With awe-inspiring hikes, delicious food, and indulgent pampering, my best friend and I found spa nirvana at the iconic Golden Door.
Why The Golden Door
I guess you could describe me as something of a Spa Junkie in that I almost obsessively need to know about the latest, best, not-to-be missed spas. For my birthday this year, I was determined to go on the ultimate spa trip with my favorite female luxury travel companion – my best friend of 30+ years, Hilary G. Between us, we have been to many of the best spas around – Miraval, Canyon Ranch, Ojai Valley Inn, The Ranch in Malibu, even Two Bunch Palms (a trippy place – look it up). One spa had always eluded me: the Golden Door. Opened in 1958 by Deborah Szekely as a luxurious alternative to her equally famous Rancho La Puerta spa in Mexico, the Golden Door in inland San Diego, Calfornia, has always been known to celebrities and elite travelers as the ultimate spa retreat devoted to fitness, health and wellbeing. After losing some of its luster after being sold to corporate owners, frequent guest Joanne Conway, wife of Carlyle Group co-founder, Bill Conway, purchased the Japanese-inspired resort and set out to bring it back to its original (only better) glory. Changes under the new owners include the purchase of additional acres for more hiking, as well as the hiring of Steve Jobs’ former organic gardener, Jeff Dawson, as director of lands and farms, and Greg Frey Jr. as Executive Chef. Plus, Conway donates all net profits to charity (sort of the Paul Newman of the spa world). As fate would have it, just as Hilary and I had finally agreed when we could both get away (no easy feat with seven kids ages 8-17 between us), I discovered the Golden Door was offering an all-inclusive three day package for $3,333 on exactly our same dates! Keep in mind I thought the Golden Door required a Sunday-Sunday stay, so the whole thing was feeling a bit magical. With all the pieces seemingly falling so easily into place, Hilary and I kissed our families goodbye and headed off on our latest adventure.
How It Works
Several weeks before check in, the Golden Door starts preparing you for what’s to come. Hilary and I elected to set up a conference call with a Golden Door counselor who interviewed us for close to 30 minutes about everything from our fitness goals, classes we might like to try, how many calories we wanted to consume every day, food allergies and preferences, and even how firm we liked our massages. I’m a big planner, so I was loving all this attention to detail. The transfer from the San Diego airport was seamless (and included). I loved that since Hilary was able to drive to the resort from Laguna Beach, they insisted on hand washing her car the day she left (nice touch). The Golden Door also sets out to make your stay as easy as possible – when they tell you to pack very little, listen! While I was happy I did not depend on wearing the clothes they provided (think huge elastic sweatpants), I LOVED their laundry service – – after leaving a bag outside my door in the morning, I returned every afternoon to clean, folded clothes. All you really need is two workout outfits (wear one while the other is being washed, then repeat), good sneakers for hiking and classes, a bathing suit if you plan to do a water fitness class, and something to sleep in – the rest of the time you can wear your Golden Door robe or kimono (and definitely leave your makeup at home). In keeping with the zen-like atmosphere, there is no TV in your room, so bring books, magazines and your laptop or iPad (fortunately the wifi is excellent).
While not everyone would be thrilled with a 5:15 wake up call, the early morning 5 mile hikes were my favorite part of the Golden Door. After meeting for a quick, delicious cup of coffee and gluten-free muffin, groups set off for either three or five mile hikes. With over 20 miles of private hiking trails over the Golden Door’s 600 private acres, Hilary and I felt like we had died and gone to hiking heaven. We went on a total of three hikes and were surprised to find each one unique yet equally scenic and challenging. If I ever get back to the Golden Door, I would love to hike even more – I didn’t realize until it was too late that they also offer an afternoon hike (although I was so fatigued yet relaxed by 2 I can’t imagine I could have climbed up another mountain).
Fitness is also taken very seriously at the Golden Door – during our short stay, we were offered classes ranging from three types of yoga, cardio tennis, circuit training, sculpting, boxing, spinning, water aerobics, boot camp and a variety of dance classes (impressive for only 4o guests). Our package included one personal training session per person, but Hilary and I chose to work out together for two days instead. We worked out with both Tyler and Melissa in the Golden Door’s 2000 square foot gym, which was stocked with state-of-the-art cardio equipment, weights, bands, TRX, etc. We also did a spinning class and yoga class (all in our first full day). Yes, I was extremely sore the next day, but that didn’t stop us from more of the same on Day 2, including a great outdoor sculpting class. While you will receive a suggested schedule every night for the next day of classes you may be interested in (based on your phone interview), you can also choose to try something else, or do nothing at all. Other women we met raved about the Balinese dance, Zumba and water fitness classes – whatever your fitness level or interest, you will find a lot to do at the Golden Door.
With several therapists, hypnotists and life coaches on staff, the Golden Door is well equipped to help you work on your inner self as well. Hilary and I loved our “Adventures In Awareness” class with life coach Annharriet Buck, so much in fact that we stuck around for her second session as well. During these sessions held in the cozy, yet elegant Bell Lounge, Annharriet (yes, it’s one word -we asked) takes you through a variety of mindfulness exercises and taught us a simple, effective way to meditate every day (something I have been trying to do for years).
I should have actually listed the food first, as I can’t stop thinking about how delicious it was. During your pre-stay interview, you are asked how many calories you want to consume a day – unlike other spas, we never felt like we were deprived of food, in fact, we felt indulged! At meals, your allergies and restrictions are taken very seriously – your preferences are listed on your nametag and place card. And just to make sure you are eating exactly what you want, each night you are given a copy of the breakfast, lunch and dinner options for the following day, which you can then edit as much as you’d like (Hilary and I loved that!). I know that farm-to-table is an overused term, but when your meals predominantly consist of food gathered from the orchards and gardens you see every day, it certainly applies to the food at the Golden Door. For breakfast, I had the incredible oatmeal twice (I didn’t even need to add the side of honey, it was so sweet and creamy without it) as well as a yummy vegetable frittata. Every lunch and dinner offered an awesome soup, salad, two entree choices and a wonderful dessert. The lunch in the beautiful garden under a tent was a highlight – I’m still dreaming about the bento box with hand rolled sushi rolls and incredible salads we had that day. Hilary, a hard to impress eater like me, said the black cod was the best she ever ate (when asked his secret, the chef just coyly said the trick was to marinate it for a few days). I loved being able to eat my delicious fresh turkey sandwich with avocado on gluten-free toast that actually tasted like real bread. We found all of our meals during our three day stay extremely tasty and satisfying (even the lunch they gave me to take on the plane was delicious). Plus, I looked forward to the potassium broth break every morning (sadly, I tried to duplicate it at home and it wasn’t quite as good). Between the freshness of the ingredients and unbelievable flavors created by the chef, we found the food to be a highlight of our stay at the Golden Door.
Of course after all that hiking and working out, you need to be pampered, and this is where the Golden Door really kicks it into high gear. Included in our package were two in-room massages, two facials, an herbal body wrap, and a manicure or pedicure – that’s a lot of pampering, considering we were only on property two complete days! One thing I loved was our daily treatments (massages and facials) were with the same people so they already knew our preferences, and could get right down to business. We weren’t sure we would love having our massages at noon and facials at 3 every day, but it turned out to be a great thing to look forward to after working out nonstop from 5:45 (and justified us skipping all the afternoon workout classes). The therapists who gave us our herbal wraps were lovely, but next time I would ask to shorten the duration and ask to have my arms outside the wrap – I never knew I suffered from claustrophobia, but this treatment had me thinking otherwise. We decided to skip our pedicure appointments our last day to do an extra mindfulness session with Annharriet (see above) – another thing I loved about the Golden Door is they are flexible about everything, even allowing us to cancel our appointments five minutes before they were scheduled to start. The Golden Door also has a bathhouse with hot tub, sauna and steam, and three pools (one for lounging, one for fitness classes and a watsu pool for water treatments).
A Few Last Things You Should Know
The Golden Door is a luxurious, nurturing place which at capacity serves only 40 guests per week. Most weeks are exclusively for women, but men-only and co ed weeks are also offered at certain times. Even meals are served a certain way at the Golden Door: breakfast is in your room; lunch poolside (weather permitting) and dinner is served in the communal dining room. Keep in mind that many women we met have been coming to the Golden Door 10, 20, even 25 years, and it is a very welcoming, social place. While we were impressed with how friendly, interesting and accomplished the other women were, Hilary and I were really looking to spend our time catching up and reliving our long history (it’s not easy living across the country from your best friend). Luckily, the Golden Door staff was more than happy to accommodate this request as well and allowed us to eat all of our meals together in one of our rooms. Speaking of the rooms, every room is single occupancy with a comfy bed, nice sized bathroom and small table and chairs for meals. While I didn’t find the rooms as luxurious as expected, I was too happy, tired, relaxed (and sore!) to care.
Interested in booking your own spa trip to the Golden Door? Contact me at email@example.com