SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
It feels like you’re passing through a portal when you enter Onsen, the one-ofa- kind, two-year-old spa in San Francisco. Outside, you’re in the rough-andtumble Tenderloin district, as gritty as the city gets with cheap bars, coin laundries, and a constant parade of homeless people.
Then, after the requisite security guard lets you enter the wooden doorway, you’re in rural Japan. Owners Caroline Smith and Sunny Simmons have converted a former auto repair shop into a simulacrum of a traditional Japanese bath house, complete with a lovely rustic tea room that can be enjoyed before or after bathing. After an attendant escorts you down a narrow hall to a changing room, you slip into a provided robe and part a cotton curtain into the small oasis of a bathing area.
Exposed brick and minimalist woodwork surround a gray slate floor and 104-degree soaking pool; an adjacent steamroom and redwood sauna are immaculately maintained. Small and intimate, Onsen is not intended to be a full-scale American-style day spa, but to provide a special experience akin to Japanese sento, or neighborhood bath. No more than fourteen guests can be accommodated at a time (there are frequently only a handful) and reservations are required (105 min/$35).
You can even rent the entire facility for a private gathering. Massage and acupuncture services are available from a carefully curated team of experts who come to Onsen specifically for patron appointments. While most open-to-the-public hours are co-ed, with swimsuits required, Onsen hosts exclusively men on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 P.M. and women on Thursdays from 11:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., at which times nudity is welcome.
The tea room, extremely well regarded by San Francisco’s restaurant critics, also pours an excellent collection of sakes and serves beautifully plated small dishes, including mushroom dumplings in broth and skewers of wasabi and lemon-brushed squid. www.onsensf.com
SPA MAJORELLE AT THE THE CALIFORNIAN
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
When a new hotel lands on both Travel + Leisure’s It List and Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot List in its first year, you know it’s worthy of a visit. The Hotel Californian is perfectly situated where the ocean meets Santa Barbara’s most popular street, surrounded by restaurants, shopping, art galleries, and more than 20 wine-tasting rooms. Angelenos can even hop on an Amtrak for a traffic- free weekend getaway, as the train station is only two blocks from the hotel.
Executive Chef Alexander La Motte oversees the culinary program for the entire 121-room hotel, and dinner at his Blackbird restaurant was one of the best I’ve had in my life—I’ll return for his fresh, inventive, and always surprising cuisine alone. The property’s Turkish and Moroccan inspired luxury spa is Spa Majorelle. The locker rooms may be tiny, but they do include separate mens’ and women’s steam rooms, and the product line is impressive.
In addition to custom facials (60 min/$190) and aromatherapy consultations ($35), they also offer bodywork like the Quake Rescue Massage, which promotes stress recovery and sleep via stretching, joint release, and a slathering of bergamot, frankincense, sandalwood, and cedar oil. Unique to Majorelle is the Entrada, a massage with Neroli, a honeyed, spicy scent native to Morocco and California (90 min/$285).
The hotel also has a growing yoga program, offering weekly sessions in Kundalini, Hatha, and meditation throughout the property, including outside in the courtyard or up on the rooftop deck. If you want your downward dog with a side of jaw-dropping ocean view, this is the place. www.thehotelcalifornian.com/santa_barbara_spa
MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
ST. HELENA, CALIFORNIA
Tucked in a tranquil canyon, away from wine tour buses and limos, we arrived at the iconic resort, Meadowood Napa Valley, renowned for its nine-hole golf course, professional croquet lawn, and a coveted Michelin three-star restaurant. (Wrangle a reservation months in advance, and the 16-course extravaganza will set you back $350-$500). Currently undergoing extensive renovations (slated to re-open early 2019), there’s a well-equipped gym and three swimming pools, as well as tennis courts.
Set among overhanging oaks and pines, the new spa facility, constructed of rough-hewn posts and beams is an inspired melding of Craftsman and Japanese styles, its neutral toned-palette accentuated with Tibetan silk rugs, Shibori wall hangings, and earthy pottery. Perfect for an anniversary or birthday, the open-air Tree House after-treatment room is equipped with a commodious bathtub, king bed, copper wash basin, and fireplace keeping things cozy on even the rainiest winter day. Being wine country, From the Vines treatment (3 ½ hours/$710) employs resveratrol grape extracts for a massage and facial. Or splurge on the Meadowood Curated Collection (5 ½ hours/$1,235) a half day of pampering with a wrap, exfoliation, massage, facial, scalp treatment, and hanging in your spa suite.
I was slated for the more modest Essential Journey (90 min/$235), and after registering at reception, I was met by my therapist Coleman, who escorted me along a passageway connecting eight treatment rooms. Midway, I paused to admire the massive wooden bench, water running beneath the fissure splitting its length. In my lounge in the couples treatment room we discussed my state of mind and body, then I relaxed in the private steam. On the heated massage table, Coleman employing Swedish and deep-tissue techniques, adroitly soothed away the aching neck and vexing headache wracking me since morning.
After my treatment I headed to the relaxation garden (one for men, another for women) with inviting steam room, sauna, and outdoor shower. Spa packages include lunch from the delicious and ever-so-healthy spa menu, as well as complimentary homemade grain and nuts bars, candied roasted nuts, dried fresh fruits, and teas. After soaking in the mineral pool, and relieved of my headache I settled into a lounge chair and quickly snoozed off. www.meadowood.com