8 tranquil hot springs in California to heal your weary soul
You can’t beat geothermal heat. That’s what warms the many hot springs in California, which make a disparate yet tempting bunch, from rustic roadside holes in the ground to luxurious Napa Valley retreats.
There are dozens, especially in Calistoga (Napa Valley wine country) and Desert Hot Springs (a Coachella Valley city that has not yet followed Palm Springs and environs into full-blown desert gentrification).
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At any place with overnight accommodations, you can count on lower prices midweek. Whatever the price point, each of the spots listed here offers a chance to retreat from the daily hubbub and steep yourself in hot water. (That water, by the way, shouldn’t be more than 104 degrees, health officials say.)
With the weather cooling down, here is a look at eight hot spring sites that Times writers and I have tried in recent years.
Glen Ivy Hot Springs
Glen Ivy has 19 pools on 12 acres, including some of the same mineral pools that were the star attraction here in the late 1800s. There’s no hotel. But it has a Grotto (when skin hydration happens) and it has Club Mud, where you may be slathered with red clay. You could alternate between the hot and cold plunge pools, grab a bite at the Ivy Kitchen or try a 50-minute quartz massage (dry heat from warm quartz sand) for $165.
The cost of admission with a Grotto visit is $120 per head; admission plus a HydroMassage, $125. Basic admission (access to the pools and Club Mud) is $94, reservations required. Open to guests age 18 and over.
Two Bunch Palms
The resort includes 65 guest rooms and suites on 240 acres, along with plenty of palm trees. Rooms typically run $325-$525. The spa menu, which includes many CBD treatments, starts with a 60-minute massage at $165.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
The resort also has 24 private outdoor tubs, which are arrayed on a hillside, surrounded by an oak grove. The cost is $22.50-$27.50 per hour per person (and another $3 for towel rental) and you’ll be climbing up to 100 steps to reach your designated tub. (Tubs can accommodate up to eight people.)
Pro tip: If you’d rather combine your soaking with a cabin, tent or RV camping, nearby Avila Hot Springs is also worth a look.
Even if you don’t want a soak, you may want to explore the resort’s Secret Garden. This semi-rustic, kid-friendly, dog-friendly area, which includes a concession stand with beer, wine and snacks, is across a bridge from the main part of the resort. It’s also right next to the path of the Bob Jones Trail, a 3-mile-long walking and cycling route that follow San Luis Obispo Creek and ends at Avila State Beach. I had a tasty salad and wished I’d brought my bike.
Travertine Hot Springs
It’s a patch of public land at the end of a dirt road, hot water bubbling from the earth, just south of Bridgeport along 395. Free to all. In some of these natural hot tubs, you can adjust the temperature by placing pebbles to divert the incoming hot spring water.
When I arrived, Opie Owens, 32, was unwinding in one of the tubs. He had just attended 13 Phish concerts in 16 days and he was in no hurry.
By the way, locals say the dirt road to these springs gets buried when serious snow comes. I wouldn’t try it in the winter.
Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs
Management likes to call it the Doc — a welcome little bit of irreverence.
Rooms and cottages typically run $277-$679. Spa prices start at $169 for an hourlong whirlpool bath “infused with Epsom sea salts, and a facial mask, steam room and blanket wrap.”
Indian Springs, Calistoga
Overnight rates typically start at $319-$659. A 60-minute mud bath is $170; a 45-minute mineral bath, $105. And a 100-minute CBD massage is $390 per person.
Citing COVID, Esalen dropped that offer early in the pandemic. To get into the spectacularly sited, clothing-optional mineral baths at Esalen now, guests need to sign up for a multiple-day workshop or self-guided exploration, which includes accommodations and meals.
Prices begin at $540 per person for three days and two nights in a shared sleeping-bag area, or $1,200 ($1,425 for two people) for a queen-bed room. The most affordable accommodations book up fast.
Gaviota Hot Springs
Park at the dirt lot ($2 fee) and find the trailhead for Gaviota Peak. From there, you can either take a strenuous trip to the summit or a quarter-mile walk under oak and sycamore groves. Turn left at the junction with the Trespass trail, and at the next junction, turn right onto an overgrown trail, full of California blackberry bushes, and follow the creek (and the smell of sulfur) to its source. Here you’ll find two milky blue pools — the larger option is framed by a manmade cement rock wall and comfortably fits five or six people (clothing is optional). Enjoy a foot soak or fully submerge yourself in the warm bubbling water.
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