Best of the West

Just another morning at Golden Door: Guests walk the meditation labyrinth.Photo: Golden Door

Golden Door
Escondido, California (800-424-0777;
Despite its location in crunchy Southern California, this is the Mrs. Astor of spas: immaculate, well appointed, gracious. Days begin with a 5:30 a.m. hike among avocado groves, waterfalls, and stone walkways lined with ancient granite boulders, and finish with a hot-tub soak and mini-massage before bedtime. In between, you follow a customized fitness program, incorporating a mix of swimming, tennis, yoga, Pilates, weights, t’ai chi, and cardiovascular classes. Reward yourself each day with a complimentary facial, massage, wrap, or scrub.

Claim to fame: Golden Door opened in 1958, making it probably the oldest full-scale spa in the country.

What’s new: Since 2002, the resort has been remodeling six guest rooms a year. It’s also added about twenty classes (Hike & Bike, Zen Archery) and spa treatments (peach-paraffin body masque, warm-honey wrap).

Don’t miss: The luxurious pineapple scrub, applied with a silk mitt.

Guest rooms: Resembling ancient Japanese country inns, 39 single-occupancy rooms are furnished with traditional tokonomas (meditative shrines), plus shoji screens and private gardens, where you can hear the trickle of nearby streams and waterfalls.

On the menu: No alcohol (except for wine on your last night). Many of the low-fat, low-cal dishes are made with ingredients harvested from Golden Door’s organic garden. Portions are based on your height and weight.

Details: Programs run Sunday to Sunday, cost $6,500 per person, and include meals, classes, one treatment daily, and a full spa wardrobe (all you’ll need to bring is hiking boots and pajamas). Most weeks, the spa is open to women only.

Getting stoned: The now-classic massage originated at Miraval.Photo: Miraval

Catalina, Arizona (800-232-3969;
Eight-year-old Miraval is decidedly un-boot-camp-ish in its approach. There’s no set schedule, alcohol is allowed, you may order as much food as you want, and about 100 pampering treatments are on offer. For every way to work up a sweat—hiking, biking, riding, climbing, tennis, and golf on a course carved out of the Sonoran Desert—there are multiple ways to work out the kinks. Opt for the standards (massages, wraps, facials, scrubs), or go holistic: meditation and yoga, Ayurvedic treatments, reflexology, acupuncture, and Reiki are among Miraval’s paths to enlightenment.

Claim to fame: The hot-stone massage, now ubiquitous, originated here.

What’s new: A line of sweet-smelling desert-inspired products, and the instantly popular Sexuality and Vitality program, which coaches couples on intimacy, arms them with new techniques, then encourages them to spend the afternoons … doing their homework.

Don’t miss: Miraval’s Equine Experience, which teaches participants how to find harmony within themselves through working with horses. Think Chicken Soup for the Soul meets The Horse Whisperer.

Guest rooms: Your hacienda-style room will look out over a desert garden or the Santa Catalina Mountains; adobe walls and wood beams complement gas fireplaces and private patios.

On the menu: Atkins fans will not appreciate the high-carb, low-fat diet. All meat is organic, and therefore free of antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides—and mad-cow disease.

Details: A nightly rate of $495 per person (based on double occupancy) includes three meals daily, one spa service (under $95) per day, and one fitness consultation or round of golf—plus unlimited classes.

Southern Cal meets Provençal: A guest cottage at Cal-a-Vie.Photo: Cal-a-Vie

Vista, California (866-772-4283;
Francophiles looking to shed a few pounds will love the eighteen-year-old Cal-a-Vie, modeled after a Provençal village. Mornings begin at 6 with a brisk walk, followed by several hours of golf, tennis, hiking, water volleyball, fitness classes, t’ai chi, or yoga. In the afternoon, clients recover: Spa treatments run the gamut from aromatherapy and hydrotherapy to facials, reflexology, and hair and scalp treatments.

Claim to fame: Cal-a-Vie guests swear by the Revitalizer, a tomato-based energy drink, served mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

What’s new: Just about everything, as Cal-a-Vie recently completed a top-to-bottom, $10 million overhaul. The resort has at long last relaxed its one-week-minimum policy, and now offers three- and four-night packages.

Don’t miss: Magnetic therapy, in which positive and negative magnetic pads apply a massagelike pressure to problem areas. Devotees say it works wonders on sore, tired muscles.

Guest rooms: Twenty-four Mediterranean-style villas ooze country French. Each cottage has a sundeck or balcony, and all are decorated with charming shutters and flower boxes, and gorgeous French antiques.

On the menu: The low-fat, low-sodium cuisine is high in natural complex carbohydrates (grains, veggies, fruit) and lean animal proteins (egg whites, poultry, fish).

Details: Four-night packages are $3,795, and include three meals a day, unlimited fitness classes, three massages, and one each of the following treatments: reflexology, hydrotherapy, facial, manicure, pedicure, or hair-and-scalp massage.

Post-workout: Preparing a hydrotherapy massage at La Costa.Photo: La Costa Resort and Spa

La Costa Resort and Spa
Carlsbad, California (800-854-5000;
Sprawling across 400 acres in the foothills of Carlsbad, near San Diego, the 474-room La Costa is well equipped with 21 tennis courts, four swimming pools, two golf courses, croquet and volleyball, cardiovascular classes, yoga, Pilates, and a network of jogging trails. However, no one will make you feel like a slacker if you want to kick back and simply indulge in the spa’s classic pampering treatments.

Claim to fame: The resort’s Ayurvedic center is one of the best in the country.

What’s new: Nearing the end of a $140 million renovation, La Costa has remodeled its guest rooms, spruced up the golf courses, and added a clubhouse and spa with 42 treatment rooms.

Don’t miss: The Odyssey Enlivening Therapy at La Costa’s Chopra Center, a sampling of five Ayurvedic treatments. Shell out the $295 for the deluxe double-therapist version, as four hands guarantee twice the pleasure.

Guest rooms: Even the most down-to-earth soul might get a little spoiled after a few nights in a cushy La Costa room—all that mahogany, leather, and marble.

On the menu: La Costa’s chef was schooled in formal French cuisine, so the California-meets-Mediterranean food tends to meet with the approval of serious gourmands.

Details: Rooms start at just $210 a night; for an additional fee of $15 a day, guests have unlimited access to the gym, including fitness classes. Meals and spa treatments are charged separately.

Canyon Ranch
Tucson, Arizona (800-742-9000;
Canyon Ranch was founded in 1979, when health nuts were still considered nuts. Today, health and fitness remains the focus at this 70-acre resort in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. You’ll sweat (tennis, swimming, hiking, biking, yoga, t’ai chi, racquetball, basketball, and golf lessons—sorry, no course) and study (disease prevention, healthful cooking, genomics, stress management) most hours of the day. But there’s plenty of time for seaweed wraps, mud masks, and salt scrubs.

Claim to fame: Taking the concept of spa aesthetician to the next level, Canyon Ranch offers guests a staff of medical experts, including board-certified physicians and psychologists, behaviorists, and nutritionists.

What’s new: Guest rooms have been entirely renovated; new classes and treatments range from custom lipstick consultations to emotional-intelligence assessments to “boot-camp golf.”

Don’t miss: The aptly named Euphoria treatment, which starts with an aromatherapy scalp massage, moves on to a warm body mask and essential-oil bath, and finishes with a full-body massage.

Guest rooms: Although your adobe-style cottage is plenty luxurious, its best amenity is probably the Arizona sunset you’ll catch from your private front porch.

On the menu: While there’s no booze, the dining rules aren’t as strict as you might imagine. The food is fresh, low-cal when possible, and artfully presented. But don’t be shocked to see ice cream being served.

Details: A four-night stay will run you $2,780 (double occupancy), and includes three meals daily, access to more than 50 fitness, yoga, and meditation classes, a health assessment, a $380 credit toward spa services, and a $110 credit toward health and healing treatments.

Best of the West