The Stunning Spas of San Diego

Runner at sunset near beach

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Why is San Diego one of the most important spa destinations in America? It has something to do with its sunny, temperate climate, averaging 70 degrees year-round. Add to that 70 miles of picturesque Pacific coastline right next to rolling hills and cool canyons, and you are in paradise....year-round.  

San Diego launched some of the most famous and luxurious destination spas in the country. It is home to one of the first great American seaside spa resorts. San Diego is the cradle of the very first destination spas, which opened back in 1940 and 1958, and the very first resort spa. There's so much incredible spa history in San Diego. You want to see all those places, right? Let's start!

01 of 06

Hotel Del Coronado, A San Diego Spa

Hotel del Coronado, San Diego spas
Hotel del Coronado

The legendary Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888, when Victorians believed in the healing power of sunshine, saltwater bathing and fresh sea air.  Travelers flocked here from far and wide, and they had the right idea, when you think of it.  

The "Grand Lady by the Sea" is set on an island (technically a peninsula) in the middle of the San Diego Bay and commands an impressive mile and a half a pristine white beach. A National Historic Landmark, the lavish Victorian hotel is famous for its starring role in Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.  Oh, yes!  Fourteen presidents, stayed there, too!

The Spa at Hotel del Coronado opened in 2007, and has 21 treatment rooms as well as sanctuary areas, hydrotherapy tubs and steam rooms.  A private terrace and vanishing-edge pool overlook the magnificent Pacific, a quiet place to soak up some sun.  Spa lines include Eminence Organics, Epicuren, San Diego Natural Soap Company and  Babor.

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02 of 06

Rancho La Puerta, An Hour From San Diego

The cooking school at Rancho La Puerta
Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta is about an hour's drive from San Diego, and any serious spa lover has to make a pilgrimage here.  This is the birthplace of the modern destination spa.  In 1940, her brilliant husband, Edmond Szekely, a Hungarian scholar who studied early civilizations, "searching for ways to apply natural living to an increasingly unnatural culture," and his young wife, Deborah Szekely, opened Rancho La Puerta as a place for "health nuts."   Guests pitched their tents, swam in the river, tried every health discipline and diet theory and listened to the Professor's lectures.

Today it's much more luxurious, but has a wonderful authenticity and maintains its intellectual tradition.  Guest lecturers today frequently include such luminaries as journalist Bill Moyers, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, novelist Erica Jong, actress Jane Fonda, and many others. 

Set on 3,000 acres, Rancho La Puerta's is right next to open, rugged countryside where you can hike from morning till night.   It has its own  six-acre organic farm, which supplies food for the spa, and a gorgeous culinary center called "La Cocina Que Canta." One of the most popular hikes is an early morning walk to have an extra-hearty breakfast at La Cocina, complete with Mexican hot chocolate, then tour the organic gardens. Don't miss this!

It has a lot of the great things about destination spas.  Exercise classes and activities include Pilates (Reformer and mat work), extensive yoga offerings, guided hikes on over 25 miles of wildlands trails, Feldenkrais, fitness ball, cardio drumming, T’ai Chi, trekking, TRX, aqua- exercise classes of all types, dance, circuit training, NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action), strength training with and without weights, stretch, posture, kettlebell, cardio-cycling, get the idea.

One of the best things about Rancho La Puerta is the people you meet. I have never traded so many email addresses at a spa. Some people even make reservations for the same time next year so they can see their new friends. For me this was an inspiring, even life-changing visit.  I'd love to see these same people next year.

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03 of 06

Golden Door, A San Diego Spa

Golden Door
Golden Door

At a certain point Deborah Szekely needed to develop her own vision for the perfect spa, and in 1958 opened Golden Door, a smaller luxury property in Escondido, California that catered to an exclusive Hollywood crowd.  It is still, many believe, the world's finest destination spa. 

Szekely created it around the theme of a Japanese ryokan, or a countryside inn.  She travelled to Japan to bring back authentic stone lanterns, and the architecture, koi pond, and even the Japanese Yukata (cotton robe) in your room carry through this beautiful esthetic.

Golden Door provides an exceptional level of service because there are so few people -- a maximum of forty people each week, everyone in their own room.   During a seven-day stay that starts on Sunday, expect a daily in-room massage and visits with your personal esthetician to discuss a specialized beauty regimen, which includes five skin care sessions, two herbal wraps, manicure, pedicure, and shampoo and blow-out (18 treatments altogether).

Over 40 fitness activities include guided hikes, yoga, Pilates, dance, tennis, T'ai Chi and archery by Golden Door's highly trained instructors. Practice meditation, walk the Labyrinth or attend other special inner-focus classes and evening presentations.

It has a definite, high-end ladies who lunch atmosphere, none more than when its has a fashion show by the pool.  Deborah sold Golden Door some years ago to focus on Rancho La Puerta, but is still involved and gives presentations there.  

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04 of 06

Cal-A-Vie, A San Diego Spa


What do you do when you want to provide something as wonderful as Golden Door, but with its own distinctive personality?  Japanese inn has been done, so perhaps a lavish French Provencal theme will do!  

Cal-a-Vie opened in January 1986, bringing over historical pieces and antiques from France, including a 400-year-old chapel from Dijon where many a wedding has been help.  Set on 200 sun-drenched acres, Cal-a-Vie  includes 32 spacious Mediterranean style villas, each at least 400 square feet and complete with a sun deck or private balcony.

The destination spa combines luxurious European spa philosophies with the California concepts of fitness, health and nutrition.  In 2007, owners John and Terri Havens planted a 12-acre vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes.  It makes a nice red wine, as well as the spa’s fine Vinothérapie product line, sourced from the harvest’s antioxidant-rich leftover grape skin and seed. 

​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.   See what's so great about San Diego spas?  Whatever you want, they have it!

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05 of 06

La Costa Resort and Spa, A San Diego Spa

La costa resort and spa
Susan Wood/Getty Images

Another incredible innovation from San Diego is the modern resort spa.  Where Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta were all about health, La Costa opened in 1965 with a great golf course, tennis courts and a spa.  It wasn't so much about being devoted to your being devoted to fun.  

When the $3 million La Costa Spa opened, it was the largest and best-equipped in the world,  unrivaled in its swimming pools, volleyball courts, his and her gyms, saunas and specialty mineral pools. The spa was led by Dr. R. Phillip Smith, a professor of medicine, and became the first spa in the country to earn an endorsement from the American Medical Association. 

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bob Hope loved the golf. Charlton Heston, Johnny Carson and Desi Arnav loved the tennis. The spa was a refuge for some of the world’s most powerful people including Richard Nixon, Jackie Kennedy, and Chief Justice Earl Warren.  La Costa had quickly established itself as a top destination for Hollywood elite who wanted to experience “The La Costa Lifestyle.”

Since then, the resort has continued to attract guests seeking wellness and relaxation. A $50 million renovation modernized the resort, including a spa redesign by Sylvia Sepielli, heightening the air of luxury and service. Now, Omni La Costa Resort & Spa boasts two award-winning 18-hole golf courses and more than 600 guest rooms on 400 acres. 

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06 of 06

The Chopra Center, A San Diego Spa

chopra center
Credit: The Chopra Center

One of the wonderful and amazing things about La Costa is that it has its regular spa.  And then it has the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, founded by world-renowned holistic physicians Deepak Chopra, M.D., and David Simon, M.D. in 1995.

Its treatments are based on Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system of therapies designed to revitalize, balance, and restore you at the deepest cellular level.  Their specially trained therapists customize each treatment, using herbal-infused oils, aromas, and massage techniques to balance your unique mind-body type.

For example, if you’re experiencing an imbalance that is contributing to feelings of anxiety and distraction, your massage will focus on relaxing and grounding you, using warm essential oils and soothing massage strokes that will calm your entire mind-body system. If you have a tendency to feel sluggish and heavy, your Ayurvedic massage will use oils, herbs, and  techniques to invigorate you, release any accumulated toxins, and enhance the flow of energy in your body and mind. 

The Center also offers a wide variety of workshops and retreats, including daily meditation and yoga classes that are complimentary for resort guests, combining the healing arts of the East with the best in modern Western medicine.  It's really an amazing resource within a the original resort spa. 

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