Catharina Hedberg was ahead of her time. In 1974, fresh off the boat from Sweden, the 29-year-old fell in love with the Santa Monica Mountains and created the Ashram, which at the time was a new idea for Southern California: the wellness retreat. She started out charging $500 for a weeklong, mountaintop program of yoga, meditation and hiking — activities that Swedes did regularly back home but were largely unknown here.
"Back then, fitness and nature and wellness were new for Americans," Hedberg says. "Today we do four-hour hikes, but back then people could barely hike an hour." Jane Fonda and a steady trickle of celebrities showed up in Calabasas at the Ashram, but it wasn't until 1990 that all 12 rooms started to book up regularly.
Today millions do yoga, Pilates and meditation, and "wellness travel" to far-flung resorts from Costa Rica to Bali is booming, with women the primary clients. Closer to home, unique spins on wellness retreats are combining yoga and meditation with surfing, swimming, boot camps and even writing in outdoorsy settings ranging from luxury hotels to dedicated retreats to Yosemite National Park.
"I'm glad it's caught on," says Hedberg, now 72, who owns two more Ashrams in Spain and now charges $5,200 a week. "People need a place that stops time, gets them re-centered."
Here are six unique California wellness programs to help you return from vacation healthier than when you started.
If you like camping, yoga and Yosemite …
Where: Tuolumne Meadows Campground, Yosemite National Park
When: June 22-25 and July 27-30 (four days, three nights)
What to expect: The Balanced Rock retreat includes tent camping with daily yoga, meditation, hiking and opportunities to dip into rivers and lakes. Led by instructors Jon-Paul Salonen and Breezy Jackson.
What you'll eat: Vegetarian and organic meals
Amenities: Camping in the Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 8,600 feet five miles from the Tioga Pass Entrance Station.
More: (213) 344-5875, www.bookyogaretreats.com
If you like writing, yoga and meditation ...
Where: Santa Margarita, eight miles north of San Luis Obispo
When: June 23-25 (three days, two nights)
What to expect: The Sagrada Wellness Weekend includes morning yoga, pranayama breathing and meditation sessions followed by guided writing exercises led by Leslie St. John, yogi, published poet and creator of the yoga-poetry fusion site Prose and Poses. Free time for hiking, writing and hot-tubbing.
What you'll eat: Gourmet meals
Amenities: Sagrada's modern-rustic farmhouse in bucolic Santa Lucia Mountains of the Central Coast countryside
Price: $595 (communal room), $795-$995 (private)
More: (805) 550-7636, SagradaWellness.com
If you like yoga, meditation, SUP and pool aerobics ...
Where: Santa Barbara
When: September, dates to be determined
What to expect: Daily yoga, pool fitness, beachfront boot camp, ocean stand-up paddle boarding, two spa/massage treatments, guided meditation sessions with local healer Aiden Chase, and one-on-one sessions with fitness consultant Nora Tobin
What you'll eat: Wellness menu with locally grown foods and special dinner of aquaponic farm produce
Amenities: Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore, with an oceanfront location and 22 acres of jungle gardens
Price: $4,000 single, $6,000 double
More: (805) 565-8299, FourSeasons.com
If you like hitting the gym, hiking, yoga and healing …
Where: Laguna Beach
When: All year long, weeklong and multiweek programs
What to expect: Two daily yoga classes (a.m. power yoga, p.m. flow yoga), three-hour hikes in Laguna Canyon, tai chi, several chakra healing sessions, daily massage, open-air gym workouts, infrared sauna
What you'll eat: Vegetarian, pure alkaline foods: locally sourced, organic vegetables, herbs, fruits and non-gluten grains that cleanse the body. No alcohol, caffeine, processed food or refined sugars.
Amenities: The Pearl Laguna, a 14-guest facility in Laguna Canyon three miles from the beach. Founded by yogis and natural health advocates Geo and Katresha Moskios.
Price: $5,250 for a weeklong retreat, inquire about multiweek rates
More: (949) 715-1674, ThePearlLaguna.com
If you like cooking, core work, hiking, yoga and massage ...
Where: Los Angeles
When: All year long; five days, four nights
What to expect: The Ranch 4.0 program provides eight hours of activity a day, including a four-hour hike, afternoon ab workouts, yoga and massage. Body-fat and metabolic-rate/VO2 testing at check-in, and cooking demonstration and nutrition classes.
What you'll eat: Vegetarian, 1,400 calories per day
Amenities: Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village
More: (310) 457-8700, TheRanchMalibu.com
If you want women’s only yoga, meditation and surfing ...
Where: Pacific/Mission Beach, San Diego
When: Year-round, weekend and weeklong sessions (three days and two nights, seven days, six nights)
What to expect: Surf and Stay San Diego hosts four hours of daily activities include two daily yoga classes, morning meditation, three group surf and stand-up paddle board lessons, one wake boarding lesson, daily cross-training fitness, one chakra and reiki healing session, two massages, personalized fitness analysis. Ayurvedic consultation to establish your dietary needs, and a personalized fitness analysis training program.
What you'll eat: Three organic meals a day, including a pescetarian detox menu based on Ayurvedic principles.
Amenities: Blue Sea Hotel
Price: $1,099 for weekend camps, $2,099 for five-day camps.