The 10 best California wellness retreats

While there are some that might say all the spiritual fulfilment one needs can be found within the Napa wine region, others look beyond the grapes to the great Californian outdoors, where countless natural attractions mark the perfect locale for a wellness retreat. Harnessing the healing powers of the earth on their grounds, our top 10 California spa retreats feature everything from natural hot springs and private beaches, bringing the wild to you from the comfort of a luxury suite. With plenty more to see and do along the Californian coast, be sure to take our guide to the ultimate California road trip with you.

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McWay Falls, California | Photo: Chor Tsang

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The Men’s Camp Week is of particular interest, allowing men of a walk of life to regain strength, wellness and confidence in a non-competitive setting with guidance from industry experts

1. Golden Door, San Marcos

First up in San Diego is Golden Door, a legendary 600-acre spa retreat frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand. Opened in 1958, the spa has more recently restyled itself as the place to go for burnt-out entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and beyond, with programs lasting 5 to 7 days. The Men’s Camp Week is of particular interest, allowing men of a walk of life to regain strength, wellness and confidence in a non-competitive setting with guidance from industry experts. Enjoy the Japanese-inspired gardens and bathhouse while indulging in massage and beauty treatments all day long, or rise early for a pre-dawn hike along any of the 40 kilometres of hiking trails, passing through bamboo forest, citrus groves and wildflower meadows, filling up with a hearty breakfast around the communal dining table thereafter. Have your personal trainer fill your schedule with activities such as chakra meditation, yoga and Tai Chi, upping the tempo at the gym if you wish.

Golden Door | Photo: Rhiannon Taylor

Golden Door | Photo: Rhiannon Taylor

2. The Ranch Malibu

Another top wellness retreat Southern California has to offer is The Ranch Malibu where visitors stay for the week in the Santa Monica mountains in view of the Pacific Ocean. Guests at The Ranch are encouraged to disconnect and instead lift their heads to take in all that the Cali coast has to offer. Each day you can emerge from your cosy cottage for a 4-hour group hike, followed by a nap, exercise class and a massage. Focused on increased wellness, The Ranch ever-so-gently pushes the early bedtime and no-caffeine rule, guiding you over to better habits via its plant-based cooking classes and farm-to-table dining options. If you’d prefer more flexibility, try the nearby facilities of Four Season Westlake which offers 4-day and 10-day stays.

Photo: The Ranch Malibu

3. The Ashram, Calabasas

Of all the health retreats California rustles up, The Ashram, Calabasas is one of the more intense, open to Hollywood elite and determined guests for almost 45 years in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains. Not everyone’s cup of tea, The Ashram is rumoured to have made Oprah cry and Julia Roberts flee after just a few days on its weeklong deprivation schedule. On arrival, you’ll be put in a shared bedroom with few perks before being taken off for a rigorous five-mile hike through the rocky valleys. This is just the warm-up. Everyday thereafter, you’ll be woken up at 5:30 AM for a somewhat brutal schedule consisting of multiple fitness classes, 12-plus-kilometre hikes through Californian desert, followed up with restricted meals of oatmeal, tofu salads and organic produce. The consolation of staying at The Ashram will appear later when the sugar withdrawal has worn off and suddenly the smiles of the instructors, the tranquillity of the poolside massages and the renewed ease of the workouts all begin to make more sense.

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As well as all the hiking you could ever want, Carmel Valley also provides tennis, golf, archery and even beekeeping, with a gym, two outdoor pools and a full-service spa run by Hyatt Hotels

4. Two Bunch Palms, Desert Hot Springs

Also popular among Hollywood stars is Two Bunch Palms, having opened its doors 75 years ago to welcome the likes of Al Capone, Meryl Streep and Madonna to its aquifer healing centre. Located just 30 minutes from Palm Springs under the shade of tamarisk trees, Two Bunch Palms claims to be the first carbon-neutral resort in North America, boasting its own solar farm to generate electricity needs. Venture to the centre of the spa’s 77-acre gated grounds to find a multi-million dollar property, complete with renovated hot springs spa, fitness centre, pool and yoga dome, all in reach of hiking trails, lakes and wide open desert. Expend your extra energy on the tennis court or at one of many movement classes, sitting down for a gourmet farm-to-table experience at Garden House, all served with views to die for.

Carmel Valley Ranch | Photo: Carley Rudd Photography

5. Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel

Carmel Valley Ranch is one laid-back retreat California offers that is perfect for both couples and families, bringing a nostalgic summer camp feeling across its 500-acre grounds. Opt for a one-to-four bedroom suite – each complete with a fireplace and private deck with outdoor tub – venturing outside to take advantage of the wilderness surroundings. As well as all the hiking you could ever want, Carmel Valley also provides tennis, golf, archery and even beekeeping, with a gym, two outdoor pools and a full-service spa run by Hyatt Hotels. Think of it like a sophisticated playground and you won’t go far wrong!

Photo: Carmel Valley Ranch

Photo: Carmel Valley Ranch

6. Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, Vista

Reminiscent of a French village tucked away in northern San Diego County is our next offering; the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa. Hospitality comes first at Cal-a-Vie, with five staff members to every guest, who collectively take care of your fitness schedule, beauty treatments and body-spirit balance. Go for the spa’s Vinothérapie treatments, getting slathered in organic grape ingredients straight from the garden, completing the relaxation with additional hairstyling, reiki and acupuncture services. For mind-body connection, the go-to classes are meditation, Tai Chi, guided visualisation and chakra yoga, but sometimes a simple hike through the Vista hills, followed by a homemade meal in the rustic chateau is all you could ever need.

7. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa –in fact, closer to San Diego than Santa Fe – is next in our list of top retreats in California, set inland of the Cali coast on 43 acres of olive groves and shaded gardens. Particularly well known for its tennis and croquet facilities and staffed by sporting champions, Rancho Valencia has won a number of awards since opening in 1989, now providing boutique spa packages and fitness classes to sustainability-minded vacationers from the world over. Enjoy the oasis surrounds in-between facials and bodywork, with full access to the outdoor pool, hot tub and bar, just moments from your own upscale casita,

Photo: Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa

8. Casa Palmero, Pebble Beach

Transporting you from the Pacific Coast to the Mediterranean is Casa Palmero, lying to the south of San Jose on the edge of Del Monte Forest. Here you’ll find the most perfect views of Monterrey Bay from a rustic estate fitted with a 22,000-square-foot spa and courtyard pool. Other elegant facilities include woodburning fireplaces, soaking tubs and trellised walkways, all giving off that European vibe. Named as one of the top resorts in Northern California by Condé Nast Traveller, Casa Palmero can satisfy your every wellness need, helped by personal coordinators who’ll arrange a round of golf, hors d’oeuvres at one of five upscale restaurants and unlimited California Skin Institute dermatology services all to fit your schedule.

9. Inn at Moonlight Beach, Encinitas

Meanwhile, intimate and understated in San Diego is the Inn at Moonlight Beach, a WELL Certified Platinum hotel based just over one kilometre from San Diego Botanic Garden. Designed with spiritual health in mind, every aspect of the inn is geared towards relaxation in nature – its biodynamic vegetable garden and air filtration systems in particular. Take part in meditation, yoga and other relaxing activities on the private deck, moving back to your sage-cleansed guest room for the Himalayan bath salt soak you didn’t know you needed. And, once you’re as well as can be, take a walk down to the beach to show off your new healthy glow.

Inn at Moonlight Beach | Photo: Tomoko H. Matsubayashi

Inn at Moonlight Beach | Photo: Tomoko H. Matsubayashi

10. Gaige House + Ryokan, Glen Ellen

One last retreat within Sonoma Valley is Gaige House + Ryokan, a health-focused hideaway providing guests with a tranquil wine country experience like no other. Besides revelling in the rolling vineyard surroundings, those staying at Gaige House can unwind through customizable meditation, yoga and shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) sessions, walking the grounds and Zen gardens to truly let everything go. The artful Japanese design flows from the garden to the ryokan suites, which come with granite soaking tubs and yukata robes, all blended with a little contemporary Californian flair. Look out from the top-floor terrace and spa loft atop the Edwardian main house, moving downstairs to the pool area for cooler nights beside the firepits. Come morning in the dining room, you’ve got an American breakfast of champions to tackle, inclusive of goat’s cheese omelette, artichoke quiche and apple-spice cake for elevenses.

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Photo: Carmel Valley Ranch

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