What It's Like to Stay at One of the Most Luxurious Spas in the Country

When I walked through the historic golden doors of the Golden Door Resort & Spa in San Marcos, California, I didn't quite know what to expect, but I ended up experiencing four of the most relaxing (and yet invigorating) days of my life.

The Golden Door encompasses 600 acres of land that include hiking trails, farms, gardens and the resort itself, which is decorated to feel like a Japanese retreat.

Golden Door entrance

Golden Door grounds

Golden Door flowers

My first day there began with brunch outside in a Japanese garden (complete with a koi pond), and then a meeting with guest services to put together a schedule for each day of my stay.

Golden Door koi pond

Golden Door sand

Golden Door bell

Every day begins with an optional hike at 5:45 a.m., followed by in-room breakfast service. All types of fitness classes are offered throughout the day post-breakfast, including water aerobics, yoga, Pilates, boxing and barre. Guests are welcome to take as many (or few) classes as they would like each day. In addition to workout classes, each day's schedule includes a private in-room massage, and various beauty treatments such as herbal wraps, facials, body scrubs and pedicures.

I chose to begin each day with the 5-mile 5:45 a.m. hike, and even though I never get up that early in my everyday life, it was such an amazing way to start the day. There is something so magical about being in nature while taking in the first light of day. After the hike, I loved coming back to my room to find a warm breakfast waiting for me, and enjoying some downtime before taking my daily workout classes.

Golden Door hike view

Golden Door hike

I got to try out so many fun fitness classes while I was there, including a Pilates foam roller class that was a mix of balance work, toning and stretching; Vinyasa yoga, a traditional yoga class in a dreamy setting (the gym was located above the pool area and felt like an adult tree house); Power Pump, which was weight training done to choreographed music; and Cardio Box, which was a boxing circuit class.

Golden Door yoga

While I love being active, the pampering spa treatments were definitely my favorite part of the trip! I loved my in-room massages, had a fantastic facial (which used the Golden Door's own line of skincare products), and experienced my first herbal wrap. The wrap is meant to soothe muscles and improve circulation, and involves being wrapped up in warm towels soaked in rosemary for 15 minutes while your muscles relax and you sweat out toxins. I felt so refreshed afterwards (and my sore muscles were so thankful for the break!).

Each day also included a nightly meditation and optional wellness-based workshops and classes. I took a Feldenkrais class that focused on "mindful movement" and left me feeling light and balanced, and an aromatherapy workshop where I was able to mix my own herbal bath salts.

Another highlight of the trip was the food (all meals and snacks are included in the stay). Because the resort focuses on wellness, I was honestly expecting to be fed nothing but salads for the duration of the trip, but the food—much of which comes from the on-site farms—was some of the freshest and most delicious I've ever had. Highlights included the opening night's miso cod, a crab and avocado tower topped with ahi tuna and a Bento box sushi lunch served outside in the garden on my last day there.

Golden Door garden

Golden Door lunch

I probably worked out more than I ever had in my life during my stay at the Golden Door, but there was also plenty of time to unwind, so I left feeling ready to face the real world again—but incredibly sad to leave! It's truly a one-of-a-kind place that I'm so happy I was able to experience.

Golden Door lobby


Can't make it to the Golden Door? Check out THESE tips for how to replicate a spa day at home.