We may be the among the most powerful and influential nations in the world, but when it comes to the art of relaxing, America lags far behind. Most of us have yet to discover what the Native Americans, Japanese, and many other cultures have known for centuries — that immersing one’s body in a natural hot spring is incredibly rejuvenating to the body and spirit.
In the past, most hot spring resorts were havens for hippies and New Age types, but these days more and more mainstreamers are discovering the calming effects of a good mineral soak. In Northern California there’s a hot spring resort for every type of person — luxury spas, New Age retreats, pro-nudity spas, Japanese bathhouses, and even inexpensive mom-and-pop enterprises. Hot Springs are one of the rare benefits of living in an earthquake zone.
Along California’s fault line, a mere 4 miles below the earth’s crust, lies an enormous magma core that superheats the mineral-rich ground water and brings it gushing to the surface. This isn’t just tepid tap water, mind you, but mineral-enriched, spring-fed, naturally heated nectar that seeps into your pores, erases your worries, and turns your skin baby-soft. Give it a try — your body will love you for it.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort
Nestled in the heart of Calistoga, The Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort is a serene oasis that transports you back in time while offering modern rejuvenation. With a rich history dating back to the 19th century, this enchanting spa boasts a unique blend of ancient Roman inspired architecture and the healing properties of natural hot springs.
Whether you’re unwinding in the lavish baths, indulging in the luxurious spa treatments, or simply basking in the peaceful ambience, The Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort offers an escape promising a rejuvenating experience that’s unforgettable. Visit, stay a night, a weekend or a week and embrace the healing tradition of ancient Rome in the heart of Napa Valley.
Vichy Springs Resort
If you’ve never been to 150-year-old Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah, you simply have to visit this place. It’s not only a piece of classic Americana — it’s a California Historic Landmark and was a favorite retreat for Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jack London — it’s the only naturally warm and carbonated Vichy mineral baths in North America. Located about 100 miles north of San Francisco, the no-frills resort is quite affordable, with room rates starting at $215, which includes full use of the mineral baths (bathing suits required), hot soaking pool, Olympic size swimming pool, and unfettered access to 700 private acres for walking and hiking. Massage and facials are available by appointment daily until 8pm and are reasonably priced as well.
Sweetwater Spa & Inn
The Sweetwater Spa & Inn, located in the heart of Mendocino, offers a wining combo of gorgeous location, reasonably priced lodging, private saunas and hot-tubs, and massage therapists that are highly skilled in a full range of massage and bodywork styles. For overnighters the inn offers a wide array of romantic lodgings to choose from — private fireplace cottages, historical water tower suites, ocean view luxury suites — and is even pet-friendly.
Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs
Located in the heart of Calistoga, Dr. Wilkinson’s offers one of the best lodging/spa deals in Napa Valley. Facilities include three mineral-water pools (two outdoor and one indoor), a Jacuzzi, a steam room, and mud baths. All kinds of body treatments are available at the spa, including their famed mud baths (which I tried once and enjoyed but it’s not really my thing), steam treatments, skin care, and massage. They also offer fantastic facials in their specially built facial cottage, and their hot stone massage therapy is pure bliss. All of the hotel’s 50 modern, renovated guest rooms reflect the look, feel, and nostalgia of Calistoga’s original wellness resort. Relax with a pool or patio view, lay low in the cottages, or gather in the Victorian House.
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
For an ultra-luxe experience, it’s hard to beat Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa’s sprawling 40,000 square foot space. Built on the historic site first revered by native American Indians for its healing waters, it is one of the only spa resorts in the United States with its own source of natural thermal mineral water, which flows 1,100 feet directly beneath the Inn at 135 degrees. Signature spa features include a self-guided Bathing Ritual, herbal steam, individual mineral baths, private whirlpools, a dedicated Watsu pool, special Vichy showers, and the King’s Bath and treatment rooms for couples. Many guests who dip in the Watsu treatment pool find it not only soothing, but also profoundly transcendent.
Harbin Hot Springs
Nestled in a secluded valley near Middletown — about 30 minutes north of Calistoga — is Harbin Hot Springs, one of the largest and most popular hot springs in California. The atmosphere at this nonprofit retreat is decidedly New Age; you’ll see a good number of aging-hippie types in the buff (clothing is optional and rarely worn), mingling with the occasional urban professional. The 1,160-acre resort has a sauna, four mineral pools, and large redwood sun decks for that full-bodied tan. Meditation sessions, moon ceremonies, massages, facials, aromatherapy and Watsu (a warm-water massage) are also available. Lodgings range from inexpensive campsites and men’s and women’s dormitory-style rooms to cozy cottages. Within the resort is a health food store, two small cafes, and the Stonefront Restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner daily.