So where’s a good place to soak in some vacation relaxation?
The waters of a few choice places on the planet are legendary for their healing powers. Sick people have been “taking the waters” for thousands of years at Vichy (the one in France more than the one in Ukiah), Bath, Spa (yes really–it’s in Belgium), Icaria, Taiwan, and Rio Hondo. Whether you choose to believe in the miraculous healing powers of a specific spring or not, I can tell you that soaking in a hot tub feels great to all my aches and pains.
Because I’m a California-specialist travel writer, the spas and springs I know best flow like…well, like regular water often doesn’t here in the Straw-Colored State. I’ve soaked in these spots personally:
Before the hip small town of Calistoga became best known for anchoring the north end of the Napa Valley wine region, the hot springs lured visitors looking for a different kind of liquid fix. Most of the spa-motel-hotel-resorts cluster around the Lincoln & Washington downtown intersection. The signature Calistoga mud bath treatment isn’t for everyone, but it’s hard not to love the swimming pools, warm tubs, and hot tubs full of local mineral water. It’s not even necessary to sign up for a spa treatment or to stay at a spendy resort to spend time soaking in Calistoga–mineral water flows from the showers and fills the pools at the spa resorts, free for use by hotel patrons.
Esalen, Big Sur
The Esalen Institute perches atop the cliffs of Big Sur, many miles from much of anything else on Highway 1. Before you book a massage or line up at the gate at 1am to gain access to the legendary local mineral tubs, be warned: Esalen is a New Age retreat center, a noted green-liberal think tank, and a place where naked hippies of all genders soak in big hot tubs together.
There’s no privacy at the Esalen tubs, and “clothing optional” pretty much means “everybody will be nekkid.” Strangers starting conversations in this situation can take some getting used to. If you’d prefer to keep to yourself, stick to the Silent side of the hot tub area where you can enjoy the amazing views and soothing water in quiet.
In fact, I find that the atmosphere at Esalen encourages meditation and guided imagery practices. The energy flowing through the hot tub area can aid in healing and soothing of spirit, if you believe in that sort of thing.
River Oaks, Paso Robles
I don’t know what it is about wine and hot springs that go together so well in California. Several springs share space with the vineyards in the Paso Robles region. The River Oaks spa lies on the grounds of a country club well outside of town and can be a pain to find, but it’s worth the time and trouble to get there. The tub rooms have a distinctive Japanese style, complete with a breezy (but totally private) indoor-outdoor feel. I admit that I don’t love the sulphur smell of the spring water, which permeates the whole spa. But I’ll deal if it means I can enjoy a long deep soak in one of the tubs.