If you don’t have the time or money to take a trip somewhere warm this winter, I have a suggestion: Treat yourself to a weekend getaway to one of Northern California’s hot springs resorts. In the past, most hot spring resorts were havens for hippies and New Age types, but these days more and more mainstreamers are discovering the calming effects of a good mineral soak. In Northern California there’s a hot spring resort for every type of person: luxury spas, New Age retreats, pro-nudity spas, Japanese bathhouses, and even inexpensive mom-and-pop enterprises.
Hot Springs are one of the rare benefits of living in an earthquake zone. Along California’s fault line, a mere 4 miles below the earth’s crust, lies an enormous magma core that superheats the mineral-rich ground water and brings it gushing to the surface. This isn’t just tepid tap water, mind you, but mineral-enriched, spring-fed, naturally heated nectar that seeps into your pores, erases your worries, and turns your skin baby-soft. Give it a try—your body will love you for it.
Vichy Springs Resort, Ukiah
If you’ve never been to 150-year-old Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah, you simply have to visit this place. It’s not only a piece of classic Americana—it’s a California Historic Landmark and was a favorite retreat for Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jack London—it’s the only naturally warm and carbonated Vichy mineral baths in North America.
Located about 100 miles north of San Francisco, the no-frills resort is quite affordable, with room rates starting at $135, which includes breakfast, full use of the mineral baths (bathing suits required), hot soaking pool, Olympic size swimming pool, and unfettered access to 700 private acres for walking and hiking. Massage and facials are available by appointment daily until 8pm and are reasonably priced as well.
Stewart Mineral Springs Resort, Weed
Stewart Mineral Springs is one of the most unusual spa resorts in California, rich with lore and legends. Located in the town of Weed (about 10 miles south of Mount Shasta), this place is deliberately primitive—it houses ancient springs that Native Americans valued for their healing powers for centuries—so don’t expect anything approaching a European spa or big-city luxury here.
The resort occupies a 37-acre site of sloping, forested land accented with ponds, gazebos, and decorative bridges. The bathhouse is the resort headquarters, with 13 private rooms where spring water is heated and run into tubs for soaking. A 20-minute soak is followed by a visit to a nearby wood-burning sauna and an immersion in the chilly waters of Parks Creek, just outside the bathhouse—all for under $30.
Wilbur Hot Springs, Wilbur Springs
Wilbur Hot Springs was established by Ezekial Wilbur in 1865, but for centuries this gaggle of green mineral pools was a sacred place for Native Americans. Out in the middle of nowhere amid rolling oak-covered hills, it’s the sort of place you go to when you really want to get away from it all and pamper your aching body. In fact, you’ll find no electricity here, even in the hotel, which is softly lit with solar power and warmed by gas fireplaces.
The hot springs area is dimly lit with Japanese lanterns and sheltered by a cedar A-frame bathhouse where clothing is optional and noise is a no-no. A spacious redwood deck surrounds the bathhouse and leads to an outdoor pool, a dry sauna, and private outdoor showers. Since there is no restaurant, guests bring their own groceries and use the well-equipped commercial kitchen.
Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, Calistoga
Located in the heart of Calistoga, Dr. Wilkinson’s offers one of the best lodging/spa deals in Napa Valley. Facilities include three mineral-water pools (two outdoor and one indoor), a Jacuzzi, a steam room, and mud baths. All kinds of body treatments are available at the spa, including their famed mud baths (which I tried once and enjoyed but it’s not really my thing), steam treatments, skin care, and massage.
Dr. Wilkinson’s also offers fantastic facials in their specially built facial cottage, and their hot stone massage therapy is pure bliss. If you log onto their website and click on the “special spa packages” link you’ll find deals such as their February special that includes overnight lodging and a mud bath for only $79.50 per person (that, my friends, is a Wine Country bargain). The rooms range from attractive Victorian-style accommodations to modern, cozy guest rooms in the main 1960s-style motel.
Harbin Hot Springs, Middletown
Nestled in a secluded valley near Middletown—about 30 minutes north of Calistoga—is Harbin Hot Springs, one of the largest and most popular hot springs in California. The atmosphere at this nonprofit retreat is decidedly New Age; you’ll see a good number of aging-hippie types in the buff (clothing is optional and rarely worn), mingling with the occasional urban professional.
The 1,160-acre resort has a sauna, four mineral pools, and large redwood sun decks for that full-bodied tan. Meditation sessions, moon ceremonies, massages, facials, aromatherapy and Watsu (a warm-water massage) are also available. Lodgings range from inexpensive campsites and men’s and women’s dormitory-style rooms to cozy cottages. Within the resort is a health food store, two small cafes, and the Stonefront Restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner daily.
If you have your own tips and recommendations hot springs getaways throughout Northern California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.