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Spa Retreats

Learn where—and how—to get a total reset. And why it’s not just an indulgence, say experts, but a critical part of your overall well-being.

By Thea Marie Rood
Cover photo by Jason Sinn

Life is busy. Whether you’re a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, you long for more hours in the day. You’re sleeping fitfully and for too short a time—but keep yourself going with buckets of sugar and gallons of coffee. You’re eating your preschooler’s leftovers and calling it dinner—or worse yet, idling in a drive-thru line and feeding everyone badly. All it takes is a forgotten meeting, a toddler with an ear infection or the engine light coming on to make you feel that you too are about to blow a gasket.

So it’s unlikely, given this scenario, your first thought is, “Hmmm, I better just pack up and leave town for a relaxing weekend.” Except here’s the thing: That might be exactly what you should do.

“In the West, when we’re tired and depleted, we think we’re being lazy and need to work harder,” says Valerie Goulding, owner of VitalLiving Ayurveda Massage & Wellness Spa in Nevada City. “But in the East, there’s a belief that there are times in each day, each season, each year, when we need to renew ourselves, seek out rejuvenation and rest.”

Goulding suggests women are the most prone to losing themselves in the shuffle of work and family life, with no time for introspection or caring for themselves. And what happens when a woman puts herself dead last all the time? “If you keep going, you risk developing disease,” says Goulding. “And if you lose your connection to yourself, the whole family suffers.”

In fact, a short time away can lead to a critical change in perspective—especially if it involves rest and relaxation. “When you are incredibly relaxed, you get to hit this deep space of reset,” says Goulding, and solutions begin to appear that didn’t seem obvious just a few short hours ago.

There are also genuine physical benefits when you offset the effects of a long, cold, dry winter. A cleansing diet to relieve the liver and refresh the digestive system is a perfect jump-start for spring, says Goulding. Massage can also calm the nervous system and stimulate a sluggish immune system. Wraps or salt scrubs can reduce skin inflammation and spring allergies.

What this means is a spa weekend is not a naughty luxury, a selfish indulgence, but rather an important part of regaining tools that make you more focused and better able to handle life’s challenges. “It really should be non-negotiable,” urges Goulding. “A woman should not only be given space to create new practices for herself, it should be actively encouraged.”

Here are five examples of spas in our region that will nourish your soul and provide you that crucial step back from the fray of daily life. Go with your best friend, your mother, your sister or all by yourself. And feel free to leave this magazine—open to this very page—on your spouse’s or children’s pillows until Mother’s Day.

Ritz Carlton Spa

Massage for two at the Ritz-Carlton. Photograph courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton.

What To Look For

All Natural Products
As you begin to detox and decompress, it’s important you aren’t inadvertently exposing yourself to a lot of chemicals. Choose a spa where every product used—from the eucalyptus aromatherapy in the steam room to the nail polish on your freshly massaged and de-calloused toes—is eco-friendly. “The line we use is from Olga Lorencin,” says Traci Burgard, spa supervisor of the Double Eagle Spa at Snowcreek in Mammoth Lakes. “The lotions are very natural; you want to eat them, they smell so good—limes, apples, honey. And we don’t use any acrylic nail polishes.”

A Relaxing Ambiance
When you’re searching for that reset, you don’t want to come out of a relaxing massage and go straight into freeway traffic or home to a houseful of hungry kids. It’s worth it to drive 45 minutes or an hour to find a peaceful setting for your spa experience—a forest or a lake view as opposed to your neighborhood Safeway shopping center—and give yourself the buffer of a pretty drive home with your favorite music playing. And even if you don’t spend the weekend, at least look for a spa where you can elongate the experience: a yoga class, a pool or whirlpool (preferably outdoors), a cool mist shower or sauna. Healthy food is an important component to the day too—cheese and fruit, juices and teas during your treatments; a nearby or on-site farm-to-fork restaurant afterward.

Room for a Friend
You may want to go it alone, but if you want to share the experience, most spas have packages and rooms to accommodate two or more people at the same time. There might also be a discount in price, extra services available, or perks like a bottle of Prosecco.

A Lasting Effect
You can of course buy the luscious products on your way out, but you also should be inspired to try some things at home, whether it’s self-massage, a cleansing diet, meditation, yoga or other gentle exercise. Not only will you hang on to those peaceful feelings longer, your entire family can benefit: Find a yoga class for you and your daughter or spouse; make it a family project to eat clean food; incorporate a sense of mindfulness and presence in your daily interactions.

What To Avoid

The Wrong Type of Spa
The word spa can mean a lot of things, from a place that will pamper you with warm indigenous stones found in Lake Tahoe to a place that does brows. Make sure the spa you choose will give you the deep experience you’re looking for—with sophisticated treatment options and skilled and licensed therapists. You also want to avoid strong chemicals—or heavy chemical smells—in any of the products being used on or around you.

A Place You Feel Uncomfortable
Maybe you like to chat during a massage, but maybe you like to lie there quietly and drift in and out— your massage therapist should be sensitive to that. Also, she should ask your preferences in terms of how deep a massage to give you—if you prefer gentle pressure, a series of massages to iron out kinks is a better option than one that leaves you feeling beat-up the next day. And while you may want to buy products at the end of your treatment, you shouldn’t have to fend off a hard sell. Lastly, you should expect any spa to be scrupulously clean—if it isn’t, don’t stick around.

Spa, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee, CA
530-562-3000 •
Photographs courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton

This luxurious spa is located at The Ritz-Carlton, adjacent to Northstar and close to the beaches of Lake Tahoe. The 17,000-square-foot spa has 17 treatment rooms and a relaxation area, which includes a eucalyptus steam room, cool mist shower, dry sauna, whirlpool and a heated outdoor adult-only lap pool. There is also a fitness center, with classes such as Alpenglow Yoga, Active Stretch and Virtual Spin.

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Make it a weekend: The Ritz-Carlton hotel lobby.

The spa is launching several new treatment packages this spring—centered around water and forest themes—that range in price from $185 to $685.

Tahoe Tree of Life
This 75-minute treatment includes a foaming salt soak and hot stone massage, using warmed indigenous stones from the lake. “The aromatic salt soak restores the body and mind; the warm stones help reactivate the body and calm the nervous system—allowing you to come out of hibernation,” says Spa Director Candice Betz.

Heated Pool Ritz-Carlton

Pre- or post-massage: Swim a lap in the heated outdoor pool.

Mother’s Day Recommendations
Betz recommends the Lake Tahoe Stone Massage to intensely soothe tired, aching muscles and aid relaxation; or the Age-Defying Facial, which combats visible signs of aging and smoothes fine lines. Both these treatments can be 50 or 80 minutes long.

Ritz-Carlton Copper Tub Spa

Soak in the copper tub as part of the Journey Through the Forest treatment.

Journey Through the Forest
Billed as the spa’s most indulgent package, this 90-minute treatment is offered in a room for two with a copper tub (mothers and daughters, sisters or best friends are welcome). An inspiring dose of forest air is created with a blend of native essential oils, designed to release deep stress and tension, as well as stimulate your immune system. It includes full body exfoliation, a private soaking tub and a full body massage.

Make It a Weekend
“Of course, we would recommend staying at The Ritz-Carlton,” says Betz, where rooms include gas fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows, and your spouse can play golf while you’re at the spa. She also recommends the on-site restaurant Manzanita, with killer views, a seasonal menu, an extensive wine list, and a backyard bar and barbecue. “If resort guests wish to leave the property,” says Betz, “nearby Downtown Truckee has some great restaurants and wine bars.”

VitalLiving Ayurveda Massage & Wellness Spa
100 N. Pine St., Nevada City, CA
530-264-8855 •
Photography by Kat Alves

This intriguing spa is located in Historic Downtown Nevada City and offers a holistic approach to mind and body using the ancient Eastern philosophy of Ayurveda.

The spa offers two signature treatments, a variety of individual options and some unique combinations. Prices range from $95 to $1,125.

VitaLiving Ayurveda Spa

Individualized body treatments can last one hour, three hours, or take place over several days.

Ayurvedic Massage
This 90-minute massage includes warm, organic, herb-infused oils that deeply penetrate and nourish the skin and senses, lulling your mind and body into total relaxation. The treatment stimulates circulation and detoxification, and your nervous system is calmed and rejuvenated.

The Blissful Mind
This 60-minute treatment focuses on calming your mind, body and spirit. While you lie comfortably on your back, heated oil—also organic and infused with herbs—is gently streamed over your brow for 15–30 minutes. The process stimulates the nerves on your forehead and scalp, causing neurotransmitters to deeply relax your body. It can also facilitate the release of serotonin and can elevate alpha and theta brain wave activity, lessening obsessive thoughts and giving you a sense of peacefulness. It includes a half-hour massage.

Other Individualized Treatments
Also offered are 60-minute healing treatments for specific areas of the body, including sinuses, lower back, ears, eyes and feet (reflexology). Or choose a facial rejuvenation, which includes soothing exfoliation, a face and scalp massage, followed by an herbal treatment to open your pores and leave your skin glowing. Another option—that can be combined with other treatments—is an herbal steam, which clears the toxins from your body and relaxes your muscles.


Ayurveda is an ancient Eastern philosophy.

These three-hour combinations can be completely individualized for you, or you can choose between Pleasure, Liberation, The Tech Detox or The Healing Heart. Each is designed to address a specific issue: Pleasure will dissolve your worries and bring you calm and quietude; Liberation deeply warms and detoxifies your body, liberating your senses; The Tech Detox pulls you from your computer screen and cures your aching eyes, hyperactive mind and dark mood; The Healing Heart is for those who’ve lost a loved one, are in the middle of a painful divorce or going through a life transition.

Three-Day Rejuvenation
This intensive is designed to gently cleanse your system with herbs and foods prepared especially for you, and includes three to four hours a day of massage and other therapeutic treatments. You are also given a program to follow at home (that involves journaling, meditation and yoga). The spa offers continued consultation—in person or over the phone—as you move along in your process.

Make It a Weekend
The spa’s owner, Valerie Goulding, encourages out-of-town clients to stay within walking distance: Gold Creek Inn (317 Pine St., 530-264-7548, and Outside Inn (which has kitchenettes and welcomes dogs—575 E. Broad St., Nevada City, 530-265-2233, “Close-by recommended eats are Elixart, South Pine Cafe, Sushi at Nourish, Ike’s Quarter Cafe and Sopa Thai Cuisine,” says Goulding.

Ascent Spa, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
1122 Highway 41, Fish Camp, CA
559-683-6555 •
Photographs courtesy of The Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

This eco-friendly spa is located at Tenaya Lodge, just 3 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park. In addition to an array of spa services, Tenaya offers morning yoga on a terrace overlooking the mountains; you can also fish, raft, bike, hike, ride horses or stargaze before or after your spa experience. There are even paint-and-wine evenings frequently on the schedule.

Tenaya Lodge Spa

All spa guests have full access to Tenaya Lodge’s pools and hot tubs.

Spa services include body treatments, massage, facials, nails and combination packages. Prices range from $65 to $465.

Special Recommendations for Spring
The Cathedral Lakes Detoxifying Wrap alleviates dehydrated and itchy winter skin, and improves skin tone, elasticity and clarity. It can be combined with the Mirror Lake Skin Polish, which rejuvenates skin by hydrating and nourishing it. Other body therapies include salt and aromatherapy scrubs, using antioxidants and essential oils (some of which can be customized for you and sent home).

Mother’s Day Gifts
“The 90-minute signature treatments make a wonderful Mother’s Day gift,” says Spa Manager Stacy Duncan. “These specialty treatments begin with an herbal foot soak and end with a delicious cheese and cracker plate. Guests can choose between a massage, facial or body treatment.” She also suggests if a mother and daughter want to come together, they could enjoy side-by-side treatments, such as a 60-minute Amethyst Relaxation Massage, followed by a 60-minute Wildflower Cleansing Facial. You can also opt for a package that includes a massage and facial, as well as a manicure, pedicure and spa gift. All day-spa guests have full access to the resort’s pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas and fitness area.

Yoga at Tenaya

Morning yoga at Tenaya.

Make It a Weekend
Tenaya Lodge has recently rolled out the Spa 120 Special, which pairs a two-hour customized spa treatment with a two-night stay at the resort, as well as a 10-percent dining discount. Dining at Tenaya includes Sierra Restaurant, with a towering limestone fireplace; Jackalope’s Bar and Grill, offering pub fare and burgers; Embers, renowned for its flaming dishes; and Timberloft Pizza, serving artisanal brick-oven pizzas and pasta. “And of course no stay at Tenaya is complete without a visit to Yosemite National Park,” says Duncan.

Amador Wellness Cottage
16700 Highway 49, Plymouth, CA
209-304-1415 •
Photography by Jason Sinn

This charming spa is located on four private acres in the Shenandoah Valley wine region, on the outskirts of Plymouth. The cottage itself can house up to four overnight guests, and can be rented on its own through Airbnb, with or without spa services. And spa services can be arranged without spending the night. Whichever option you choose, try and stay until dusk: Owner Brandy LaRae, a massage therapist and clinical hypnotherapist, says the sunsets are particularly gorgeous all year round.

Spa treatments include massage, hypnotherapy, mini spa retreats and the Serenity Sleep Retreat. Prices range from $50 to $125.

Amador Wellness Cottage Spa

Inside the Wellness Cottage, which can be reserved overnight for up to four guests.

Springtime Recommendations
LaRae suggests a 60-minute Full Body Salt Scrub, which gently exfoliates, detoxifies and soothes dry winter skin. Using a combination of mineral-rich Dead Sea salts, hydrating brown sugar, organic oils and therapeutic-grade essential oils, this treatment gives you glowing skin and can also reduce springtime allergies (effects of the high bromide and magnesium in the salt).

The salt scrub can be combined with a 30-, 60- or 90-minute massage—and LaRae is trained in therapeutic, deep tissue, Swedish, prenatal and migraine body treatments. You might also want to add a sugar-scrub facial exfoliation, aromatherapy or an infrared sauna.

Mini Spa Retreats
LaRae offers a PMS Pamper Session, using massage and essential oils to regulate hormones and reduce cramping, headaches, nausea and joint pain. She is also rolling out a Moon Lodge retreat for women needing a time out: It includes massage, aromatherapy, healthy refreshments and time to be alone to read, nap or journal.

A retreat can also be arranged for groups: A fun evening for mothers and daughters, for example, is the Mini Spa Retreat Party. This includes an aromatherapy foot bath, a facial station (cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing with natural, organic ingredients), a facial massage, hand massage and guided meditation. A spa gift is included—a salt scrub, body oil or sugar scrub—that you can custom blend to enjoy at home. Finally, each person can add a 30-minute full-body massage.

Spa Treatments at Amador Wellness Cottage

Arrange spa treatments of 30, 60 or 90 minutes.

Serenity Sleep Retreat
This overnight escape begins with an infrared sauna session, followed by a soothing 90-minute massage using organic oils that are designed to support the nervous system and promote restful sleep. It concludes with a back scrub, after which you retire to the Wellness Cottage and its king-size bed to sleep the night away, uninterrupted.

Make It a Weekend
Cozy and welcoming with hardwood floors, a big front porch and a full kitchen, the Wellness Cottage can be arranged overnight for up to four guests (or you by yourself of course). It is also the perfect location for exploring the California Gold Country, says La Rae: “There are over a dozen wineries and Amador Flower Farm only minutes away, as well as the charming, historic Main streets of Amador City, Sutter Creek and Jackson, filled with antiques, unique shops and good food.” She also suggests guests can hike, pan for gold, fish and kayak. Her restaurant recommendations include breakfast at Element in Sutter Creek (“for the best bacon ever!”) and lunch or dinner at the farm-to-fork Rosebud’s in Jackson or the always-elegant Taste in Plymouth.

Double Eagle Spa at Snowcreek
Snowcreek Athletic Club
51 Club Drive, Mammoth Lakes, CA
760-934-8511 •
Photography by Ben Canevari

This fun spa is located in scenic Mammoth Lakes at the Snowcreek Athletic Club, where spa guests have a complimentary day-pass to enjoy all the club has to offer. “People like to start their day at 9 a.m. with a yoga class, then have a spa treatment, then soak in the Jacuzzi or take a eucalyptus steam,” says General Manager Sharon Harvey. “There is also a big outdoor pool, tennis courts, and an on-site Japanese restaurant.” If your spouse or kids are along, they are welcome to swim or lounge by the pool, play basketball or racquetball, or (with prior arrangement) join a dance class or the trampoline club—all while you are relaxing in a treatment room.

The spa offers over 40 services, ranging from massage and body treatments to facials and nails—and all are designed to promote relaxation and rejuvenation. Prices range from $35 to $125 (a child mani or pedi can also be added for just $20). “A nice gift is the trilogy package,” says Harvey. “This is any three treatments.” Spa guests can also enjoy lemon water, tea and fresh fruit; and couples’ packages (perfect for sisters or a mom and her daughter) include Prosecco or champagne.

Double Eagle Spa at Snowcreek

Use your complimentary day pass to enjoy the club’s amenities, like this large jetted whirlpool.

Massage and Body Treatments
Start off with a Vichy shower body exfoliation, then move into a Swedish massage (that can have add-ons of hot stones, aromatherapy or hand-and-foot reflexology). Specialized massages are also available: an Athletic Experience, which uses hot compresses and gentle stretching to improve flexibility; or a prenatal treatment. Massages are either 50 or 80 minutes.

The Kinara Red Carpet Facial is especially popular: It combines lactic and amino acids that exfoliate, steam-clean pores and even skin tone. Other options are the Sierra Cleansing Facial (which includes a mask application), the Oxygenating Facial and the Microdermabrasion Facial. Collagen treatments to lips, eyes, or the whole face can be added, as well as paraffin treatments for the hands and feet. All facials also include a face, neck and shoulder massage.

Double Eagle offers traditional, French and gel pedicures and manicures, and the spa uses no acrylic nail polishes. They are also the only spa in the area with massaging spa chairs. The one-hour pedicure includes full callous removal and a long foot massage. Paraffin treatments for hands and feet can also be added.

Vichy shower at Double Eagle Spa

Try a Vichy shower body exfoliation prior to a Swedish massage.

Make It a Weekend
You can certainly make it a day with yoga classes, a pool to lounge beside, and activities for your family. But spa personnel also recommend staying longer. “We have an arrangement with the Westin Hotel—they can book your spa treatments and shuttle you back and forth, you can charge everything to your room,” says Harvey. (The Westin Monache Resort, 50 Hillside Drive, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 760-934-0400, There are also bed-and-breakfast inns and condo rentals with club privileges. Restaurant recommendations include the Bistro East Restaurant at the club, as well as Lynn’s Garden of Eating, the Mammoth Tavern and Black Velvet Coffee (which includes craft beer and a wine bar).

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