We've visited a lot of great California spas over the years - these are the best we've found in a hotel and this simple list is how we chose them:
Most Important: Memorable months afterward. You'll find lots of perfectly nice California spas where you could relax all day, but few make a long-lasting impression.
Pocketbook Test: So good that we'd spend our own money to go back (and in some cases, we have).
If you follow other's lists, you'll find some big California spa names missing. We may have been there and found them nice but not memorable - or their prices were over our budget (and probably yours, too).
A comment from one of the spa attendants as I left my massage session sums it up: "I don't have to ask you how it was, I can see it in your face." In fact, the relaxation was so deep that a pot of tea was required just to perk up enough to feel safe driving home. It's all the fault of their signature massage. Developed especially for the spa, it combines aromatherapy with a blend of compressions, stretches, holds and long strokes that are utterly relaxing.
The picture shows the Moroccan Rasul. Briefly described, it's a combination of a clay-based skin treatment and a steam room. We've had similar treatments with other names, but the Se's is by far the best.
Sitting in that gorgeous space may have been the best part - or was it the "spa-tini" to start? Or maybe the private shower and changing area right in the treatment room, with no high-school-gym-style locker room to endure? Relaxing, beautiful, private. What more do we need to say?
Cordevalle is located south of San Jose, just off US Hwy 101 and even though many locals don't even know it exists, it's one of the nicest hotels in the state, with a top-notch spa with a full menu of treatments. You'll never find a crowd here because it's open only to hotel guests.
I had to send my sweetie in to check out the men's spa area - no ladies allowed - it includes a pool table, bar, shoeshines and cigar room.
It's the signature Kuyam experience that makes Spa Ojai memorable. The picture shows the room specially designed for it with lovely stained-glass windows filtering light to a soft blue. Dry heat and inhalation therapy create a relaxing, meditative experience. Overall it provides as much relaxation as a good massage, but for a very reasonable price, giving excellent value for money.
Dr. John "Doc" Wilkinson opened his Calistoga hot springs spa in 1952, inventing the Calistoga mud bath and creating a comfortable, no-frills environment where you can get a mud bath and massage with too much fuss.
No-nonsense attendants make you feel like slipping into a vat of warm, black mud is an every-day occurrence and the prices are reasonable. If your budget is limited, just get the mud bath and skip the massage - you'll still feel blissed out for hours.
You can't beat Big Sur for relaxation and the Ventana Inn's spa can add to the effect. The spa is small and you'll use your room to change into a robe and shower afterward, but don't let the size and lack of frills fool you. The impact is big. Their signature Essence of Big Sur herbal massage is a delicious (and fragrant) combination of hands-on work and massage using warm herbal compresses made from organic and wild-crafted herbs. And as a bonus, you can take the compresses home with you.