Best Destination Spas in California

A Spa Retreat Focused on Your Health and Fitness

California is a spa lover's paradise, with some of the country's very finest destination spas. These spas are a special breed where you go to focus exclusively on your health and wellness in an adults-only environment. You can can count on loads of exercise classes, hikes, interesting lectures, delicious spa cuisine, and top-notch spa treatments.  

Destination spas cater to your mind, body and spirit, without the usual distractions of kids, crowds, cocktails and fattening food you find at resorts with spas. You focus on personal transformation and self-improvement, while learning new skills to take back home. They are a great choice for solo travelers who enjoy meeting people, learning and staying active. 

Prices in California range from $1,800 per week for one person in a double-room at The Oaks at Ojai (where locals can also stop in for a day) to $9,000 for one person in a private room at Golden Door and Cal-a-Vie. That includes accommodations, meals, fitness classes, lectures and treatments (in varying amounts). You'll come home feeling better and charged up for a healthier life -- and hopefully no extra pounds.

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Golden Door, Escondido, California

Golden Door
Golden Door

The ultimate in intimate luxury, Golden Door in Escondido near San Diego was the very first destination spa in the United States and is still one of the best (and most expensive) spas in the country. Started by spa pioneer Deborah Szekely, who was inspired by the ancient inns of Japan, Golden Door serves no more than 40 guests at any time. You are pampered with daily treatments, including beauty sessions with your personal esthetician, body wraps, in-room massages, a mani-pedi, a blow-out, make-up lessons and personal training. 

Morning hikes on 600 acres, yoga classes, archery lessons, workouts and a walk in the labyrinth can restore the most harried of souls. Golden Door is also very social as you get to know the other guests at delicious group dinners while wearing beautiful blue and white Japanese yukata, or robes. You don't even have to bring workout clothes. 

 While Golden Door is usually for women only, there are men men-only weeks six times a year, and co-ed weeks five times a year. The all-inclusive cost for a one-week stay is $8,850 per person in 2017, but if you can swing it, the experience is unforgettable. Type: Destination Spa 

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Rancho La Puerta (Just Across the California Border)

destination spas in California
Rancho La Puerta

Okay, Rancho La Puerta is not technically in California, but it's right across the border and just an hour's drive from San Diego.  Most of "The Ranch's" clientele comes from the U.S., attracted by its fun-loving atmosphere and great value -- less than half the price of Golden Door or Cal-A-Vie.  Plus, this is the original destination spa, started in Mexico in 1940 by Edmond and Deborah Szekely, who later opened Golden Door. 

Set on 3,000 gorgeous acres, Rancho La Puerta is still owned by the Szekely family and has a huge range of excellent classes and several guest lecturers every week.  You can learn from photographers, musicians, writers, chefs, financial experts and special talents in Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi.  

Along with its rich intellectual tradition, Ranch La Puerta has its own six-acre organic farm, a large and fabulous dining room and a gorgeous cooking school called "La Cocina Que Canta."   One of the most popular hikes is an early morning walk to have breakfast at La Cocina, then tour the organic gardens.  The campus is spread out and hilly, so it's best if you're in good enough shape to easily get around.  

One of the best things about Rancho La Puerta is the people you meet.  You can eat with people you've met in class, and conversation is lively.  I have never traded so many email addresses. Many people come at the same time every year so they can "play" with the new friends they made.  Type: Destination Spa

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The Oaks at Ojai, Ojai, California

best destination spas in California
The Oaks at Ojai

Set in the charming village of Ojai, The Oaks at Ojai is an affordable fitness destination spa that inspired entrepreneur Mel Zuckerman to open Canyon Ranch Tucson back in the '70s. The Oaks at Ojai is geared at women over 40 who want to lose weight. (Just steer clear of all those tempting restaurants down the street!) 

It's also a very affordable option, with a weekly rate of $2,450 per person ($1,845 double occupancy) or a daily rate of $350 ($265 double occupancy) that includes meals, access to 15 fitness classes per day, hikes, evening entertainment and seminars. (Only one spa treatment is included with the weekly rate, so expect to spend more if that's important to you.) The Oaks at Ojai has special themed weeks around hiking, Pilates, dance and yoga, but one of the most popular times to go is during the Ojai Music Festival in June.

The Oaks at Ojai was founded in 1977 by Sheila Cluff, a wellness visionary who helped pioneer the modern destination spa when she purchase this 1920s Mission-style hotel and turned it into a fitness destination.  Her daughter Cathy, runs it today. It is also the only spa on this list that accommodates day guests. Type: Destination Spa

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Cal-A-Vie, Vista, California


Not far from Golden Door, Cal-A-Vie is another high-end, elegant destination spa near San Diego with a very different personality.  While Golden Door is modeled on a Japanese Ryokan, Cal-A-Vie is like strolling into a beautiful sun-drenched Provencal village.  Set on 200 sun-drenched acres, Cal-a-Vie includes 32 private villas, each at least 400 square feet and complete with a sun deck or private balcony.

Owners John and Terri Havens opened Cal-a-Vie in 1986, bringing over antiques from France, including a 400-year-old chapel from Dijon where many weddings have been held.

Cal-A-Vie offers loads of fitness classes, daily treatments, miles of hiking trails, and great meals where calorie counts tailored to a person's specific goals.  It attracts a wealthy clientele from nearby Los Angeles and all over the country.  Cal-a-Vie offers all-inclusive three, four and seven night spa packages for $4,675, $6,225 and $8,925 per person (plus tax) in 2017.

​Cal-a-Vie Health Spa is the only destination spa in the world to feature an 18-hole golf course, the Vista Valley Country Club.  It has a 12-acre vineyard that produces red wine as well as the spa’s Vinothérapie product line.

Its latest venture is a partnership with WellnessFX, which offers blood testing analysis that can help measure cardiovascular, metabolic, hormonal and nutritional health.  Guests who sign up for the $1,575 service have access to a 30-minute review of results, and a consultation to discuss next steps and how to track your progress with an online app.  Type: Destination Spa

Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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The Ashram, Calabasas, California

The Ashram

The Ashram comes closer to the old-fashioned fat farm than any other spa in the country. Its motto is: “Increase your activity and decrease your food intake, and your body will do the rest.”  Barbara Streisand, one of its many celebrity visitors in search of fast weight loss, famously called it "a boot camp without food."

The select group of 12 people max are promised weight loss of five to ten pounds "if that's your goal" and frankly, that's why most people come.  It's not for the pampering.  The modest ranch house near Malibu has nine private rooms ("Quaint, yes. Plush, no."), shared bathrooms, and shared rooms for the same price -- $5,200 a week.

Days start at 6 a.m. and are centered on daily five-hour hikes that cover at least nine miles.  There are also twice-daily yoga classes, massages, meditation, a gym, pool and lectures. 

Most spas have moved away form the high-activity, restricted calorie model because it can cause muscle loss and rebound weight gain.  Even The Ashram doesn't count calories anymore.

Still, it appeals to hard-driving people who want to lose weight fast, including celebrity alums like Oprah Winfrey, Ashley Judd and Amber Valleta.  I guess you know who you are.  Type: Destination Spa