The Golden Door enjoys a well-deserved reputation as the world’s best destination spa; it’s also a gift that keeps on giving in a memory bank of fabulous family experiences. The 600-acre retreat in north San Diego County offers an annual calendar with dedicated weeks for women-only or men-only, themed weeks and a few Co-Ed weeks that welcome guests aged 16 and older. Of the five Co-Ed weeks offered in 2019, the final one — a five-night package — will take place Dec. 15. It’s an extraordinary holiday present!
If your multigenerational family is lucky enough to spend time at The Door, as it is affectionately called, you’ll have fun, enjoy camaraderie, get pampered daily and in sublime style, learn some wellness tips and find a level of calm that’s rare and wonderful. You can loaf and relax all day, if you like, but the fitness opportunities lure folks to participate.
They feature 25 miles of hiking trails, two outdoor swimming pools, a Watsu water therapy pool and a tennis court. Among the seven well-equipped gyms, there’s a state-of- the-art Pilates Studio, a group spinning room, a 2,000-square-foot equipment gym, three group exercise studios and a hilltop retreat for private fitness sessions.
Each of the 40 guests has his/her own spacious and serenely appointed room, most with outdoor access. The space is furnished with books, reading chairs and lights, toiletries, umbrella, flashlight, a kimono and all the workout clothes you need. (You really only need to pack a toothbrush, sneakers, hiking boots and a tennis racket!). Everything — from activities and entertainment (TVs are in the lounges) and individualized food options — is made easy; in fact, the place operates as efficiently as a Swiss clock. And, everyone — the caring staff includes private trainers, daily massage therapists and aestheticians, housekeepers— learns your name day one and treats you like a VIP every moment of your stay.
Some folks assume that what golden at The Door might refer to is faucets, jewelry or gilt and glitter. Not at all. The décor is minimalistic in an artful Japanese Honjin inn aesthetic. Most guests — even those with recognizable names — wear the sweats (supplied) by day and, usually, simply top them with kimonos (supplied) for dinner. Although the sunrises you see on a morning mountain hike are surely golden, what is truly golden is the iconic bronze and copper, gold-colored, gem-encrusted Tree of Life entry door. It’s a magical piece of art that opens to a raised wooden boardwalk that passes through woods, under a verdant canopy, and leads to the art-filled
landscaped sanctuary with sand and bamboo gardens and a labyrinth.
I was as impressed as ever when I last visited, for the sixth time since 1996, and felt lucky to once again meander amidst the exquisite, art-filled, Japanese-inspired landscape — with its antique bell, waterfall features and koi pond. I still appreciated the in-room breakfasts, the daily in-room massages, the daily beauty services, the individualized fitness routine (my favorites take place in a warmed exercise pool) and private fitness instructor and the housekeeper, who returned my daily hand wash by lunch time.
This is a place where you, your parents and your kids or grandkids can take classes together, compete at tennis or water volleyball or veg out and eat exceedingly well, each to his/her personal requests. I recommend kids, foodies and families who are interested take advantage of something I always opt to do: Tour the culinary gardens to see the vegetables and rare heirloom fruits, (including 50 tomato varieties), the floral and herb gardens (among the 20 herbs are tension-dispelling lavender and mood-boosting lemon verbena), the 3,000-square-foot computerized greenhouse and a fenced-in flock of chickens. (Some hikes pass through the avocado and citrus groves and olive orchard.)
The farm-fresh, creatively cooked, perfectly presented, farm-to-table cuisine executed by executive chef and culinary director Greg Frey, Jr. and his staff is absolutely satisfying. While salt, sugar, fat, carbs and calories are carefully considered, this cuisine minceur is generous and beautifully plated. It hardly seems anything like “diet” food and the staff caters to all individual food preferences and restrictions. Typically, the staff prepares pre-hike hot drinks, coffee and mini muffins, three multicourse meals and two snacks daily. Extras are provided as requested, not only at meals or with snacks, but also in room at breakfast and during the day, or after dinner. On day one, at intake, guests are asked about food preferences; immediately afterwards, a chart, with all the details is hung outside the kitchen door, so the waitstaff knows who’s who and what the preferences are for each.
Deborah Szekely, who founded The Golden Door in 1958 as a more luxurious option to Rancho La Puerta, which she created in Tecate, Mexico, in 1940, operated the retreat for decades. Joanne Conway, a former guest, purchased it in 2012. While maintaining its original vision and ambiance, she has also renovated the facilities, refurbished the décor, greatly expanded the acreage and created The Golden Door Foundation, which benefits charities, primarily to help abused children. It’s nice to note your holiday extravagance also benefits the needy.
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