Anna Hart’s Californian Style Detox at Golden Door, San Marcos
Golden Door comes with a starry spa pedigree that other destination spas can only dream of. Opened in 1958 by Deborah Szekely, philanthropist, writer and early pioneer of the So-Cal wellness movement, this groundbreaking spa was soon attracting Hollywood luminaries such as Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burt Lancaster, in preparation for film roles. Even today, the Golden Door tote that every guest is issued with on arrival still amounts to a membership card for a secret society of international high-flyers; more recent guests have included Tina Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Barbra Streisand and Nigella Lawson.
Their all-inclusive seven-day programme is a serious splurge, but Golden Door sets out to transform your health and fitness around from one Sunday to the next. Days begin with a dawn hike and wind up with a soak in a hot tub; in between guests follow a personalised fitness programme and tuck in to an organic menu. But the focus is on nourishing your soul as well as your body; the busy schedule includes mindfulness workshops, art classes and silent meditation walks.
There is no gleaming modern complex of steam rooms and high-tech lightpods here; instead a small but perfectly formed traditional Japanese bath-house, with an inviting sauna, rather lovely hot tub, a handful of treatment rooms and a well-run beauty salon for facials, hairdos and other beauty treatments. (In a charming nod to its Hollywood starlet heritage, Golden Door treats you to a mani/pedi and blow-dry before you leave.)
Days begin with a guided dawn hike and wind up with a soak in a hot tub; in between guests follow a personalised fitness programme and tuck in to an organic menu. There’s an astonishingly well-equipped gym and various workout studios, two swimming pools (one for aqua-aerobics) and an impressive roster of over 40 free exercise sessions, including yoga, Tai Chi, barre, dance and free weights.
Unusually for California, where most endeavours require a car, you’ve also got immediate access to over 25 minutes of beautiful trails, with 12 marked hikes that you can explore solo or in guided groups. Bring a book; just don’t expect to read it for more than 30 minutes at a time.
Keeping a spa relevant for six decades is a serious challenge, but Szekely’s original ethos holds true – eat fresh and ethically, keep active, live consciously, but relax and live a little – chimes perfectly with the Goop-reading masses. And a recent spiffy $5 million refurb has re-injected the wow factor into premises originally inspired by a Japanese ryokan, or inn, complete with traditional bathhouse, landscaped Japanese gardens, bamboo forest, labyrinth, koi ponds and Japanese art collection. As one returning guest put it, “I arrive at the Golden Door crawling on my hands and knees; I leave walking on air.”