Hot Springs Is an Old Favorite

Hughes is a 25-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

New things are bubbling up at an old favorite of many mature travelers as Murrieta Hot Springs takes on a new owner and outlook for 1988.

About a 90-minute drive south from Los Angeles, the resort sits atop a hot spring spouting up from the Elsinor fault below, and has been enjoyed by everyone from early Temecula Indians to Teamster union executives.

The Teamsters were only one of the many owners of the colorful and sometimes controversial 86-year-old resort.

For the last five or so years, Murrieta Hot Springs Resort has been a pleasant Old World-style spa, a place where you could soak your bones in a vat of mud, get a great massage and enjoy a vegetarian regimen complete with peace and tranquillity.

That was a life style enjoyed by many--but not by all. Especially not by the more active mature audiences of today who want more to do and who want a greater variety of food.

New owner (since September) Gary Namian, a San Diego businessman, along with an enthusiastic new staff, is making many changes. They're keeping the best of the spa, adding innovations and bringing it more in line with a modern resort operation.

A Change of Diet

After a long spell of strictly vegetarian fare and no alcohol, Murrieta Hot Springs will open a second dining room featuring chicken and fish. And with it a beer and wine bar/lounge featuring wines from the Temecula Valley's 10 wineries. The excellent gourmet vegetarian buffet will remain.

No major building additions are planned, but renovations of many rooms are already under way. Phones and TV sets will be added.

The resort's 47-acre, palm-shaded setting can hardly be improved upon. Most of the changes are on the interior. Popular health and spa programs will continue.

The Murrieta Foundation, a nonprofit organization and the previous owner, will continue, at least for the near future, its program of "total health in mind/body" and "polarity therapy sessions."

At the same time, Murrieta Hot Springs is introducing a broader idea of the spa concept, more short-package programs of spa treatments, and more golf and tennis programs. A physical fitness center with weights and new training equipment is being added.

Seniors Still Welcome

With all the new programs and additions, one thing remains constant: the appeal to the mature audience will be paramount, according to Dave Flowers, director of sales. "The mature traveler has and always will be a high percentage of our business," Flowers said.

Spa director Gary Peterson, who directs a staff of 70, agrees. "The seniors especially enjoy our mineral and mud baths, skin care and facials," Peterson said. "We've added easy-to-take aerobics and water exercises as well."

The regular spa program includes mineral baths, body wraps, a variety of massages, pedicures and other treatments. These can be taken (and paid for) on an a la carte basis, or as part of one of six package plans.

Right now, a La Costa or Golden Door it isn't. But it is a fine resort, and it's tough to beat the prices and variety of package plans available.

The resort's basic daily rate ranges from $45 to $55 single and $50 to $60 double, year-round. Full American Plan (with three vegetarian meals daily) is $67 to $77 single, $94 to $104 double (prices do not include tax). Rates include use of three swimming pools, saunas and a daily program with hikes, aerobics and evening entertainment.

These prices do not include spa treatments. On a walk-in basis, some sample rates include: mineral bath, $10; mineral bath with special oils, $15; the "Murrieta Mud Experience," $36; body wraps, $22; massage, $40; facials, $44, and pedicure, $32.

Some of the best buys are in the new programs, especially for Sunday-through-Thursday visits. The Spa Experience package of two nights' lodging, all meals, mineral bath with oil, sauna and wrap and massage runs $127.44 per person, double occupancy, including tax and gratuity. Other more inclusive spa treatment packages are available at slightly higher rates.

New Package Plans

New this year are some excellent golf and tennis package plans.

The midweek Golf Getaway includes 18 holes (with cart) at the adjacent Rancho California Country Club, two nights' lodging, two breakfasts, two dinners and a massage. The price is $178.82 single, $130.22 per person, double occupancy. Weekend rates are $10 a person higher.

The par-72 championship course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and has been called "the best-kept golf secret in California," as well as "one of the 10 best public courses in the state."

Golf Gazette describes it as "an outstanding golf course . . . one most likely to become a membership club in the future. So don't delay. Rarely is a course of this stature available to the public very long."

Also new is a midweek tennis package (Sunday through Thursday) featuring two days' play at the resort's 14 excellent courts (a legacy of Teamster ownership), with four lighted for night play. Included for $105.20 per person, double, are two nights' lodging, two breakfasts, two dinners, mineral bath and body wrap.

The new packages all include tax and gratuity, use of pools, saunas, etc., and a 10% discount on other spa and health treatments. Some, like the golf packages on weekends, require a two-week advance reservation.

Mature groups (Murrieta Hot Springs has long been a popular outing) will continue to be welcome for overnight or longer, or for day excursions, Flowers said.

Special group rates are available, and the resort staff will help with information and assistance in planning tours to nearby wineries and other points of interest.

Temecula and Beyond

Individuals and groups alike will enjoy nearby Temecula, which is clinging to its cowpoke image amid a frenetic building boom. There are dozens of antique dealers and shops, a Mexican restaurant in an old bank, and even the 1880 Temecula Hotel, which, in spite of its big sign, is a private residence.

The Frontier Museum, alas, is gone. Gene Autry bought it--lock, stock and saddle--for his new museum in Griffith Park. There is the small Old Town Temecula Museum on Main Street, now sharing space with Sam's Super Shell and well worth a look (for a small donation).

It's a short drive up the valley on Rancho California Road for a visit to nine of the 10 area vineyards and wineries. Most offer tastings and tours, some with restaurants or delis and some with picnic facilities.

Also, a few miles up the valley is scenic Lake Skinner, great for fishing, a pool for swimming and a nice R/V camp at $12 a day, full hookup.

For those who plan on fishing, there's a roadside stand just before the lake that offers a senior discount on earthworms. Can't beat an offer like that.

For more information:

Murrieta Hot Springs Resort, 39405 Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Murrieta, Calif. 92362. Phone (800) 458-4393 in California, (800) 322-4532 out of state.

Murrieta Foundation, 28779 Via Las Flores, Murrieta, Calif. 28779. For wine maps and local information, contact the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 264, Temecula, Calif. 92390, or phone (714) 676-5090.

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