As a minimum wage earning teenage girl with a mop in her hands, cleaning up after the well to do women who dined at the posh cafes and restaurants where I worked to pay rent and put myself through school, I had big dreams of a lifestyle of leisure. I would “someday daydream” to get me through many long and lonely work shifts. Someday, I will have someone bring me fancy food. Someday, someone else will sweep up after me. Someday I will lounge around sipping exotic drinks, instead of serving them. Someday…
My fairytale fun was flipping through every spa and travel magazine I could get my hands on. I soaked in the images of beautiful destination retreats with lush grounds and guestrooms 3 times the size of my studio apartment. I was fascinated by all the skin and body treatments, wraps and scrubs, saunas and plunge pools, state of the art fitness classes and mind body activities available to people who had the time and means. I would envision being inside the places on the pages. I could feel the warm massage oil on my body, taste the cucumber lemon water, smell the eucalyptus of the steam room – long be before I ever actually set foot in a real life wellness spa. I had discovered what was possible. So I began making aspirational vision boards with cut out photos of the World’s Best Luxury Retreats. I knew in my bones that someday a life that included relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation would indeed be mine.
Out of all the health spas I read about over the years the grand dame of them all was Southern California’s Golden Door. The Golden Door was named #1 SPA IN THE WORLD by Condé Nast Traveller and #1 World’s Best Destination Spas by Travel + Leisure. With 2020 around the corner I was eager to stay on my latest clean living streak and start the new decade with a healthy mindset. So I figured there was no better time than now to live out a lifelong dream. I am happy to report that hard work, determination, life-choices, and yes vision boarding, finally manifested me to my destination. 30 years after I first learned of it, my someday arrived when I found myself at the legendary Golden Door.
The Japanese inspired Golden Door experience is designed to empower each guest to put themselves as the center of their own lives by tending to their body, mind and spirit. The program of mindful-fitness and refined nourishment, along with indulgent spa treatments, encourages guests to treat themselves with the respect and care they deserve. Golden Door has only 40 rooms and offers a four-to-one staff ratio dedicated to your goals, tastes and comfort. Plus, you can take care of yourself knowing you are also giving back as 100% of Golden Door’s net profits go to philanthropic causes, including helping to end child abuse and transform young lives.
Golden Door really does have a golden door as an entrance. Once inside and down a wooden footbridge, bent to keep evil spirits from entering the sacred grounds, I was welcomed with a chamomile tea and one of their famous ginger cookies. After some minor paperwork, much was pre-arranged during a scheduled intake call a few weeks prior to match me with my interests, dietary needs, and selected spa treatments, I was led to my elegant villa through the well manicured grounds of Japanese gardens. My accommodations surpassed my teenage dreams with high ceilings, large sitting area and a view through an oversized sliding glass door. I unpacked while I nibbled on the grown-on-property fruit basket.
At Golden Door each guest has Accommodations and Amenities that include:
- A private room and bath with your own garden deck or patio
- Warm-ups, shorts, t-shirts and robe supplied and laundered daily
- Hat, gloves and a fanny pack for hikes
- A yukata, a casual cotton kimono, and sandals
- An array of Golden Door Skin Care products
- A reusable water bottle, journal and tote
I eased into my arrival day with a stretch class in the yoga studio overlooking the pool area and a walking tour of the fitness and spa facilities that included a cozy, always open bathhouse.
Fitness and Spa Care includes:
- Sessions with a personal trainer with take-home fitness plan
- Abundant fitness classes from light to challenging
- Daily in-room massage
- Skin care sessions & body treatments
- Herbal wrap
- Manicure and pedicure
- Evening mind, body, spirit programs and lectures
- Did I mention daily in-room massage?
At Golden Door you can choose between smaller or larger portions between 1200-1600 calories per day. However, they do not skimp on snacks and are happy to offer more food for fuel if you need it. It was a nice change of pace from some of the more rigid programs I’ve experienced. It is Golden Door tradition is to wear your yukata robe to dinner. Which was what I did to meet the other ladies of leisure for our first meal together.
Healthy Gourmet Cuisine includes:
- A meal plan that reflects your dietary needs and preferences
- Fresh produce grown on our bio-intensive farms
- Breakfast and a mid-morning snack
- Lunch and mid-afternoon snack
- Appetizers and dinner
- Nutrition education classes
My program was filled with about 20 well to do, well kept women of all ages and backgrounds from all across the country, and several other SoCal locals like me, squeezing in a few days away during the holidays. After a delicious miso cod dinner, that included crème brûlée for desert, we took a ritual walk to the gates to knock 3 times: Once for a good week, once for good weather, and once for a private intention for our stay. We then did in a simple group meditation, setting our hearts on our intention for the week, the New Year, and the new decade to come. Then it was off to bed early to get up for a 6 a.m. hike.
With 600 acres of pristine hills, meadows, art filled Japanese gardens, and citrus groves, Golden Door offers extensive hiking activities on their private, immaculately maintained trails. From shorter hikes on level ground to aggressive up-hill climbs, their hiking program is designed to get you moving and enjoying the restorative benefits of nature.
After a deep sleep with vivid dreams, I was easily up before dawn ready for coffee and a hike. It was good they provided a hat, gloves, and extra layers as it was pretty chilly before the sun came up. I have participated in more rigorous programs where the hikes were not optional and coffee and fresh made gluten-free banana chocolate chip mini-muffins were not offered. So by comparison this little 5 miler with food and caffeine in my system would be a walk in the park. As we began our ascension into the hills the sun rose over the green farmland valley below. At a halfway vista point above the ocean on one side and a pretty little lake on the other we stopped to snack on fresh orange slices, picked on property, to take it all in. It sure feels good to have a work out, fresh air and a new perspective all before 7:30 a.m.
At a breakfast of hot oatmeal with chia seeds, berries, and local honey I received a fan with my days’ suggested activities based on my preferences. My first full day included Zen yoga followed by a total body sculpting class then aqua fitness before my personal training session – All this before a scrumptious lunch that was guilt free after the abundance of activities.
Golden Door Indoor/Outdoor Activities include:
- 12 hikes of varying challenge on 25 miles of private trails
- 7 state of the art gyms
- 2 swimming pools
- Watsu Water Therapy pool
- 2 labyrinths
- A lighted tennis court
- A bathhouse with Jacuzzi, steam-room and sauna
- 5 acres of bio-intensive gardens
- A plethora of yoga, dance, archery, Pilates, swimming, and even fencing classes… the list goes on
After lunch I choose to try my aim at archery. It took a minute, since I hadn’t shot an arrow since summer camp, but I got into the groove and began to hit the bulls-eye. Then, I had the option to have an astrology session, which proved to be a pretty intensive chart reading. It was nice to hear where I was and what was going on in my stars in the infinite celestial scope of things. It was also a little reminder that we are all just made up of stardust spiraling through space and we shouldn’t be taking this whole thing called life too seriously.
Then it was spa time. Aaaah. I enjoyed a detoxifying dry brushing body treatment followed by a hot herbal wrap with indigenous essential oils. I was warm and toasty, silky smooth, and smelling great on my way back to my magnificent villa for my first in room massage. It took a bit of effort to get up off the table and back into my yukata for dinner and a “How to Eat for your Dosha” talk. But the glorious meal and good company of newfound friends made the minor exertion well worth it. Crawling back into my king size bed I felt that today was a good day. My “someday” had finally come. I was here now – and I got to do it all again tomorrow.
I repeated another version of similar bliss and then another. In just a few days I felt like I had physically, mentally and spiritually gone through a transformation. I had made a shift. I was awake and open. With meditation and yoga, hiking and taking extra time out for me, I had created more space in between thoughts and breaths. I was ready to accept all the good and abundance the big, beautiful universe had to offer. I had a clear sense that there was plenty for everyone. Including me.
At the last night’s decadent dinner, complete with the first pressing of Golden Door olive oil and all the winter white truffles we could eat, everyone was asked to say a word that summarized their visit. My word was love. I felt an overwhelming sense of love. Love for myself. Love of nature. Love from and for all the women around me. After dinner we walked outside under a bright moon to a candlelit maze. We had each written, on a piece of paper in vanishing ink, something we wanted to release. I chose a daring blanket statement: I forgive and release all of my past. Really. I was ready to let it all go. I knew I had to give up the old stuck junk if I was going to take in the new joy I now felt. After making my way to the basin at the center of the labyrinth, I watched the water dissolve my words and release what I no longer needed. I did it. I made it to Golden Door. I’ve come a long way baby. And the best is yet to come.