What are the best Spa Hot Springs in California?

In California, you can get nekkid and soak in natural hot-springs pools, let your knotted-up muscles be teased into submission at a wine-country spa or rent your own private redwood hot tub under the stars.

Calistoga Volcanic SPA

Calistoga Volcanic mud baths are just what the doctor ordered before a day in the vineyards.

Calistoga is famous for hot-spring spas and mud-bath emporiums, where you’re buried in hot mud and emerge feeling supple, detoxified and enlivened. (The mud is made with volcanic ash and peat; the higher the ash content, the better the bath.)
Packages take 60 to 90 minutes and cost $70 to $90. You start semi-submerged in hot mud, then soak in hot mineral water. A steam bath and blanket-wrap follow. The treatment can be extended with a massage, increasing the cost to $130 and up.
Baths can be taken solo or, at some spas, as couples. Variations include thin, painted-on clay-mud wraps (called ‘fango’ baths, good for those uncomfortable sitting in mud), herbal wraps, seaweed baths and various massage treatments. Discount coupons are sometimes available from the visitors center. Book ahead, especially on summer weekends. Reservations essential at all spas.
The following spas in downtown Calistoga offer one-day packages. Some also offer discounted spa-lodging packages.

  • Indian Springs SPA
    The longest continually operating spa and original Calistoga resort has concrete mud tubs and mines its own ash. Treatments include use of the huge, hot-spring-fed pool. Great cucumber body lotion. www.indianspringscalistoga.com; 1712 Lincoln Ave; 8am-9pm
  • Spa Solage SPA
    Chichi, austere, top-end spa, with couples’ rooms and a fango-mud bar for DIY paint-on treatments. Also has zero-gravity chairs for blanket wraps, and a clothing-optional pool. www.solagecalistoga.com; 755 Silverado Trail; 8am-8pm
  • Dr Wilkinson’s Hot Springs SPA
    Fifty years running; ‘the doc’ uses more peat in its mud. www.drwilkinson.com; 1507 Lincoln Ave; 8:30am-5:30pm
  • Mount View Spa SPA
    Traditional full-service, 12-room spa, good for clean-hands gals who prefer painted-on mud to submersion. www.mountviewhotel.com; 1457 Lincoln Ave; 9am-9pm
  • Lavender Hill Spa SPA
    Small, cute, two-room spa that uses much-lighter, less-icky lavender-infused mud; offers couples’ treatments. www.lavenderhillspa.com; 1015 Foothill Blvd; 10am-6pm, to 8pm Fri & Sat.
  • Golden Haven Hot Springs SPA
    Old-school and unfussy; offers couples’ mud baths and couples’ massage. www.goldenhaven.com; 1713 Lake St; 8am-8pm
  • Calistoga Spa Hot Springs SPA
    Traditional mud baths and massage at a motel complex with two huge swimming pools where kids can play while you soak (pool passes $25). ww.calistogaspa.com; 1006 Washington St; appointments 8:30am-4:30pm Tue-Thu, to 9pm Fri-Mon

Big Sur Take SPA

Big Sur Take an oceanfront sea-cliff dip after midnight at Esalen, or trek into the wilderness to au-naturel Sykes Hot Springs.

Sykes Hot Springs

Sykes Hot Springs, natural 100°F (35°C) mineral pools framed by redwoods, but don’t expect solitude during peak season (April through September).

It’s a moderately strenuous 10-mile one-way hike along the Pine Ridge Trail, starting from Big Sur Station ( Hwy 1; 8am-4pm, closed Mon & Tue Nov-Mar), where you can get free campfire permits and pay for overnight trailhead parking ($5 price).

North Coast SPA

North Coast Find holistic health cures at Harbin Hot Springs, dip into naturally carbonated Vichy Hot Springs, bathe with tree-hugging hippies at Orr Hot Springs or go bohemian hot-tubbing in Arcata.

Harbin Hot Springs SPA

Harbin Hot Springs SPA ( 707-987-2377, 800-622-2477); tent & RV sites midweek/weekend $25/35, dm $35/50, s midweek $60-75, weekend $95-120, d midweek $90-190, weekend $140-260) Harbin is classic Northern California.

Originally a 19th-century health spa and resort, it now has a retreat-center vibe and people come to unwind in silent, clothing-optional hot- and cold-spring pools. This is the birthplace of Watsu (floating massage) and there are wonderful body therapies as well as yoga, holistic-health workshops and 1160 acres of hiking.

Accommodations are in Victorian buildings (which could use sprucing up) and share a common vegetarian-only kitchen. Food is available at the market, cafe and restaurant. Day-trippers are welcome; day rates are $25 and require one member of your group to purchase a membership (one month $10).

The springs are 3 miles (ca. 5 km) off Hwy 175. From Middletown, take Barnes St, which becomes Big Canyon Rd, and head left at the fork.

Avila Beach

Let the kids cavort in the hot-springs swimming pool and waterslide, or book a hillside hot tub for just the two of you.

  • Sycamore Mineral Springs
    ( 805-595-7302, 800-234-5831; www.sycamoresprings.com; 1215 Avila Beach Dr; per person per hr $12.50-17.50; 8am-midnight, last reservation 10:45pm) Make time for a luxuriant soak, where private redwood hot tubs are discreetly laddered up a woodsy hillside. Call in advance for reservations, as it’s often fully booked, especially during summer and on weekends after dark
  • Avila Hot Springs
    ( 805-595-2359; www.avilahotsprings.com; 250 Avila Beach Dr; adult/child under 16yr $10/8; 8am-9pm Sun-Thu, to 10pm Fri & Sat; ) For families, this slightly sulfuric, lukewarm public swimming pool has a pretty cool waterslide (open noon to 5pm daily)