Northern California’s landscape provides a stunning backdrop for travelers searching for the ultimate health trifecta of mental, physical, and emotional recharge. Its acres of redwoods, endless miles of coastline, and rugged mountain peaks can create a spaciousness in the mind, an openness that allows visitors to take a deep breath and escape from daily life.
Until fairly recently, wellness travel emphasized starvation-style boot camps or expensive spa weekends to detox from unhealthy habits. According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness travel is one of the fastest-growing segments of tourism. It is expected to grow to $919 billion by 2022 and now reflects a myriad of healing practices.
Wellness tourism can be all-season hygge, or simplicity, like watching birds at sunset, picking your own fresh produce to enjoy for lunch, melting into a simple massage, indulging in local haute cuisine, or hiking through the woods. The ambiance can vary from rustic to elegant, with prices just as varied. NorCal is definitely one of the best places to discover what helps you relax and unwind.
These healing destinations promote self-exploration and revitalization. You can choose to take a simple weekend getaway or plan a longer excursion. All five properties are in sanctuaries of nature, creating the ideal place to cleanse and restore the spirit, anytime, or at least try to. Here are some of the best wellness destinations in Northern California.
1. Allegretto Vineyard Resort, Paso Robles
The sprawling Allegretto Vineyard Resort is like a slice of Tuscany. It is set among 20 acres of vineyards, olive trees, and fruit-bearing orchards, and is five miles from Paso Robles’ downtown hub of activity. The owner, a visionary who practices Eastern philosophy, meditation, and yoga, spent years creating a harmonized refuge, based on the spirituality he studied around the globe. The Italian-themed architecture beautifully complements the quiet walking paths, fountains, and cozy sitting areas tucked inside manicured gardens. You can enjoy a personal afternoon at the spa, pool, and cabanas, or immerse yourself in a guided distillery tour and mixology class. The Cello Ristorante & Bar emphasizes locally farmed and foraged cuisine like the risotto del giorno (risotto of the day), which varies based on the availability of regional produce. The world’s first Sonic Labyrinth is here too. As you walk along a circling stone path off the side of the resort, cascading sounds wash over you, creating the sense of a sound bath for the soul.
Where: 2700 Buena Vista Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446
2. Esalen Institute, Big Sur
Perched on a rocky ledge above the Pacific Ocean is the iconic 27-acre Esalen Institute, about 150 miles south of San Francisco. This educational space was founded in 1962 as a nonprofit workshop, with the intention of “pioneering deep change in self and society.” Over 400 alternative classes and personal growth workshops are offered each year, addressing all aspects of body, mind, and spirit. Subjects range from photography, poetry, problem solving, and yoga to self-exploration, spiritual journeys, sustainability, and digital detox. When planning your visit be sure to check out the list of upcoming workshops.
Where: 55000 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920
3. Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite
This rustic-chic inn sits inside California’s High Sierra mountain range, two miles outside the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park. Guests can fill their days with guided nature walks, take a swim in one of three pools, unwind in the world-class spa, take archery lessons with a private instructor, or scramble up an outdoor climbing wall. In the evening an experienced “dark sky” guide leads a nighttime hike. The lodge is also a short drive from the Mariposa Grove trail, home to 500 giant sequoia trees, some of Earth’s largest living organisms.
Where: 1122 Highway 41, Fish Camp, CA 93623
4. Stanford Inn by the Sea, Mendocino
This classic eco-resort is a three-and-a-half-hour drive north of San Francisco. The oceanfront town of Mendocino is surrounded by estuaries filled with birds, winding rivers, and redwood forests. This resort has over a dozen weekly classes at its holistic and integrated wellness center. Courses include yoga, Chinese medicine, and art therapy. Gardening instructors offer classes like “bio-intensive gardening” at the certified organic property farm that supplies much of the produce to the award-winning, on-site restaurant.
Where: 44850 Comptche Ukiah Road, Mendocino, CA 95460
5. Silent Stay Meditation Retreat Center, Vacaville
Vacaville is approximately 55 miles northeast of San Francisco and is known for alpaca farming and agriculture. This meditation and retreat center is also a nonprofit organization, situated on a quiet mountaintop that encompasses 25 acres of farmland. The ground is rich with honey, peaches, lavender, and apricots, and is surrounded by several hundred acres of additional land. When you enter, you must take a vow of silence. In this personal and collective quiet, you can walk, read, journal, garden, or swim in your free time. Twice a day you’re encouraged to join the center’s unique “heartfulness” meditation, which combines modern psychology with Christian and Eastern mystical practices.
Where: 3570 Cantelow Road, Vacaville, CA 95688