Friday, October 20th 2017

9 Spiritual Resorts in the West

In our mind, a spiritual resort is a place where you can go out of mind. A place that’s therapeutic not just for your body but your most over-worked and over-heated organ in this mad, mad world — your brain. A spiritual resort is a place that chills your brain organ to the point that it releases itself from its compulsion to think.

Here is our ranking of the top 9 resorts on North America’s West Coast, ranging from Vancouver Island in the north to Carlsbad, CA in the south:

Harbin domes 1. Harbin Hot Springs, Middletown, CA: Three hours north of San Francisco, this new age community features the only real mineral hot springs in the vicinity of Napa Valley wine country. Equally noteworthy, it is the birthplace of a deeply-somatic therapy called watsu, a word conflated from “water” and “shiatsu”. Think Swedish massage meets reiki meets hypnosis trance — in water. Watsu is as powerful as it gets.

This year, for the first time, Harbin has opened the doors to these domes that look like they’re out of the movie, Dune, to outside guests. To book a room, go here.

Cost: $60 – $160 per night.

Fine print: Harbin is an out-there scene, not some yuppie weekend-massage spa — cell phones, computers, booze and drugs are verbotten.

2. The Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA: Call it the cradle of West Coast civilization. Founded in the 1960s, it was here that figures like Joseph Campbell, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls and an Episcopal priest-turned-Zen Buddhist named Alan Watts fused eastern mysticism with modern psychology. They seeded mega-trends ranging from Gestalt Therapy to Star Wars.

If physical place is the dominant force that shapes your experience then nothing compares to Esalen. Its sandstone cliff-hanger mineral baths are fed by a spring on the beach that in earlier centuries were a healing force for the coastal Esselen Indians. Today’s baths are open all night long, and nude lounging is welcome. Entranced by the moon, stars and breakers five stories below, visitors from around the world take full advantage of both options.


Cost: $105 – $180 per night.

Fine print: Esalen is a workshop-oriented retreat but it is possible to snag a space as a one-off guest by simply booking a massage or by donating $50 to the non-profit foundation that runs the place to become eligible for “personal retreats.”

3. Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, BC: It’s not an official spiritual retreat center — it’s a commercial eco-resort. But this is that rare for-profit venue where heaven truly does meet earth, and earth meets heaven. Where old-growth rainforest meets whale-watching. This dreamy outpost on the far side of Vancouver Island feels like its perched on the edge of the Earth.

Cost: Rooms start at $460 (Canadian) in the summer, and about half that during off-season. Fine print: The resort’s panoramic, A++ Pointe Restaurant is kind of like the French Laundry of the northwest.

4. Breitenbush Hot Springs, Detroit, Oregon: Like Esalen, this is a workshop resort. But unlike Esalen’s coastal perch, Breitenbush sits at the end of a deep, remote gorge in the Cascade Mountains, southwest of Portland, OR. Its cedar sauna is heated by a bubbling hot springs that sits below the building’s floor boards, and three of the resort’s natural spring pools are walled by smooth stones — not the porcelain tubs you get in California’s wine country. Cost: $46 – 108 per night. Fine print: The rustic cabins don’t have showers but they are heated, geo-thermally.

5. Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA: The Marin County redoubt of superstar, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield (“After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”) makes up in substance and presence what it lacks in spa trappings and water features. Cost: About $70-120 per day. Fine print: The only way to stay at Spirit Rock is to enroll in a course like this one about using the ancient Enneagram in your spiritual practice.

6. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Ventana Wilderness preserve, CA:, A hair-rising, hour-long 4×4 drive up a steep and skimpy road full of jack-knife turns brings you to this Zen monastery southeast of Monterey, CA. Tassajara is revered for its network of mountain streams and waterfalls. Cost: $85 -325 per night. Fine Print: No electricity in the cabins means that residents still use fire for light, 19th-century-style (translation = kerosene lamps).

7. Sycamore Mineral Springs, San Luis Opisbo, CA: A for-profit venue, Sycamore is nonetheless as devoted to wellness in all its forms as the other destinations on this list. It offers everything from Qi Gong to hyphotherapy. Cost: $165 – 890 per night. Fine print: Every single room has a patio with a mineral water hot tub!

8. Mount Calvary Retreat House, Santa Barbara, CA: With Spanish mission architeture and a “commanding view” of the Pacific Coast, Mt. Calvary is a sanctuary where a lot of healers themselves go to renew their own spirits.
Cost: $75-80 per night. Fine print: The retreat is run by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which is cool.

9. Chopra Center, Carlsbad, CA: Dr. Deepak is dismissed by purists as Spirituality Lite but let’s face it: he’s done more than most people alive today to bring consciousness studies and mind-body work into the mainstream. Cost: $325 – $1,000 + per night. Fine Print: The “center” is actually a meditation and ayurvedic treatment facility within the walls of the La Costa golf-course spa, 30 miles north of San Diego.

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3 Comments on “9 Spiritual Resorts in the West”

  1. Actually, Harbin is not the only natural hot springs close to Napa. One very popular one that lends itself to much more privacy and meditation is Wilbur Hotsprings ( not that far from Harbin at all. Much more private, quiet and serene.

    Most "locals" go to Harbin if they want to party, connect with people, get watsu, go to Tantra or Poly retreats. They go to Wilbur if they want to go within more Just thought you would like to know.

  2. thanks so much. i love esalen!!!! but would like to try other places (and it is expensive). harbin sounds cool but wilbur sounds more my scene, i.e., serene.

  3. Harbin can be enjoyable, but definitely has a sexual overtone. Esalen is gorgeous and a wonderful place to retreat, but very pretentious. Tassajara, despite the terrifying, white-knuckle drive to get there, gets my vote as a truly spiritual retreat! Absolutely lovely!

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