Relaxing Vacations in Northern California
Reading time: 7 Minutes
January 25th, 2024
Daydreaming about your next vacation? Whether you're looking to rejuvenate your energy or simply relax after a stressful year, a trip to Northern California may be the perfect opportunity to unwind and reconnect with yourself. The wellness movement became popularized in the Golden State for good reason: From the clear waters of Lake Tahoe to the sweeping hiking trails of Santa Rosa to the lush greenery of Napa Valley, California has long been considered a haven for travelers interested in health and fitness, as well as leisure.
The next time you visit San Francisco, skip the crowds at Fisherman's Wharf and Golden Gate Park. Instead, head outside the city for some well-deserved relaxation. Here are a few of our recommendations for some of the best day trips and self-care treatments to explore in Northern California.
Some 8,000 years ago, the indigenous Wappo people of Northern California first discovered the area's geyser springs; they called the land coo-lay-no-maock (“the oven place") and would soak in the warm baths, believing that the waters had healing properties. Today, the practice of immersing yourself in geothermal mineral pools has a name: balneotherapy. Hot springs aren't just a natural hot tub. They may also offer a plethora of therapeutic benefits that go beyond deep muscle relaxation. The calcium, sulfur, and sodium bicarbonate minerals in hot springs are said to improve blood circulation, soothe dry skin (especially for those with skin irritations, such as eczema or psoriasis), reduce stress, promote healthy sleep and relieve pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia.
The town of Calistoga in Napa county, just 75 miles north of San Francisco, offers a wide variety of hot spring resorts, including Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, which has continuously operated as a hot spring resort destination since the early 1900s, with four different outdoor mineral hot springs ranging from a warm, 80-degree multi-lap lap pool to an invigorating 104-degree whirlpool. For a more intimate bath experience, try the Roman Spa, a boutique hot springs resort offering jacuzzi suites with geothermal water that bubbles up from beneath the spa, private or couples' tubs and a luxury spa that offers volcanic ash mud baths mixed with mineral water.
A spa treatment is more than just a pamper session; distinguished spa resorts often offer a range of physical therapies—including tension-relieving deep tissue massages, sports massages to enhance athletes' range of motion, and prenatal massages to nurture mother and baby—as well as holistic activities, such as skin exfoliation, mindful meditation sessions, or specialty juice cleanses.
Set on six acres in rural Sonoma County's Russian River Valley (only 66 miles northwest of San Francisco, near Santa Rosa), the rustic chic Farmhouse Inn boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, rooms with steam showers and feather beds, complimentary aromatic soaps and bath salts and even turndown service complete with homemade cookies and milk. At the Farmhouse Inn's spa, The Wellness Barn, sessions include therapeutic massages using warm basalt stones and cool gemstones, full exfoliations with body polishes and alfresco showers and aromatherapy messages that incorporates local oils, clays, butters and sea salt.
A little further north, the Auberge Resorts Collection's Solage offers a metropolitan luxury spa experience; each of the resort's loft-like standalone studios and suites feature a private backyard and smooth stone showers, while the common areas offer three geothermal pools, a fire pit and native gardens. In addition to Thai Swedish and shiatsu massage, aromatherapy and foot reflexology, The Spa at Solage's signature treatment is the “Mudslide," a specialty treatment combines a mineral-enriched mud bath followed by time in a soaking tub and receiving vibrations in a sound chair.
For mindful travelers, wellness retreats represent an opportunity to slow down, decompress from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with your physical, mental and spiritual self. Today, an increasing number of resorts and hotels are offering guided activities and hosting events that promote wellness.
At the base of Mount Shasta, 280 or so miles from San Francisco, Shasta Abbey is a training monastery for Buddhist monks that welcomes visitors into its sacred space in a 16-acre forest. For more than 50 years, this community has offered the teachings of Buddha to monks as well as outsiders. Throughout the year, Shasta Abbey organizes a series of retreats focused on practicing Soto Zen (serene reflection), clearing your mind through meditation and learning about Buddhist beliefs. There are also opportunities for discussions about mindfulness and to receive private spiritual counseling.
For more active wellness, travel 171 miles north of San Francisco to the city of Fort Bragg, part of MacKerricher State Park, where visitors can enjoy a six-day retreat riding horseback on guided tours across deserted beaches and through mossy redwood forests along the rugged Mendocino Coast. If you'd rather watch horses than ride one, the Return to Freedom conservation in Lompoc (roughly 293 miles north of San Francisco) offers private tours to see more than 350 wild horses and burros that roam free across the sanctuary's 1,500 acres.
Whether for relaxation or as a form of exercise, practicing yoga can be a form of self-care with many benefits. There are a variety of yoga retreats throughout California offering all different types, from fluid Vinyasa yoga to meditative Kriya yoga to a balancing Ayurveda yoga.
Since 1969, the Expanding Light Retreat has provided yoga and meditation teachings to novices and instructors alike. Located on 700 acres at Ananda Village in the Sierra Nevada foothills (roughly 163 miles from San Francisco), Expanding Light hosts more than a dozen retreats focusing on Ananda and Kriya yoga styles, as well as custom personal retreats. Accommodations include private, double and quadruple rooms plus daily vegetarian meals, meditation sessions and spiritual counseling.
To embrace a more spiritual lifestyle overall, the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm (138 miles from San Francisco) offers a variety of retreats specializing in different forms of yoga, as well as classes on permaculture, agroforestry, Karma yoga and weight management. Founded in 1971, this 40-acre site includes single or double cabins, though guests are also welcome to camp at the yoga farm in Grass Valley.
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