and facials with specialty add-ons. We suggest the organic custom facial, where aestheticians walk you through a skin consultation to develop a completely personalized facial with the spa’s luxury skincare products—there are also collagen masks, brightening peels, and eye masks (like a 24k gold eye mask) that you can incorporate into your service for extra pampering. Take your time to enjoy all of the spa’s amenities before or after your service—it’s the perfect way to prep for a night on the game floor. Want to keep the gold treatment going? Head to ‘Tinis bar next to Fiore after your day at the spa to order Mayor Riggle’s 24k gold martini—cheers!
777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Funner; @harrahssocal
THE VIBE: A peaceful garden getaway; good for friends and celebrations
STAR TREATMENT: Massages in outdoor casitas
You’ll feel transported the moment you arrive at Rancho Bernardo Inn’s tranquil spa. The garden-like retreat is popular both for staycations and day dates with friends, whether you’re celebrating a birthday or just recovering from the workweek. Massages are their most popular treatments, and they offer a classic menu of deep tissue, prenatal, holistic, and couple’s massages that can be personalized with aromatherapy oils or add-ons like hot stones, CBD, and soothing balms. You can receive your treatment in a room inside, but we recommend choosing one of the outdoor casitas—they still provide plenty of privacy and warmth, and they further the spa’s escapist feel, placed around peaceful water features and flowers. Take your post-massage Zen straight to the saline pool or waterfall whirlpool, where you can spend the rest of your mini-getaway floating in the water, sunbathing on a lounger, or in a pre-booked private cabana.
17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive, Rancho Bernardo; @ranchobernardoinn
THE VIBE: Elegant beachside retreat
STAR TREATMENT: Deep sea pedicure with seaweed leaf wrap
If your only experience with seaweed is the dry, beached clumps that attract flies, or a slimy unknown that brushes against you in the shallows, then of course it has a bad rap. But it does make a good wrap. Our preeminent Victorian landmark is doing its part to rehabilitate seaweed’s image. Several treatments at Hotel del Coronado’s Spa & Salon use Voya brand skincare products, whose brown-algae-derived ingredients are packed with antioxidants, iodine, and other natural minerals. If you need some convincing before you plunge into the full-body Seaweed Leaf Wrap, take some baby steps with the Deep Sea Pedicure. It starts with a relaxing foot soak with massage jets, followed by an exfoliating sea salt scrub on your lower legs and feet and a massage by hand. Then your therapist (ask for Dawnell for great conversation) wraps your legs up in soothing, silky kelp strips like a marine mummy so it can work its magic for the rest of the 50 or 75 minutes. The service comes with all the standard pedicure perks: nail trimming, cuticle maintenance, nourishing cuticle oil—and for add-ons, you can request callus repair and nail polish from vegan, cruelty-free brand Sparitual. (Don’t be afraid, fellas—they have clear, matte-finish polish, too.) If you can’t bear to part with your new protist pal, you can take the seaweed home to rehydrate and reuse it two to three times.
1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado; @delcoronado
THE VIBE: Contemporary, quiet, and sleek
STAR TREATMENT: Restore massage
Spa Ritual’s lineup of expert services puts an emphasis on customization. Decide what your body needs—simple relaxation, tension relief, corrective treatments—and let that lead you to the service that’s best for you. The Restore massage uses firm pressure to work out tight knots and sore muscles in a 50- or 80-minute experience, and you can incorporate other services like cupping or reflexology if you need a little extra love. Afterward, there are saunas, steam rooms, and a clothing-optional whirlpool to extend your relaxation. Just on the other side of the reception desk are Spa Ritual’s nail and hair salons, along with their waxing services. If you’re not quite ready to hit the slots after your treatment, access to Sycuan’s sleek pool deck is just across the hall. Walk through the doors, order a cocktail, and lay back on a lounger to soak up your last act of self-care: a healthy dose of vitamin D.
5469 Casino Way, El Cajon; @sycuan_casinoresort
By Hoa Sanchez
Every day, we’re inundated with the latest wellness fads promising us weight loss, holistic healing, and a wrinkle-free complexion. In fact, the firm Research and Markets puts the weight loss industry’s estimated value at $255 billion, and it’s expected to grow to $377 billion in just five years. But just how grounded in science are these trends? We asked local nurse practitioner Elisha Phelan of One Medical to help separate the healthy from the hokum, and she cautions to consider your overall health goals before spending your hard-earned cash on these products.
On skinny teas: “Skinny teas are largely a variety of diuretics and antioxidants,” Phelan says. “The term ‘skinny’ implies it’s going to help with weight loss, but diuretics will only work for water retention.”
On juice fasts: The same can be said for juice fasts, which are heavy in sugar, a diuretic that will help clear water. The benefit of spending days sipping only tea and juice is questionable. “There are certain times we want to give our gut a rest, like after a surgery or because of certain medical conditions,” Phelan says, “but this might not be ideal for somebody who has gut issues.”
On multivitamins: Supplements are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Phelan says that questions about the effectiveness of multivitamins have been soaring as a result of COVID-19. Although some vitamins—such as calcium, vitamin D and omega-3—are helpful, she says the idea that a tiny pill can pack all the nutrients a body needs is unrealistic: “Our bodies are not designed to take nutrients from a pill. A really colorful plate of food is a better idea.”
Talking to a health care professional to determine your overall goal is the best course of action. “Knowing what your goals are for your health and the motivation for that is really helpful,” Phelan says. “You are the expert in how you want to feel and what your goals are.”
THE VIBE: Cozy and friendly
STAR ATTRACTION: Succulent Workshop
A visit to the Inn at Moonlight Beach feels just like staying in your most thoughtful friend’s guest house. That personal touch is everywhere, setting all your senses at ease from the moment you step into one of their five suites: An aromatherapy diffuser quietly chugs away on the kitchen counter; a pot of soothing herbal tea is warming over a candle on the dining table next to a painterly spread of homemade dehydrated fruits and dark chocolates. There’s even an assortment of tea bath kits for when you’re ready to let your stress evaporate in the steam.
The innkeeper is just a text message away, ready to respond to your breakfast order, to add your selection from their wellness market to your bill (check out those crystals!), or to schedule any add-on experiences—which we wholeheartedly recommend. The property is surrounded by biodynamic gardens and a literal library of succulent plants: By appointment, you can gather your own assortment of them in a box planter to make a cute mini-garden to take home. And don’t miss their honey workshop (or olive oil—everything here has a vegan option, even the charcuterie boards), where you can fill a bottle with a precise combination of flavor infusions from herbs grown on-site.
They also provide a list of recommendations for other places to enjoy while you’re in Encinitas, but honestly, just staying here is a luxury vacation by itself.
105 North Vulcan Avenue, Encinitas; @innatmoonlight
THE VIBE: Measured bohemian
STAR TREATMENT: The Saffron Buccal
You can book a one-time massage at Saffron & Sage. “And you’re going to have the best massage of your life,” founder and CEO Cristin Smith says—but that’s not necessarily what she wants you to do. Instead, Smith wants you to think into the future, to think preventively, and enlist her multidisciplinary team of practitioners to help.
Breathwork specialists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, estheticians—they all operate under the roof of her 6,000-square-foot holistic health club. It comprises three treatment rooms, a boutique, and a lounge for their newly launched IV therapy and community acupuncture services. Oh, and there’s a plant-based pharmacy, too, where they formulate teas and floral essences.
Consider booking their Saffron Buccal. Think of it as a face workout. Practitioners provide an intraoral massage—that is, they work their fingers around inside your mouth—to stimulate and tone the muscles.
Saffron & Sage operates with a yearly membership model that encourages clients to come in consistently to balance their mind, body, and spirit. Gratuity is not accepted. All treatments are $200 for nonmembers, and the three membership levels offer package discounts down to $125 per service for 48 services, so you can get on the table and be cupped, needled, massaged, or whatever else your body calls for.
“This is what we’re trying to change,” Smith explains. “The proof is in the pudding, and the power of being a member or a client is you’re coming consistently. You have a team working on your behalf. All you have to do is show up and feel empowered and at peace.”
2555 State Street, Little Italy; @saffronandsagesandiego
THE VIBE: Down to business
STAR TREATMENT: Gua sha
Girl on the Go is all about honoring the largest organ on our body—our skin—and it’s refined almost every service to do just that. The body treatments, for instance, could be considered a head-to-toe facial, involving wraps and detoxifying ingredients like Hungarian cherry pepper. All treatments keep their guests’ busy schedules in mind (hence the name), so their facials are conditioned to alleviate stress-induced wrinkles, tired eyes, and more woes modern-day workers face. They’re even open until 10 p.m. some evenings to accommodate the night owls. Get in, get out, get on with your day—and feel good doing it!
830 25th Street, Golden Hill, @girlonthegosd
THE VIBE: An urban retreat to get you through the week
STAR TREATMENT: Body Scrub and Gold Massage
The wonders of a Korean day spa have become the stuff of legend—the vigorous body scrubs, the nude saunas, the jjimjilbang. You can experience it all yourself at Yu Spa. Their treatments, like the Body Scrub and Gold Massage, start with the sauna: You shower before entering a hot tub, a cold plunge, and their wet and dry saunas in turn—yes, all in the buff. Then you head to the group treatment area for the famed Korean body scrub. The massage therapist uses two exfoliating mitts on practically every inch of your skin. Note: Give the table a swipe to see the work—your dead skin will feel like 10 pounds of dust layering the table. Next, they envelop you in a gold body wrap for the massage portion, which leaves your skin shimmering. As you lie cocooned, you’ll be indulged with a shampoo, a facial, and a scalp massage. After all that, you head to the lockers to don standard spa pajamas for the jjimjilbang, which roughly translates to “steam rooms.” There’s a hot Korean clay room where medicinal herbs hang from the rafters and a Himalayan salt room. End your visit at the ice room, where the freezer evaporator coils help tighten your skin and bring your body temperature down from the previous rooms.
3927 Convoy Street, Convoy District, @yuspasd
THE VIBE: Nirvana bliss
STAR TREATMENT: Abhyanga and shirodhara combination
What people may not realize about Ayurvedic spa treatment is that it’s more than just an incredible therapeutic massage; it aims to take you to a highly meditative state.
“You put yourself in a space where pacifying patterns, soothing rhythmic strokes, and copious amounts of oil can help the brain reach a deeply restorative condition,” explains Heidi Abreu, owner of Lotus Blooming Ayurveda.
This healing massage therapy, which originated in India, integrates mind, body, and spirit to achieve an optimal state of bliss.
Abreu’s signature treatment entails two main elements. First, the abhyanga, a warm oil massage from head to toe. Abreu applies circular motions to the entire body and targets pressure points to ease muscle tension and calm the nerves. Then, she transitions into the shirodhara, a unique Indian head massage that involves slowly dripping soothing oil onto your “third eye,” located at the center of the forehead. The gentle liquid stream quiets the mind. Abreu then sweeps the oil into the hair for a moisturizing treatment.
7757 Herschel Avenue, La Jolla, @lotusblooming_ayurveda
THE VIBE: Workout Massage
STAR TREATMENT: Traditional Thai Massage
Historically in Thailand, blind people were taught to do massages so they could make a living. Finding an authentic one here is tough but there are places that adhere to the basic principles. Thai massage incorporates the therapist’s elbows and knees, and you can opt for the therapist to gently walk on your back, using ceiling bars to reduce the weight on you. Many customers prefer a mix, says Sirikarn “Siri” Binley, owner of Siri Thai Bodywork in Del Mar and University City. She is one of the few local therapists who trained at the Chetawan Thai Traditional Massage School. It’s no wonder that her repeat customers visit weekly.
1011 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar; 3232 Governor Drive, University City
THE VIBE: Shrine to female empowerment
STAR TREATMENT: “Almost painless” Brazilian wax
Angelica Sele built her loyal clientele by giving waxes out of the back of a hair salon, so it should come as no surprise that hair removal treatments are a highlight of her South Park wellness studio, Angelica B Beauty. Beyond their “almost painless” Brazilian waxes, they also see their fair share of eyebrow treatments and lash lifts. But there’s a reason we’re naming the Brazilian wax their star treatment. They use a customized assortment of three different waxes—a hard wax, a soy-based wax, and a cream-based wax—to accommodate all skin types. On your visit, you’ll also notice a robust skin care menu, including the 50-minute Laurel Skin Facial, which treats clients to a cleanse, exfoliation and extractions, a mask, and a hand and shoulder massage, all using Laurel Skin products. Bonus: You can add lymphatic draining onto any facial to reduce puffiness. You can also book a 30-minute skin consultation to map out an individual regimen personalized to your skin. Of course, Angelica B Beauty has a carefully vetted retail selection of skin care products to choose from, too, including DMK Skincare, Marie Veronique, Eminence, and a growing clean beauty collection. “It is so important to offer my clients choices,” Sele explains. “To educate my clients on wellness as a whole, whether that be through self-care, self-pleasure, or just fun.”
2226 Fern Street, South Park; @angelicabbeauty
THE VIBE: Royal treatment
STAR TREATMENT: Facial Royale
Spa Kingston lives up to its name. This 10-year-old day spa and acne clinic in Bankers Hill is steeped in luxurious little moments: From the flower-festooned wall at the entry to pick-your-own essential oils and rose-petaled foot baths attached to almost every service, they customize every part of your visit. And while the massages are rightfully the draw for some, it’s Spa Kingston’s acne clinic that’s second to none. Their facials use both tried-and-true and innovative new approaches, from light therapy to reduce inflammation to microneedling for anti-aging and gua sha to improve circulation. Stubborn acne’s really their specialty—they boast that 90 percent of the time they get skin clear in as little as three months. On your visit, book the Facial Royale: The 75-minute treatment includes a cleanse, steam, and mask, and concludes with an upper-body massage.
2230 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill, @spakingston
A skeptic’s first psychic reading (and more) at Four Moons Spa in Encinitas
Here are a few notable wellness retreats and resorts in and around San Diego that offer seclusion and a total escape from the rise-and-grind routine.
THE VIBE: Luxury retreat with a partner or friends
STAR TREATMENT: Club Mud and the Grotto
Honestly, I don’t like getting dirty. But if there’s any place to find out if there’s a mud enthusiast buried in me somewhere, it’s Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Riverside County—renowned for its therapeutic clay, waters, and grotto.
I began with an ayurvedic spa treatment and then dipped into several different pools, each with its own benefit. There were hot mineral baths, floating pools, and an Epsom salt hot tub to explore.
Finally, I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to enter Club Mud (yes, that’s the name) before hitting the grotto. The order is important—the spa’s website says California red clay draws impurities and toxins from the pores and is a natural exfoliant, while the grotto experience remoisturizes.
I gingerly stepped into the murky mud pool and relaxed into the brown water. For the first step, I dipped into the water to cover my body. Next, I grabbed a huge chunk of clay from a mud sculpture and caked myself from neck to toe. Then I let it dry in a sauna. As the mud hardened on my skin, I swore I could feel nasty contaminants being sucked out of my body. Is this how Neanderthals felt when they had a mud bath? I felt downright primordial. After I washed off the clay, my skin looked tawny and smooth. I descended into the grotto, an
underground cave where a “painter” brushed aloe vera, coconut oil, and shea butter. After I showered off in the cave, my skin glistened with natural minerals that were studded in my pores. Okay, so maybe playing in mud isn’t so bad after all. — Helen I. Hwang
THE VIBE: An expansive Mexican retreat with old-school charm
STAR TREATMENT: Seemingly endless hiking and spa options
Located on 4,000 acres in the hills of Tecate, Baja California (about an hour drive from downtown San Diego), Rancho La Puerta was founded in 1940 and is a pioneer in the modern wellness-destination field. More than 80 casitas, 40 miles of hiking trails, about a dozen gyms and fitness centers, and four pools are on the main resort grounds, along with gardens, an organic farm, marshes, and oak groves.
Three different spa centers on the property offer everything from traditional massages to body masks and an herbal wrap that’s exclusive to the resort. It’s also a paradise for hikers, since it’s situated in the foothills of Tecate Peak—guests can enjoy the wide-open spaces on leisurely walks or challenging climbs, based on their ability.
Expect to keep moving—you’ll attend different fitness classes throughout the day—but there’s also plenty of downtime for reading, lounging in a hammock, or arts and crafts classes. All meals are included in a stay, and foodies will especially enjoy the on-site Cocina que Canta culinary center, where you can get hands-on with a cooking class in a luxurious kitchen set inside an organic farm. Stays are available in three, four, or seven-day increments. Not ready to fully commit? A Saturdays on the Ranch day trip that includes transportation from San Diego, fitness classes, meals, and a cooking class will be available soon.
At the end of a vacation, have you ever wished you could just live there? Well, the resort has that feeling covered: They’re building a new community on the property of roughly 100 private residences, designed with wellness in mind.
Tecate, Mexico, @rancholapuerta
THE VIBE: The ultimate wellness experience, with a touch of Japanese Zen
STAR TREATMENT: Everything (including the guests)
Believe it or not, one of the most exclusive spas and wellness retreats in the country is right up in San Marcos. Golden Door has had an aura of mystery about it ever since it was founded over 60 years ago; it’s long been a haven for Hollywood elite: Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor stayed here, and today it’s a favorite of CEOs, Oprah Winfrey, and Julia Roberts. Hidden from the road, the resort has just 40 rooms, but that only scratches the surface—the property spans more than 600 acres, and is packed with hiking trails, stone labyrinths, bamboo forests, lemon groves and avocado orchards, and even biodynamic gardens. The aesthetic of the entire resort is modeled after Japanese architecture and gardens (the latter were designed by Takendo Arii), and the communal areas and guest rooms are decorated with art from Japan.
A stay here is total immersion, from four days minimum to seven, and just about everything you could need is included—meals, reusable water bottles, even workout clothes. Guests can expect to start their days with an early morning hike, have daily massages in the privacy of their room, enjoy meals made from produce grown right on the property, and follow a customized itinerary of exercise classes and activities. Kathy Van Ness, COO and general manager of Golden Door, says there are no TVs in guest rooms, and they hope guests can completely disconnect and focus on their well- being during their stay. “We want you to leave a better, happier, and nicer person than when you arrived,” she says.
The price for a stay is about $10,000 for an entire week, but Van Ness says their guests are not just celebrities; they have repeat visitors, and it’s a destination that many save up to experience. And the resort’s business model is built on giving back: All profits go to charity and benefit abused children.
While the resort’s grounds are not open to the public, you can experience some of Golden Door’s magic by checking out their new Country Store. They grow, raise, and sell everything from kale to fresh eggs, tomatoes, and citrus fruit, and they even produce their own line of olive oil and skin care products. All proceeds from the store go to charity as well, and Van Ness says a bakery will be coming soon. We’re adding a stay here to our bucket list!
Resort: 777 Deer Springs Road, San Marcos; Country Store: 314 Deer Springs Road, San Marcos; @goldendoor
There’s no sugarcoating it: Hair removal is painful, from the zaps of laser treatments to the ripping of wax strips and even the nicks of a razor. But there is one old-school technique that appears to be riding a new wave of popularity: sugaring. The solution is made of sugar, water, and lemon—that’s it, so simple you could eat it. How it works: The three ingredients are warmed together and formed into a paste that’s spread in the opposite direction of your hair growth. Then, unlike waxing, it’s flicked toward the direction of your hair growth to rip out the root and avoid breakage. Though the technique is similar to waxing, it’s widely considered less abrasive, since sugaring paste adheres only to hair and not skin. (But we’ll let your pain tolerance determine whether it’s any more enjoyable.) There are options aplenty in town to get your sweet hair removal fix, from La Di Da in Bankers Hill to Gingerly Wax in North Park, Beauty by Dolly in multiple locations, Sugar Kiss in University Heights, Sugaring SD in Mission Hills, or Molly’s Sugar Shack in Pacific Beach. — Sarah Pfledderer
THE VIBE: Camping with creature comforts
STAR TREATMENT: On-site massages and campfire keynote speakers
Remember how fun camping was as a kid? The founders of this three-day nature retreat want their attendees to relive the simple joys of being out in the woods, gathering around a campfire, making s’mores, and tucking into a sleeping bag. Yet they also provide some camping upgrades that are much appreciated by busy adults, such as on-site massages, wine, and lodging with showers and bathrooms.
Billed as “digital detox for the modern woman,” Bliss Out Camp Out is held at a private campground roughly 40 minutes away from downtown San Diego, and recently expanded to locations in Northern California and at a resort in Baja California. Campers can sign up for as few or as many planned activities as they want. You can try archery, learn krav maga, take a painting class, or just hang out.
“All campers who come have hectic lives, demanding careers, and/or children. It’s their weekend to do whatever they want,” says cofounder Fiona Leung. “Activities will vary at each camp, but there are always both active and passive ones.” All meals are provided, and the packing list of gear for the trip is short. Forget some toiletries? Don’t worry, they’ll have those, too.
Leung and her business partner, Chrissy Gray, completely understand the need to unplug. Leung is the director of events at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Gray owns a consulting firm, and their jobs involve tons of screen time, meetings, and Zoom calls. At camp they encourage attendees to turn off their phones (and even provide phone lockers, for those who need them).
But the point of the camp isn’t to fully tune out; it’s meant as a place for women to connect. Every retreat includes a campfire talk with a keynote speaker—past guests have included a professional muay Thai fighter, business owners, and chefs. Leung says the keynote is one of the camp’s highlights, and it strengthens the spirit of sisterhood over the weekend. “We love seeing the friendships that get formed at our camps. The women have diverse backgrounds and are at different points in their lives—the age has ranged from 23 to 67. It really feels like summer camp!”
Multiple locations; @blissoutcampout
Although spas are open and welcoming guests, the experience may not quite be the same as it was two years ago. If you haven’t visited one in a while, here’s what to expect during your spa day in San Diego. (And do we need to say it? Mask up!)
Day passes are (mostly) on hold
In the halcyon days before 2020, there was a seldom-advertised way one could lounge at a luxurious spa without having to book a treatment: purchasing a day pass. These days, many spas have reduced the number of guests they admit to maintain social distancing. Brisa Huezo, area director of spas and spa retail for Pacific Hospitality Group (which includes The Spa at Estancia La Jolla), says they were operating at 75 percent capacity last fall, and that offering day passes could lead to overcrowding. Some hotels don’t offer them at all, whereas others, such as Estancia, are slowly bringing them back on a limited basis on weekdays.
Amenities may be missing or closed
Some of the small luxuries we adore at spas are the glasses of infused fruit water, bowls of healthy snacks for grazing, plush terry cloth robes, and spa sandals. Now, some spas no longer offer water in self-serve pitchers, snacks might be individually wrapped instead (if offered), and robes or slippers might not be provided. It’s now common to find that steam and sauna facilities are not open for use.
Pro tip: Make the most of it.
Huezo’s most important advice: Try to allow yourself at least three hours for your spa time when booking a massage. This gives you time to get changed and wind down before your treatment, and also to rest up and recover after being worked on. “You’ll be able to fully enjoy the experience,” she says, versus trying to rush back into your day.
Your favorite treatments may not be available
Spas have pared down their treatment menus. They might no longer use heated stones or bamboo sticks in their services. Same goes for facials with steam, and body wraps.
Appointments may be harder to get
Like many industries in the hospitality sector, spas around the country are experiencing a shortage of workers at the same time they’re handling an increase in demand for their services. A July 2021 report by the International Spa Association said the industry lost about 20 percent of its full-time employees, and that hotel and resort spas specifically lost more than 30 percent of their workforce since the pandemic began. Expect shorter hours of operation, and you’ll need to book that massage further in advance—some spas, including Estancia, have wait lists now. “If you want to have your treatment on a particular day, especially on a weekend, you have to book two to three weeks out,” Huezo says. “Don’t wait.”
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