Message Mecca

Laguna Beach coastlineSome vacations leave you sunburned, exhausted and fatter than when you left. Not so with a spa vacation. After a few days of massages, exercise, facials, beauty treatments and low-cal cuisine, you’ll return rested, feeling great and looking great. And guess what? It’s all close to home. San Diego County is home to a number of exceptional spas. In fact, it has the highest concentration of European-style spa resorts in the nation. Here’s a sampling of spas that cater to your every whim – but for a price. Serious relaxation isn’t cheap, but when you’ve got up to four people focused on your well-being for days on end, who can complain?

The Golden Door
The Golden Door is legendary as the grande dame of spas for the pampered world. Located on 177 acres 30 miles north of San Diego, The Door was founded in 1958 by the guru of the fitness movement Deborah Szekely to cater to the most exclusive of guests. And at an inclusive cost of $4,250 for a seven-day stay (mini-stays are not permitted), the services are reflective of the clientele for which the spa was originally designed.

"Each of the 39 guests is made to feel like a pampered only-child," reads the brochure – an understandable claim in consideration of the 4:1 staff/guest ratio. Told to bring only tennis shoes and toiletries, every other need is provided by The Golden Door. As the week begins, a one-on-one meeting with a fitness counselor determines each guest's fitness level. One is then assigned a personal fitness guide to help implement the custom-designed exercise and diet programs.

Set in a $15-million complex reflective of the architecture and attitudes of Japan's ancient honjin inns, the simplicity and serenity have been said to "create as much a state of mind as a health retreat." The weekly cost includes deluxe single accommodations with a private garden, meals, all treatments (skin, beauty and health), daily massage in the guest's room, exercise classes and lectures. The Golden Door is exclusively a women's spa with the exception of five yearly men's weeks and four co-ed weeks. For the budget-minded spa aficionado, there is a summer rate and a periodically-offered special weekly rate of $3,750. Reservations: 760-744-5777 or 800-424-0777.

Laguna Beach sand and surfCal-a-Vie
Joining the ranks among the most exclusive and expensive spas in the world is Cal-a-Vie. The spa is secluded in rolling hills behind an iron-gate entrance with the noted warning, "Private Property, No Trespassing." However, another world emerges after crossing a wooden bridge and entering the tiny pink Mediterranean-style village. Founded nine years ago by spa veterans William and Marlene Power, the couple set out to combine the emphasis American spas place on fitness and nutrition with the most advanced in beauty and body care treatments featured by European spas. The concept worked and has since attracted a broad range of guests, ranging from jet-setting celebrities and heavily stressed CEO's to fitness buffs. (Between 35-40% are repeat visitors.)

Upon arrival and following a private interview, a program tailored to match each client's level of proficiency is developed. The Sunday-to-Sunday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily schedule is preset, making choices and planning unnecessary (of course, any activity is optional). All schedules offer the most rigorous activities in the morning followed by an afternoon of beauty and health treatments, including daily massages. A lively new class offered, Boxercise, is a favorite of recent guest, television star Julianne Phillips. The goal of a Cal-a-Vie stay is to affect a lifestyle change. As each morning begins with a challenging hike up the steep nearby hillside or a less-demanding walk around the adjacent golf course, future participants are encouraged to start walking regularly and drink plenty of water long before their arrival date.

At Cal-a-Vie, each of the 27 guests is given a spacious private room equipped with a sun deck or balcony overlooking an expanse of wilderness. To encourage complete relaxation, however, rooms have no televisions (the resort's only two sets are in public areas). And to accommodate each and every need are four staff members per guest. Like most spas, the cooking is low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium (most women guests drop an average of three to five pounds). Cal-a-Vie's simple, healthy eating has been elevated to gourmet status, evidenced by Oprah Winfrey's stay two years ago when she stole the chef.

The European Plan includes meals, accommodations, all fitness classes, and all (16) therapeutic treatments for a weekly fee of $4,250. The California Plan includes the above with 6 of the 16 treatments for a weekly fee of $3,750. While the majority of sessions are coed, there are one to two women's sessions each month and a few men's and couples' sessions offered during the year. Summer and special rate weeks are also available at $3,750 for the European Plan and $3,450 for the California Plan. Reservations: 760-945-2055.

La Costa Resort & Spa
Well-known in the world of spas, La Costa is cradled in Carlsbad's Costa Brava hills on 450 acres of San Diego's North County. The spa's offerings are impressive as well as expansive, capable of accommodating 300 at one time in both the men's and women's spas. Featuring 478 rooms, suites and private residences, the resort is also known for its golfing and tennis facilities. La Costa's two 18-hole championship golf courses and 23 tennis courts serve as sites for the lead-off event of golf's PGA Tour and the Toshiba Tennis Classic, a prelude to the U. S. Open.

Famed for its Life Fitness and Longevity Center, La Costa offers a variety of programs, each aimed at revitalizing guests while providing a fitness game plan for the future. The resort's separate men's and women's spas offer a comprehensive menu of services including a variety of massage techniques and herbal wraps, a La Costa specialty. Other spa features include herbal baths, saunas, whirlpool baths, rock steam rooms and Roman pools. In addition to the services of a complete beauty salon, Swiss showers, solaria, skin analysis and facials are also featured. The list of spa treatments seems endless. And after a day of health and fitness, the perfect finale is provided by the resort's renowned spa cuisine, served in each of La Costa's restaurants.

Spa treatments can be purchased on an a la carte basis or in combination with a variety of services through one of La Costa's spa packages. The eight-day La Costa Healthy Lifestyles program is one of the most comprehensive and includes accommodations; seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners from the Spa Cuisine Menu; unlimited use of spa facilities, golf and tennis court time; one body composition and fitness evaluation, computerized nutrition analysis, take-home menu and personal lifestyle consultation and 14 one-half hour spa services selected from a variety of treatments. The cost is $595/person per night or $795/couple per night (seven-night minimum stay required). Reservations: 760-438-9111 or 800-729-4772.

Laguna Beach at sunsetLe Meridien San Diego at Coronado
Promising the alluring style of the French, Le Meridien offers astounding bayside views as well. It is across the water from downtown San Diego at the foot of the towering Coronado Bridge. Consisting of 300 guest rooms and suites, in addition to a village of villas, the luxury resort is surrounded by lush landscaping and lagoons, one lagoon being home to rare yet colorful flamingos.

Le Meridien Spa and Clarins Institut de Beaute take pride in pampering their guests. The spa was the first in the United States to offer the specialized treatments and skin care products of the prestigious French company Clarins. Le Meridien also offers a full menu of spa treatments including hydrotherapy baths, herbal wraps, massage and personal fitness assessments and training.

The spa features numerous packages, as well as a la carte services for both men and women. The One Day Rejuvenator includes a Clarins facial, herbal wrap, Swedish massage, a fitness class and a fitness lunch for $167 per person. The Four Day Spa Package is $1,200 for a single and $975 per person double occupancy. This package offers accommodations, two herbal body wraps, two Swedish massages, an herbal bath, three Clarins body treatments, one facial, a make-up application or hair styling, manicure, pedicure, three fitness activities and three fitness cuisine breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Reservations: 619-435-3000 or 800-543-4300.

L'Auberge Del Mar Resort & Spa
Situated in its namesake coastal village, L'Auberge Del Mar rests on a gentle bluff overlooking the ocean. Nestled in the heart of Del Mar, the resort's location evokes an atmosphere of small-town warmth and yet is surrounded by trendy boutiques and tony eateries. Del Mar comes alive each summer during the thoroughbred horseracing season at the nearby Del Mar Racetrack and throughout the Del Mar Fair.

Sitting where the former Stratford Inn catered exclusively to the desires of Pickford and Fairbanks, the 123-room luxury boutique property is proud of its heritage. Hallways throughout the resort showcase photographs of stars like Rudolph Valentino, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez – celebrities who frequented the hotel during its heyday through the 1940s. The focal point of the lobby is a re-creation of the double-sided stone fireplace and hearth, which for years graced the lobby of the original hotel. It is here where guests can relax over traditional afternoon tea service and evening piano entertainment with dancing on Fridays and Saturdays after partaking of a day at the spa.

The resort's European full-service spa caters to both men and women and combines the natural healing wonders of the ocean with advanced European health techniques. Services include Swiss, shiatsu and holistic massages; European facials; aroma and hydrotherapy body treatments and a full range of beauty treatments. A personal trainer is also available to guide guests through a series of health and fitness-oriented tests, techniques, counseling and nutritional guidance.

The Spa at L'Auberge Del Mar can be experienced through a sampler visit for a day, a weekend or a multi-day package, with a la carte treatments also available. The Ladies Day package includes an herbal wrap, therapeutic massage, aromatherapy facial, manicure, pedicure, deep hair conditioning, makeover, light lunch and use of the spa facilities for $285. The four day/three night Spa Rejuvenator package is from $729 to $789 per person/double occupancy, depending on the time of year. It offers accommodations; one herbal wrap; aromatherapy bath; one-hour therapeutic massage; one loofah body scrub; one aromatherapy facial, manicure, pedicure and hand/foot treatment; daily workout with a personal trainer; unlimited use of steam room, Swiss shower and dry sauna and complimentary use of the Sports Pavilion and tennis courts. Reservations: 858-259-1515 or 800-553-1336.

Regency Salon & Spa – Hyatt Regency San Diego
Because of the location of Hyatt Regency San Diego, guests are surrounded by the excitement the downtown area provides. The hotel is adjacent to Seaport Village and is a short walk from the San Diego Convention Center, the eateries and antique shops of the Gaslamp District and Horton Plaza's shopping. At 40 stories, Hyatt Regency San Diego is the tallest waterfront building on the West Coast. And while its slender profile preserves the city's bay views, each of its 875 guest rooms and suites have waterfront views, as do the restaurants, pool and the adjacent Regency Salon & Spa.

Offering both men and women a variety of exercise and health options, the spa reflects the merging of a state-of-the-art business hotel with a world-class resort. The glass-fronted spa overlooks the luxurious palm tree enhanced, column-fronted 75-foot outdoor pool and its surrounding courtyard. Several professional spa, massage and skin care treatments are offered. In addition to a range of traditional massages (which are also offered in guests' rooms at no additional cost), is the increasingly popular chair massage, geared to the business traveler and offered on-site at a cost of $1 per minute. A European-trained massage therapist specializing in facial massages is also available to provide full facial treatments.

Regency Salon & Spa specializes in Aveda body treatments. The body polish is a full-body exfoliating treatment, which refines the skin. The aroma body wrap is a full-body hydrotherapy treatment. And the essential back treatment improves the overall appearance of the skin, relieves stress and deeply cleanses the back. Makeovers and special beauty workshops are available as well. Pre-dinner/post-meeting aerobic classes have been instituted for the on-the-go guest who needs to be energized after a long day - working off calories, relieving stress and rejuvenating the participant for the evening. Small life cycles can be delivered to a guest's room at a cost of $20/day or $5/hour.

While all treatments are offered a la carte, A Day of Beauty package priced at $275 includes a one hour body massage, facial, shampoo, cut, set or blow dry, manicure, pedicure, make-up and lunch. Reservations: 619-232-1234 or 800-233-1234. Salon/Spa Appointments: 619-696-9641 x4949.

Sheraton Harbor Island Resort
The 21-year old Sheraton Harbor Island Resort is in a perfect location. It is situated between San Diego Bay and a picturesque marina, adjacent to San Diego's International Airport and across the water from downtown. While providing the ideal launching pad for guests to partake of the city's innumerable activities, the Sheraton also offers the opportunity to simply relax. In addition to major changes being instituted throughout the entire hotel during last year's $32-million renovation, the property's two pool areas were completely excavated and rebuilt. The results are the creation of theatrical and fantastic environments with waterfalls, rock formations, giant whirlpools and bronze statuettes of sea creatures.

Steps from this outdoor fantasy is the Spa & Fitness Center, which was expanded during the extensive process to incorporate a spa facility into the existing fitness center. The co-ed center now offers a complete array of health, beauty and fitness options designed to create a total sense of well-being. Treatments include facials, full-body seaweed wrap, body polish, aromatherapy body treatment and a variety of both wet and dry massages. The Spa & Fitness Center prides itself on having top technicians. Singer Ben Vereen agrees – as a result of a recent massage at the center, one of the massage therapists travels with him when on tour. A full assortment of beauty services is also offered. A fitness instructor is available for a private consultation to access one's needs and set-up a customized program as well.

Dining at the hotel includes selections from the newly-devised Cuisine of America, a collaboration of Sheraton's top chefs instituting nutritionally-sound, tasty food choices which are low in calories, low in fat, low in sodium and high in fiber. A perfect wrap-up to a day at the spa is to sit poolside and sample this healthy choice cuisine.

While a la carte treatments are offered, one of the packages from which to choose is the Mini Spa Day (four hours), which includes a one-hour aromatherapy massage, a one-hour deluxe European facial, manicure, pedicure, shampoo and style at a cost of $200. Reservations: 619-291-2900 or 800-325-3535. Spa Appointments: 619-692-2288.

Bellissima Day Spa
Conceived by Puerto Rican born Nita Bryson to offer a one-stop health and beauty center, Bellissima Day Spa was born. The second of her two spa facilities in San Diego County, Bryson's downtown spa is in the exclusive Paladion shopping and dining complex. This 4,500-square-foot location is bathed in warm tones of pink, tan, burgundy and forest green. Romanesque arches, columns and statuary lend a distinctly European feeling to Bellissima; and the continual piping of relaxing music aids in creating a healthful and pampering experience.

The wide array of services includes such traditional treatments as seaweed body wraps, Swedish massage and European facials. More exotic therapies offered are lymphatic massage, body envelopment and oxygen facials, while a French pedicure chair is promised to provide the most luxurious of pedicures. With eight technicians, the downtown location can accommodate 10 - 15 clients at a time while the larger 11,000 square-foot Escondido location in San Diego's North County is capable of servicing 20 - 25 clients. With the exception of one evening each week, the remainder of spa time is for women only.

The Bellissima at the Paladion is surrounded by an assortment of downtown hotels and is the ideal option for adding a spa experience to a San Diego stay. In addition to a la carte services, several packages are possible. The Deluxe Day of Pampering, priced at $365, includes herbal steam, body polish, hydrotherapy tub, aromatherapy massage, lunch in the spa's garden room, aromatherapy facial, manicure, French spa pedicure, hair style, make up and limousine service to and from the spa (if within a 15-mile radius). Appointments: 619-234-7722 (Downtown) or 760-480-9072 (Escondido).

All packages mentioned require advance reservations. Package prices may vary with the season. While rates quoted should be valid through the end of the year, there may be some holiday exclusions. Also, gratuities and tax may be extra.