After all the stress of the long pandemic era, it’s no wonder that the reopened and often renovated spas of Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur are seeing a surge in clientele. Here are five oases with beloved signature treatments as well as newly enticing therapies or amenities.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Vista Blue Spa
VISTA BLUE SPA
The setting: The penthouse level of Monterey Plaza Hotel, overlooking Monterey Bay.Renovated in early 2019, the spa offers nine treatment rooms, including an ocean-view suite for couples with two soaking tubs, heated floors, shower, fireplace and private balcony.
Signature style: Hotel guests as well as spa clients enjoy soaking up the rays — or warming up from the fog — on Vista Blue’s large sun deck with loungers and spacious whirlpool, where they can also order food and drink from the hotel’s updated Schooners restaurant. “People come and make a day of it,” notes spa manager Angela Hernandez. “It’s just a lovely place to be. Even if I’m having a stressful day, I’ll go out there and smell the ocean and take a deep breath and reset myself. It’s a space that transcends you.”
Serenity now: Hydrotherapy in the new spa suite has become “extremely popular,” according to Hernandez, available as a 45-minute add-on ($80 individual, $110 couple) or 2-hour, stand-alone treatment with refreshments ($270 individual, $340 couple.) “In the beginning, people were reluctant and didn’t see the value of taking a bath, but now our guests who experience the 45-minute soak say, ‘I wish I had done the full two hours,’ ” Hernandez says.
Book it: 9am to 6pm daily, sundeck 8am to 9pm daily. At Monterey Plaza Hotel, 400 Cannery Row, Monterey. 831.645.4098, montereyplazahotel.com/spa
The setting: On two acres in Carmel’s hilly woodlands 3 miles east of Highway 1, next to Carmel Valley Athletic Club.
Signature style: The hydrotherapy circuit at “America’s first co-ed outdoor relaxation spa,” as the Refuge calls itself, has been a hit since doors opened in 2012. The adult-only spa encourages patrons to cycle through a period of warming up, cooling down and relaxing as many times as they like, as long as they are in swimwear and relatively silent. Sources of heat include a large cedar sauna with Himalayan salt wall, two eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, and six pools (half warm, half hot) with massaging jets and waterfalls; cooling comes from two cold plunge pools and two even colder ones. Zero-gravity loungers, Adirondack chairs, fire pits, hammocks and “relaxation rooms” provide restorative calm.
Serenity now: Although not new, the optional Swedish and deep-tissue massages ($164-$307), available by reservation, are a great way to guarantee entry to a facility that often has a waiting list on weekends. Rates for the 50- or 100-minute massages include Refuge admission, 20 percent gratuity, robe, towels and bottled water.
.Book it: First-come, first-serve admission, $55 standard, $67 with robe and bottled water. 10am to 10pm weekdays, 9am to 10pm weekends. 27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel. 831.6207360, refuge.com
THE SPA AT PEBBLE BEACH
The setting: Next to Casa Palmero on the exclusive Pebble Beach Resort, the 22,000-square-foot spa shares the inn’s Spanish Colonial style and sense of intimacy, even with 20 treatment rooms and a full-service salon, courtyard pool, conservatory and “sanctuary” with fire pit.
Signature style: Inspired by Monterey County’s indigenous Esselen tribe, and Native American bathing and cleansing ceremonies, the 100-minute Lasapa Lelima Purification Treatment ($370) features locally grown coastal white sage and elderberry in a combination scrub, wrap and massage.
Serenity now: The therapeutic effects of a massage with CBD cream, mixed with shea butter and arnica, add extra relaxation to Wellness Head to Toe ($395). The 105-minute treatment also includes a sea salt body scrub, a purifying thermal clay mask for the back, a leg massage to boost circulation and a hydrating facial sheet mask.
Book now: 1518 Cypress Dr., Pebble Beach. Services 9am to 5pm daily, facility 8:30am to 5:30pm daily. 800.877.0597, pebblebeach.com/the-spa-at-pebble-beach
The setting: Tucked into the hillside treetops of Carmel Valley Ranch, a 500-acre golf course resort in Carmel Valley. Three of the 11 treatment rooms are VIP double spa suites with fireplaces, which can be connected for group experiences; other facilities include a nail salon, saltwater pool, infinity edge hot tub and coed warming room.
Signature style: Re-introduced in June by popular demand, the Bee Beautiful body treatment ($235) sources 99 percent of its ingredients from the ranch’s organic gardens and beehives, according to spa director Franziska von Gerstenberger-Draper. The 80-minute treatment incorporates an application of warm lavender oil, a body buff with calendula and honey, a cocoon-like wrap and face mask with royal jelly and honey aloe, and a body massage with honey shea butter.
“It’s more of an experience than a treatment,” she notes. “One of my favorite things is when we show the guests the honey. It’s so different from season to season — it’s so light in springtime and so deep and amber in the fall — and people love seeing the difference.”
Serenity now: Since the spa reopened in early 2021, von Gerstenberger-Draper reports a significant demand for its “Hypno-Health: Wellness for Mind & Spirit” treatments ($350-$495) with Dr. Bee Epstein Shepherd. The 60- to 80-minute hypnosis sessions focus on reducing stress for overall mental health (“mental detox”) or for improving sleep, or provide a “virtual gastric band” for weight-loss support.
Many clients email the spa later saying they can “cope better in this new world,” the spa director adds. “It’s so very powerful for them and that’s what we want.”
Book it: 831.626.2586, carmelvalleyranch.com/spa/spa-aiyana/
The setting: High above the coast at luxurious Alila Ventana Big Sur, with panoramic views of the Pacific and forested hills with towering redwoods.
Signature style: Classic treatments include the Couples Experience ($485-$615), which begins with a soak in an oversized copper bathtub overlooking the redwoods, followed by side-by-side massages in an outdoor cabana, and the “unique” Essence of Big Sur Herbal Massage ($275-$350), according to spa manager Samantha Rhodes. Incorporating Thai-style techniques, the latter massage includes herbal compresses made of eucalyptus, lavender, pine, sage and arnica. They’re first steamed to release the aromatic and therapeutic properties, then massaged into muscle tissue, Rhodes says, “capturing the healing nature and essence of Big Sur.”
Serenity now: New weekend day passes ($300) allow those who aren’t resort guests to enjoy one 50-minute massage or facial (including service charge), a poolside entree and non-alcoholic beverage, and access to the resort’s meadow pool, infinity hot tub and sauna.
Book it: 10am to 6pm daily. At Alila Ventana Big Sur, 48123 Highway 1, Big Sur. 831.667.2331, ventanabigsur.com
An earlier version of this story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.