The Sumptuous Spa of San Diego

Golden Door ( and Cal A Vie ( are both exclusive, all-inclusive and intimate destination spas located about 40 miles north of downtown on properties with hundreds of acres of hiking trails. Each possesses a strikingly unique ambiance that influences the experience, yet both share a multitude of similarities. They are home to fully integrated programs with pre-breakfast hikes, hourly fitness choices (for a wide range of body capabilities), daily beauty and body services and “edutainment” programs. (At both, a weekly, chef-led cooking class draws the largest attendance.)


Multi-generational spa guests range from fitness junkies to couch potatoes, all of who dine on three beautifully presented, heart-healthy meals plus two snacks made with freshly picked produce from the chefs’ gardens. At both, after comprehensive interviews, guests learn about their daily schedules each morning at breakfast. Be forewarned: Both spas offer in-room telephones with Internet access, but televisions are in the lounges only.

At Golden Door, Zen-like Japanese serenity is artfully enhanced with magical landscaping. “The Door” is a destination where sophisticates retreat to streamline their complicated lives as much as their waistlines. As part of the price, guests receive in-room massage and beauty services daily, as well as personal training sessions three times a week. General Manager Rachel Caldwell oversees the 39-room, 39-guest resort. The program features nine varieties of yoga, meditative sessions and exuberant pool and dance classes.


Refurbishments are ongoing (new bathrooms, flooring, fabrics), and recently constructed additions include a labyrinth, a mountain cabin for Hot Stone massages, and a water-therapy pool. Insider tip: Many guests arrive at and leave Golden Door in their traveling clothes; they ship hiking boots, sneakers and underwear (perhaps a tennis racket) ahead of time and wear clothes provided by the spa, including a Kimono at dinner. Call Reservations Manager Debbie Miller (800-424-0777) to request G6, the only stand-alone cottage. A5, A6 and A7 are super-quiet rooms facing the sand garden.
VIP guests may prefer the privacy of in-room meals, limousine transfers and evening massages (extra).

Cal A Vie appears on a hill like a villa in St. Tropez. In fact, the entire mise-en-scene resembles an idealized village-in-Provence complete with stone and stucco, tiles and turrets, a running stream, a profusion of roses—even the scent of lavender. Since 2000, the young, new owners, Terri and John Havens, have been improving the property (this is where Oprah discovered her former chef, Rosie Daley), investing in new buildings (they’ve spent $10 million) and decorating with French Provincial accents and antiques.

They’ve also just opened a state-of-the-art, 17,000-square-foot fitness facility. Expect Mediterranean tiles in new bathrooms, toile fabrics and Frette linens. The result? Twenty-two people (maximum) feel like pampered houseguests. Marilyn Fraser (760-945-2055), front office manager, recommends corner rooms 9 and 15, which have wooden decks and overlook the canyon. Agents can contact General Manager Debbie Zie at [email protected] Concierge Kris Klaus takes care of limousine and car rentals and other VIP needs.


Four Seasons Resort Aviara ( in Carlsbad, North County, has been recognized for the quality of its rooms, service, restaurants (Vivace serves fine and authentic Tuscan food) and sumptuous 20,000-square-foot spa.

Be sure to reserve the private couple’s suite at the 25-room spa; it has a living room with a fireplace, patio and Watsu pool. The 80-minute “Four Seasons In One” treatment is the most requested. The activities desk regularly schedules yoga, Pilates and morning walks on the Batiquitos Trail around the lagoon.

Insider tips: Butler service at the resort is available at $75 an hour with a four-hour minimum. And, while the resort is inland and faces a golf course that borders a lagoon, many rooms—especially the Presidential Suites—have ocean views from their terraces.
Call Evelyn Shimada (760-603-6873), travel industry sales manager, to book rooms and spa appointments 30 days in advance for VIP guests. A member of the prestigious Clefs d’Or organization, Chef Concierge Sarah Gagliardi arranges for limousines, jets and other unique VIP requests. 

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