What Is a Destination Spa?

Golden Door
Golden Door

A destination spa is traditionally a property like Canyon Ranch, Golden Door, or Rancho La Puerta, where the mission and sole purpose is to help individuals develop a healthy lifestyle through:

  • Spa cuisine that emphasizes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nutritional education.
  • A full program of fitness and stress reduction classes.
  • Therapeutic spa treatments can include a massage, sports massage, deep tissue massage, and aromatherapy massage.
  • Educational lectures that teach you how to bring your healthy habits back home.


Destination spas require that you stay at least three nights, and some even require a longer stay. Prices at destination spas generally include all meals, classes and some spa treatments. This was distinct from resort spas or hotel spas, which offer spa treatments as an amenity alongside leisure activities like golf, tennis, and swimming pools. Some offer some spa cuisine menu options and limited health and wellness classes, but it wasn't the place you went to get healthy. 

Then the lines began to blur. First resorts and inns started calling themselves “destination spas” even though they didn't match all the traditional criteria, like extensive fitness programming and education. Other resort spas are taking on the characteristics of destination spas, offering lots of exercise classes at no extra charge and even wellness lectures. The final irony: with so many consumers searching for "spa resorts," the traditional "destination spas" decided it was better to be a "spa resort" and be found in a web search. 

While there is still something distinct that is a destination spa–and spa cogniscienti understand what it means–the effort to educate the general consumers largely failed, so the phrase is falling out of use. The internet is partly responsible. Not enough people were aware of the phrase or what it meant, so they would simply enter the search "spa resort."  

Be that as it may, "destination spa" still means something to people in the industry, and the most knowledgeable spa consumers. Your best bet is to decide what you're looking for and see who offers what. Here's is what to look for at spas that can offer the traditional destination spa experience: 

The Food

Destination spas serve healthy food exclusively, but there are different philosophies. Some destination spas are geared towards weight loss, with restricted calories and strict portion control. Others have an all-you-can-eat philosophy. Many don't serve alcohol, while others serve wine with dinner. While destination spas emphasize healthy, whole foods, it might not necessarily be organic.

The People

Destination spas have a spirit of camaraderie. You’re with like-minded people who share your interest in health. Many have a small number of guests at any one time and you can get to know people even if you go by yourself. Small groups go on hikes, take exercise classes, and share tables together. There is usually a high staff-to-guest ratio, and the staff is enthusiastic.

The Personalities

Destination spas have different personalities and vary widely in size, price, setting, and programming. They can accommodate anywhere from 8 to 250 guests, with an average of around 60. They come in a wide variety of prices, from most budget spas that are a few hundred dollars a night to $8,000 a week. Some are restricted calorie and others are all-you-can-eat.

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