Summer Camp for Grown-Ups

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Solitude at Golden Door.

Summer Camp for Grown-Ups

A week of wellness at an iconic Southern California spa.

There is an actual Golden Door.
Fancy footwork at a boxing session.

By Elaine Srnka

“More and more couples are asking for options in place of the traditional beach vacation. They want to spend their time off doing something good for themselves.” – Virtuoso travel advisor Stacy Small

Waking up before daybreak for a five-mile mountain hike can tell you a lot about yourself. You already know if you’re a morning person (otherwise you’d probably stay in bed). But does your competitive nature propel you to the front of the pack to reach the summit first? Or maybe you fall back from the other hikers, moving at your own pace. Do you chatter nonstop or seize the solitude for internal reflection? Take in the beauty of your surroundings or focus on the trail ahead?
Last summer I had the opportunity to discover that and more about myself, my traveling companions, and the guests I befriended during a retreat at the Golden Door resort,
a health spa outside San Diego. Though it’s women-only for most of the year, on select weeks the resort welcomes men and co-ed groups. My husband and I joined friends for a week of wellness, a departure from our typical couples’ getaway plan, which usually centers on doing nothing more than eating and drinking too much while lounging by a hotel pool.

Before arriving, we completed questionnaires about our fitness level, goals, and interests, and interviewed with a Golden Door staffer who explained the myriad activities and mapped out a daily program for each of us.
Here, a few highlights and tips for a Golden Door stay.

Set on 600 acres in San Marcos, the Golden Door has attracted sybarites and celebrities for nearly 60 years. Under the aegis of new owners – who bestowed it with multi- million-dollar upgrades and a four-to-one staff-to-guest ratio – the resort aims to be a transformational retreat for mind, body, and soul. (Even its business model makes you feel good: Through its Golden Door Foundation, the spa donates 100 percent of its net profits to charity.)

There really is a golden door, which signals a transition from the outside world to the tranquil ryokan within, where Japanese art and architecture create a Zen vibe. The serenity extends to the 40 minimalist-luxe guest rooms, each with a private deck and garden, and a bath stocked with the resort’s own line of face and body products (all of which are also available for sale).

Don’t be thrown off by the name badges issued upon check-in – you’ll quickly appreciate how the unconventional guest IDs facilitate friendly conversation with others.
“The social aspect was a pleasant surprise,” says Reid Berman, a 54-year-old Florida real estate developer I met during our stay. “I was looking for a holistic fitness program and didn’t think that camaraderie was important to me. But it ended up being a gigantic part of the experience and is probably what sets Golden Door apart from other spas.”

In addition to name badges, the resort provides workout clothes (though most people prefer to wear their own) and offers complimentary daily laundry service.

After that optional morning hike (by the way, I’m a talker who likes to finish first), take your pick of activities from the dizzying list of offerings. Start with a stretch class or tai chi, followed by cardio tennis, tabata boxing (my favorite), archery (led by a former Olympian), or barre Pilates. Meet your personal trainer in the fitness center for a workout, then hit the pool before lunch for water volleyball with the staff. The schedule’s as packed – and as strenuous – as you wish, and guests excitedly compare notes about favorite activities and what class to take next.

Schedule your daily in-room massage – a decadence included in the rate – and head to the bathhouse-style spa for facial and body treatments. Two outdoor labyrinths encourage quiet mindfulness, and seminars cover topics such as meditation, sleep enhancement, nutrition, and pain management.

Fresh, healthy, and tailored to any dietary restriction, executive chef Greg Frey Jr.’s inventive spa cuisine stands out as a delicious highlight. Breakfast, served en suite, might be a frittata using vegetables from the resort’s gardens; poolside lunches range from pizzas to sandwiches and salads; three-course dinners feature such entrees as coriander-crusted scallops, herb-roasted Cornish game hens, or baked tagliatelle, served family-style at communal tables. And yes, there’s dessert (go ahead, ask for seconds).

Originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Virtuoso Life.
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