Our 2019 Spa Survey of the West
Get a taste of wellness traditions from around the world without ever leaving the region
Mineral-rich hot springs tucked deep in the wilderness, energy-emitting red rock spires in the Sonoran desert, and the salt air along the coast have long made the West a lodestar for seekers of spiritual and physical well-being. But it was destination spas like California’s Golden Door and Miraval in Arizona that helped cement the West’s reputation as America’s go-to getaway for all things wellness. Deep-tissue massages and facials are still on offer, but the best spas are tapping into the healing powers of Mother Nature, creating programs ranging from therapeutic gardening to forest bathing. They’re also drawing on time-tested traditions from cultures around the globe and experimenting with science-backed techniques. Here, we survey the latest spa-therapy trends, the new and stalwart retreats we love, and the back-to-basics hot-spring stays worth the trip.
Spas That Transport You
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, Great Bear Rainforest, BC (Pictured above): Once the stomping grounds of Wall Street execs who came for the family-run lodge’s first-of- its-kind heli-fishing program, Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is attracting a new audience with its wellness-driven programs. Nestled into the old-growth forests of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, the nine-cabin floating lodge has tapped into studies that show the healing properties of time spent in nature. In May and June, Nimmo offers daylong and weeklong “nature and nurture” retreats that revolve around rainforest hikes, ocean kayaking, and wildlife-viewing excursions via stand-up paddleboards (keep your eyes peeled for bears along the shore). At day’s end you have plenty of options for R&R: Be pampered with massages in the treetop spa room, soothe sore muscles in the floating sauna, or soak in the cedar hot tubs set at the base of the property’s cascading waterfall.
Golden Door, San Marcos, CA: Long before there was SoulCycle or Botox, there was the Golden Door. When America’s first luxury destination spa opened its gilded doors in 1958 its mind-body approach to pampered wellness was way ahead of its time. Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor were regulars at the 40-room, ryokan-inspired retreat tucked away in a tranquil valley just north of San Diego. More than six decades later, a head-to-toe makeover has made this pioneering spa more relevant than ever. Vibrating weight-loss belt machines have been replaced with battle ropes and TRX training, and low-cal versions of turkey salad divan have been swapped for togarashi-seared big-eye tuna and ginger-soy marinated tofu. On the expanded 600 acres you’ll find 30 miles of hiking trails, Zen rock gardens, a bamboo forest, and an organic farm with olive and orange trees. A bespoke schedule is delivered nightly to each of the rooms. Sure, you’ll find Pilates and barre class, but you can also try fencing with a former Olympian, haiku writing, and hypnosis. There’s no need to feel guilty indulging in your health: 100 percent of net profits go to philanthropic causes.
Courtesy of Ten Thousand Waves
Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe, NM: This ryokan-like escape inspired by Japanese onsens, or hot springs, offers both communal and private soaking. At Ten Thousand Waves, private tubs feel like mini sanctuaries complete with a hot tub, sauna, plunge pool, and juniper-shaded decks. After, enjoy an izakaya meal at on-site Japanese restaurant, izanami.
Archer Hotel, Napa, CA: This intimate new rooftop spa has 360° views of Napa Valley. Skip the 40-minute drive to Calistoga’s famous mud baths and book Archer’s Wine Country Road Trip. Steamy Sonoma-sourced mud soothes feet and face, and Sonoma wines round out the experience.
Banya 5, Seattle, WA: At this steamy co-ed Russian bathhouse and sauna with massage services, don’t miss a coconut shea wrap treatment, where a massage therapist will work shea butter and coconut oil into the skin and hair with moisturizing and anti-oxidant results.
Wi Spa, Los Angeles, CA: This massive 24-hour Korean spa on Wilshire Boulevard has a cult following. Relax in the Wi Spa’s jimjil-bang, a communal relaxation area with four heated rooms and an ice room, then hit the cafe for bibimbap and banchan.
Scandinave, Whistler, B.C.: The ski town of Whistler harbors a25,000-square-foot Nordic-inspired spa steeped in the ancient Finnish tradition of hydrotherapy.Follow the traditional hot-cold circuit, cycling through saunas, steam rooms, thermal waterfalls, and outdoor baths with mountain views.
Natural Hot Springs Experiences in the West
Hot Spot: Esalen Institute Hot Springs, CA
The Draw: Named for the tribe of Native Americans that once lived amid the seaside cliffs of Big Sur, Esalen’s clothing-optional mineral springs are almost as famous as its reputation as the birthplace of the human potential movement. Perched oceanside, the institute features communal tubs as well as private claw-foot tubs.
The Experience: They still offer public bathing nightly from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. by reservation ($35). Bring a flashlight.
Courtesy of Mystic Hot Springs
Hot Spot: Mystic Hot Springs, UT
The Draw: This 19th-century homestead turned rustic hot springs retreat has a hippie-dippy, free-spirited vibe (the owner is a Deadhead). A 24-hour soaking area consists of two concrete pools—one with a waterfall—and six vintage cast-iron bathtubs with waters hovering between 99 and 110°.
The Experience: A day pass costs $15, but part of the fun is staying the night in one of the property’s converted buses.
Courtesy of Chena Hot Springs
Hot Spot: Chena Hot Springs, AK
The Draw: These mineral-rich springs located 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks were first used by miners just after the Klondike gold rush. Geothermally heated to 106°, the rock-ringed pools provide a steamy place to view the Northern Lights on subzero winter days.
The Experience: Drop in for a $15 soak or enjoy unlimited dunks if you stay at the lodge or in one of the property’s Mongolian-style yurts.
A Perfect Day at Miraval, Austin, TX
Tucson’s acclaimed mindful-living retreat Miraval recently debuted a sister property on 220 acres in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, just outside of Austin, Texas. With 29 treatment rooms, the Life in Balance Spa is now the largest in the state. Brand staples such as the equine program and cooking workshops remain. The biggest differentiator: The 10-acre farm where guests take classes in everything from chicken raising to kombucha brewing.
8 A.M. NATURE WALK This is Hill Country. Get your heart pumping on a 2-mile hike over the property’s oak-shaded rolling hills.
9 A.M. BREAKFAST Fuel up with a Texas-inspired breakfast featuring produce from the spa’s on-site farm and local purveyors.
10 A.M. QUANTUM LEAP Expand the boundaries of your comfort zone and relearn trust with a leap from a 25-foot pole.
11A.M. PADDLE Find your balance while stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Travis.
12 P.M. LUNCH + LEARN Grab an Instant Karma Kale smoothie from The Nest, then head to a coffee-roasting intensive or DIY bone-broth workshop.
1 P.M. HORSE THERAPY Identify your communication challenges and strengths by moving a horse around a pen without touching or speaking to it.
3 P.M. HARVEST + HEAL Help your spa therapist gather herbs from the farm to be used in the Wild Harvest Herbal Healer massage.
6 P.M. CHEF DINNER Allow the chefs to craft a private, wine-paired dinner just for you featuring dishes like foraged-mushroom tartine and Texas wagyu flank steak.
8 P.M. FIRE AND FOLKLORE Enjoy an hour of acoustic guitar and entertaining storytelling around the outdoor fireplaces under the stars.
9 P.M. BEDTIME Tuck your cell phone into its sleeping bag (provided by the spa) and take a few deep breaths, practicing mindfulness. Crawl into your cloud-like Miraval bed and get a good night’s sleep.